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.
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.
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’ 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.
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.