New Delhi: A habeas corpus petition filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court in December 2021 by a man to free his “wife” from a welfare home’s custody has gotten converted into an inquiry into the woman’s conversion under the Arya Samaj tradition and the factum of the couple’s marriage.
The woman was a minor at the time of her alleged conversion and subsequent marriage.
The division bench of the high court (HC) comprising justices Rohit Arya and Milind Ramesh Phadke has decided to ascertain whether an Arya Samaj trust can convert a Muslim girl into a Hindu. And till this process is not over, the court has decided not to hear the man’s plea to release the woman, who has been lodged in a Nari Niketan in Gwalior for almost two years.
The court’s 16 June order — which came to the public’s notice only after a video clip of the case hearing went viral — has framed 12 questions of law to be looked into. In the video, Justice Arya can be heard questioning the conversion and warning the petitioner with a police enquiry.
The primary question the court has sought to delve into is whether a “self-styled” private Arya Samaj temple can endorse an individual’s conversion to Hinduism, and if yes, then under which law.
The court’s order came while it was dealing with the habeas corpus petition. According to the petitioner’s lawyer Suresh Aggarwal, the couple got married in 2019 at Arya Samaj Vivah Mandir Trust in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. The marriage solemnised after the woman — a Muslim who converted to Hinduism, and a minor at the time — signed an affidavit in the presence of the temple’s president, embracing the new religion.
Thereafter, on the couple’s petition for police protection, the HC ordered them to appear before the area sub-divisional magistrate, who, on noticing that the girl was three months short of majority, ordered for her custody to be handed over to the Nari Niketan and lodged a rape case against the man.
Upon being released on bail, the man moved another petition in the HC, saying that his “wife” had attained majority and should be released from the Nari Niketan.
The HC issued notice on 2 December, 2021, but the proceedings, thereafter, have concentrated on the legality of the woman’s conversion and the couple’s marriage. The court has on two occasions — the latest being 14 May this year — declined the man’s request to allow him to withdraw his case.
Can trust accept conversion affidavit without verification?
On 10 January this year, the court made Arya Samaj Vivah Mandir Trust a party in the case when it learnt about the girl’s conversion.
A week later, on the submission of MP’s additional advocate general M.P.S. Raghuvanshi that the issue regarding conversion was a “serious matter”, the court summoned the trust’s priest.
Then on 13 April, the court summoned the trust’s general secretary when its lawyer could not explain under which law the girl converted and then married the petitioner.
On 16 June, the court framed the questions, after Raghuvanshi drew its attention to an Allahabad HC order that directed a high-level inquiry into marriages conducted by Arya Samaj temples.
Speaking to ThePrint, Raghuvanshi said the state has a conversion law which the couple did not follow. He further claimed that under Arya Samaj, only two Arya Samaji members can get married.
One of the questions framed by the court for its own consideration is whether the trust can accept someone’s affidavit on conversion without verification and issue a marriage certificate.
Though the court held a hearing on 27 July, the matter was adjourned to 1 September.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)