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Why Do Marriages Continue To Be Under Close Watch Of The Government?

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Times change, but patriarchs don’t. Ancient Indians attacked Lanka to rescue the helpless, abducted Sita; at the same location, five thousand years later, present-day UPites roused a crusade, in the name of saving their helpless, abducted Hindu women.

Or at least that’s the story Yogi Adityanath would want to tell his Hindu comrades, with his recent ‘love jihad’ bill, or the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Bill, 2020.

It’s we, the Hindu men, who must take the responsibility of protecting our religion — because women are gullible and don’t know any better than falling in the love trap set by Muslim men, who lure them into converting their religion. It’s we who must have ‘Bahu, Beti Bachao’ sammelans (gatherings) to protect our daughters-in-law and daughters, and it’s we who must forbid our girls, for their own good, from carrying mobile phones so that they don’t talk to these Muslim boys.

Is Marriage An Individual Or A State Affair?

The Indian Constitution provides all citizens the right to choose and practice any religion. An individual is free to convert their religion without the state’s intervention. As much as the Sangh Parivar would like to do a gharwaapsi of Hindu-converted Muslims and Christians, the Constitution still holds it as a fundamental right.

An FIR was registered on November 23 against Netflix for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through its web series A Suitable Boy, for showing a kissing scene between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy on the campus of a temple. Image courtesy: Netflix India

However, marriage is a notorious exception; it has always been.

Though a matter of personal choice, marriages remain a state-intervened affair in almost all parts of the world. A marital liaison between two individuals requires recognition by law and sanction of the state to find ‘legitimacy’ in society. And this is because of how marriages have been viewed historically.

Marriages were held to transfer property, money, goods and women from one family to another. Just like the ownership of property and goods would shift from under one name to another, women were also supposed to take on the name of their new family. This economic exchange is why the state would intervene and take record of the transfer.

Although marriages have, since then, come to give importance to love and emotional intimacy, this obsession with marriage as a transfer from one family, community or religion to another, is a tough stain to remove. And just like that, marriages became a matter of religion and caste, instead of an individual affair.

The Origin Of Love Jihad In A Secular Democracy

The origin of ‘love jihad’ goes back to 2007, when the Hindu Right group Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) took it upon themselves to polarise Hindus and Muslims in the Dakshina Kannada district of coastal Karnataka. The group spread the rumour that terrorist groups were training Muslim boys in India to make Hindu girls fall in love with them and then convert them to Islam. This cleverly named campaign, ‘love jihad’, after its success in Karnataka, spread its wings in UP in 2012 with even more thrust.

A poster by the HJS group

What the BJP government and Yogi Adityanath sowed the seeds of back then, finally sprouted today, with a legal branch to it. According to the proposed law by the Yogi government, those found guilty of religious conversion through “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means” will be fined Rs 15,000 and face a jail term of 1-5 years.

Now, India already has plenty of laws to protect against forced marriage in place – Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA), Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 (G&W), Majority Act, 1875, Family Courts Act, 1984 (FCA) and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). However, the new law differs from the rest of these laws in its emphasis on religious conversion.

Earlier this month, Hindutva activists filed 22 cases of ‘love jihad’ against Muslim men for forcing conversion before marriage. However, the police report submitted on November 23 revealed that while eight out of the 14 interfaith marriage cases are untrue, i.e. the Hindu women married into Muslim families of their own free will. The rest haven’t been proven yet.

This also brings to light the vague use of words in the law: how does one prove “misrepresentation”, “undue influence” and “allurement” of one person over the other? And does the state have the right to intervene in the relationship between two consenting adults, unless one of them goes to the Court?

“I’ve only read about these cases of ‘love jihad’ in newspapers. Never have I really seen any inter-religion marriage around me,” said 24-year-old Ahmed (name changed) from Saharanpur, UP. Ahmed is in a seven-month-long relationship with a Hindu girl from Patna, and both of them want to get married. “However, I stopped taking her calls because it is only going to get more difficult for both of us now. None of our families approve of the marriage, but I could have convinced my family somehow. Now, with this new law, I also need to convince the government for my marriage,” he laughed it off.

The proposed law, instead of asking the state to prove that a religious conversion is forced, will put the burden on the couple to prove that the conversion is consensual. What is now left to see is that if a law as partisan and baseless — the UP government failed to provide any data to prove cases of forceful conversions — as this gets a green signal, there is nothing stopping other BJP-led states, including Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Haryana and Karnataka, which are also considering the law, from putting a similar anti-conversion law in place.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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