In response to a horde of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the laws passed against unlawful religious conversions by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear the pleas.

A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, however, refused to stay the provisions of the laws and issued notices to both state governments on two different petitions who have four weeks to respond before the next hearing.

The petitions filed in the SC contend that the laws passed against unlawful religious conversions disturb the basic structure of the Constitution. The petitions also demanded that the laws be abolished as they violate secularism, equality and non-discrimination, reports NDTV.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, prohibits forceful prohibition of conversion for the purposes of marriage.

Critics say the laws are the right wing’s offensive against what they have called “love jihad” — a coinage for relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is a ruse to forcibly convert the women. The laws, they say, will be used to target Muslim men.

The top court was, to begin with, reluctant to take up the matter and asked the petitioners to approach the respective High Courts. “The challenge is pending before Allahabad and Uttarakhand High Courts. Why cannot you go there?” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had observed.

Senior counsel CU Singh, who was presenting the petitioner Citizens for Justice and Peace, responded by saying that the matter should be looked into by the top court as “multiple states are passing these laws”.

“Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh also passed these laws,” CU Singh said, He also argued that a 10-year jail term is prescribed under this law and the burden of proof is on the accused. Seeking a notice to stay the laws he said certain provisions are “horrifying” and the clause of prior permission to marry is “obnoxious”.

The plea also says that the right to convert to another religion is marked in Article 25 of the Constitution, but the “Ordinance and the Act impinge upon this right by imposing unreasonable and discriminatory restrictions.”

(With agency inputs)