In 1934, Nazi Germany enacted a set of laws that prohibited marriage or sexual relations between "Aryans and Jews." Jews were quite wrongly considered a "race" in Nazi doctrine instead of a religious group, but in effect, the ban was based on religious affinity defined by whether or not the individual concerned belonged to a "Jewish congregation." The punishment for such marriages was imprisonment and later, concentration camps.
Such examples from history come to mind in the light of the outrageous and draconian ordinance adopted by the UP cabinet. This is the first of the anti-"Love Jihad" laws which several BJP state governments have declared they will enact. Although the words "love jihad" are not specifically mentioned, the difference between the UP ordinance and the existing stringent and undemocratic anti-conversion laws already existing in at least eight states is that it includes specifically "conversion for marriage."
The UP Chief Minister has threatened violence against Muslim men married to Hindu women who had converted. He recently said, "I warn those who conceal their identity and play with our sisters' respect - if you don't mend your ways, your 'Ram naam satya' (chant at Hindu funerals) journey will begin." With this new ordinance, which is part of the poisonous "love jihad" campaign, what has begun is the Ram Naam Satya of the Indian constitution.
It is called the "UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion 2020" and the purpose is to target inter-faith marriages through ill-defined and extremely general clauses. The marriage will be declared "null and void if the marriage is solemnised for the primary purpose of converting a woman from one religion to another". Any "blood relation" of the couple can make a complaint to the police. The norm that a person is innocent unless proven guilty is overturned by shifting the onus on the person converting, or those who facilitated it, to prove that the conversion was not done through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, fraudulent means or for marriage, Moreover, a person seeking to convert to another religion for marriage would have to inform the District Magistrate two months prior to through a prescribed form. The punishment ranges from one to three years and to ten years if an SC or ST person is "converted."
This is nothing but legal sanction to the criminalization of love. It is a direct assault on Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees personal liberty and the right to life. An adult Hindu woman wanting to get married to a Muslim because she loves him may also decide to convert from her religion out of choice. The constitution gives her that right under Article 25 - freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. What further evidence, other than her statement given of her own free will, can she produce to prove that it is love that determined her actions? Why should she have to give notice of two months to access her constitutional right? The ordinance is weighted against that love; its message is give up the love or face jail (if not you, certainly your husband). In its devastating impact on couples in inter-faith marriages, it is no different than Hitler's law.
The charges made by the "love jihad" campaign are that Hindu girls are 'cheated or coerced into marriage', that it is a conspiracy by Muslim organisations financed by foreign funds, that it is not love but conversion to Islam which is the main goal of Muslim men luring Hindu girls and so on. These have proven to be fraudulent and false, time and again. In Kanpur, UP, on the day before the ordinance was adopted, the report of a Special Investigation Team or SIT set up to probe 14 inter-religious marriages between Muslim girls and Hindu boys over the last two years was made public by the police. Even this SIT set up by Yogi Adityanath's government could not find any evidence of conspiracy or foreign funds linked to the inter-faith marriages. But that did not stop the UP Police from arresting the men in 11 of the cases on other charges such as kidnapping and the girl being a minor. These are common charges made by the woman's guardians to put the men in jail.
On the other hand, Hindutva organsiations have openly given a call of "Beti bachao, bahu lao." According to OpIndia, a right-wing publication, an organisation in Bengal called Hindu Samhati had a special project to marry Muslim women to Hindu men and convert them. In a column paying homage to its founder Tapan Ghosh, a former RSS member described as a Hindutva icon, it said the Samhati had organised as many as 300 marriages between Muslim women and Hindu youths. "The Hindutva icon used to say that these women used to consider him as their father since most were disowned by their family." This of course would not be considered a conspiracy, but ghar wapasi!
In India, inter-faith marriages have a specific context. Personal laws of different religions have one thing in common: whether under the Hindu Marriage Act, under Muslim or Christian law, couples getting married under personal law must belong to the same religion or convert, otherwise they cannot get married. Even in Arya Samaj marriages, the condition is that they have to be Hindu or belonging to what is legally defined as an "allied" religion - Sikh, Jain, Buddhist. If one of them is Muslim or Christian, they have to convert to being an Arya Samajist. But the question remains: why do more men not convert?
Here is the irony. The same forces against "conversion for marriage" when it comes to Hindu women are the most vocal and aggressive in the promotion of patriarchal Manuvadi ideologies which consider women as subordinate. Equally, Muslim fundamentalists who are as aggressive in their support of patriarchal practices are also vehemently opposed to Muslim girls marrying Hindu men and converting. It is hardly surprising that in a society where patriarchal notions prevail, even in self-choice marriages under personal laws, more women, whether Hindu to Muslim or vice versa, will convert to their husband's religion than the other way around. Alas, patriarchy can still triumph, even in matters of love!
Many couples who do not want to marry under personal laws are thwarted by the stringent conditions which govern the Special Marriages Act 1954 (SMA), the only law for marriage which does not have a religous colour and which is the best option for couples retaining their own respective faiths. But the law is discriminatory on many counts. Whereas the legal age for marriage under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act is 18 years for a girl, under the Special Marriages Act, it is inexplicably put at 21 years. Under personal law, no public notice is required for a marriage. But under the SMA, a public notice has to be put up by the concerned office of the Marriage Officer, giving thirty days for objections. If any one of the couple are not permanently residing in the area where the application for marriage has been made, the notice has to be sent and put up in that area. In some states, applications for registration under the Act are posted on publicly-accessible websites. For a couple who does not have family consent, such a public notice could lead to a disaster. It is known from several reported cases that "love jihad" campaigners scour public boards and websites for any notices of Hindu girls getting married to Muslims, and, having got the information, intimidate, threaten, bully the couple to give up their marriage plans.
There is a petition before the Supreme Court which raises many of these issues asking for reform in the law. Notwithstanding the rather shocking and disheartening comments made by the Chief Justice of India, it would help couples in inter-religous or inter-caste marriages to get married under a more easily accessible secular law if such reforms were made.
Meanwhile, we can expect the next phase and theme of the Hindu Rashtra campaign - spewing hatred against the love in inter-faith marriages.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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