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'UP's love jihad law legalises criminal intimidation, regressive attitudes'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
January 14, 2021 09:47 IST
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'Whom do I want to marry and what decisions I make for marrying the person I love are totally personal decisions, in which neither the State nor the courts have any right to interfere.'

Photograph: PTI Photo

An ordinance issued by Chief Minister Ajay Mohan Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath's government -- the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020; termed the 'love jihad law' -- has come under severe criticism from a section of retired bureaucrats, police officers and judges.

In an open letter to the UP government, these retired civil servants said this new ordinance is nothing but the 'epicentre of hate politics and has been made to target inter-faith marriages'.

They also demanded that this ordinance be repealed immediately.

The retired civil servants pointed out a case in Moradabad where a Hindu girl had willingly married her Muslim boyfriend in July 2020, much before the ordinance came into effect, and yet the UP police arrested the couple on false charges, thanks to the new ordinance.

On Wednesday, in a judgment that is likely to bring relief to inter-faith couples, the Allahabad high court declared as optional the mandatory publication of notice of intended marriages under the Special Marriage Act, saying it violated the Right To Privacy.

Former Union health secretary K Sujatha Rao was one of the signatories of the letter mailed to the UP government.

"The law violates the fundamental principle of the freedom of choice in personal matters -- more specifically Articles 21 and 25," Rao tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

In what way does the UP government's ordinance on 'Prohibition of Unlawful Religious conversion 2020' violate the Constitution?

The law violates the fundamental principle of the freedom of choice in personal matters -- more specifically Articles 21 and 25.

Whom do I want to marry and what decisions I make for marrying the person I love are totally personal decisions, in which neither the State nor the courts have any right to interfere.

If I want to convert or not is my business, just as which religion or God I want to believe in.

The fundamental freedom of choice has been granted by the Constitution.

More importantly, it is a civilisational value that we have always believed in and safeguarded.

Ddo you feel this law makes the Special Marriage Act, facilitating interfaith marriages, useless as any family member having a grudge against an inter-faith couple can file a case?

There is certainly a scope for such blatant abuse and harassment, particularly of those belonging to certain religious or caste denominations.

Our society, particularly in the North, is still so feudal with the khap panchayats and patriarchal attitudes as seen in the 'honour killings' that take place so often.

This law simply legalises such acts of criminal intimidation and regressive attitudes.

I can see it being extended to inter-caste also and the current anti-Muslim bias being applied to upper caste-Dalit marriages as well!

This development is undoubtedly unprogressive.

do you fear that old saying 'miyan biwi razi toh kya karega kazi' will become a dead concept in today's India as love becomes a State subject in future where vigilantes take to the streets to harass interfaith couples?

Most certainly. Today it is Hindu-Muslim. Next interfaith will become inter-caste.

All the years of encouraging interfaith and inter-caste marriages by offering monetary incentives will be undone and our efforts to build a composite society impaired. As such, I find such attitudes emerging from a upper caste Hindu mindset.

Every law that is framed has some logic, reasoning behind it. What about this law?

Totally for political gain -- to build this fear that Muslims are rapidly converting Hindu women and developing their numbers.

To substantiate that warped thinking, the percentages of Muslims in 1947 and now are often compared to create the bogey of a 'takeover' and reducing the number of Hindus in India, making them a minority.

What I find amazing is that such 'fears' are expressed by educated middle class rungs of our society. It is shocking and disturbing.

Supporters of this law say that it has been made with only one purpose and that is to stop forcible religious conversions through marriage.

Forced conversions are already banned under our Constitution.

It is that document which provides the justification for the freedom of choice of religion and marriage etc.

So as per law, no one can be forced to convert to any religious belief. If that is the purpose, then this law is redundant and the proponents should have known that.

Keshav Prasad Maurya, one of UP's deputy chief ministers, said the letter written by retired bureaucrats and police officials against this law is from the 'anti-Modi gang' and an attempt to defame UP.
The BJP has got the people's mandate, so don't they have a right to implement what they believe is good for the public?

That's an unfortunate comment coming from a person occupying a Constitutional office and has a high public stature.

It is also time they gave up this 'us versus them' type of discourse, where every contrary viewpoint is seen as being 'anti-Modi'.

Frankly, such language and arguments only expose their own inability to engage in a dialogue and the desire to stifle discussion by calling names and giving labels.

As for the BJP's mandate to do what is good for the public, he is right. The BJP was elected by the people on the grounds that they will develop the state, provide employment, healthcare, education and social harmony.

They never fought the elections on grounds of promoting social enmity and legally banning individual freedoms.

So, yes, they have the duty to implement policies that are good for the public, but what indicator are they using to justify this law as being 'good for public'.

As per a survey conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences in 2013 -- a Government of India organisation -- there were an estimated 589 interfaith marriages.

Of these about 0.7 were between Hindu and a Muslims.

Besides, in UP, they have not convicted even one person who has been found to have forced anyone to convert for marriage.

In the last two years since Shri (Ajay Mohan) Bisht took over as CM, the police apprehended 14 Hindu-Muslim marriages and found not even one among them as entailing any force.

This in a population of 20 crore (200 million). So which public is the Hon'ble Dy CM referring to and what is the paranoia based on?

UP is defamed not because of this law, but for it being a drag on India's development.

Look at its pathetic development indicators. And instead of focussing on that, they are busy lynching people, banning meat eating, marriages, laying down dress codes, promoting hate between communities, changing names of cities, and so on... Are these a priority?

I come from a developed state and I find UP terribly backward. They have a lot to cover and it's time they focus on the bread and butter issues.

You have served the nation as a bureaucrat to the best of your capabilities. How do you feel when proponents of the anti-conversion law label you a member of the 'award wapsi gang' or the 'tukde-tukde gang'?

I have not received any rewards and nor am I into any 'gangs'.

I was a civil servant and I conducted myself as per the country's Constitution. And I have also worked with the National Democratic Alliance I government.

Shri (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji and his party never called anyone members of gangs or used such crude language.

Frankly, I feel sorry at the quality of our leadership today. As a country, we deserve better and can do better.

A counter letter from ex-bureaucrats and former policemen have criticised all of you signatories. They lent support to the anti-conversion law and say the 'Ganga-Jamuni' culture stands for harmonious interfaith evolution and not unlawful conversion with criminal intent.
Don't you feel if there is a criminal intent in marriage, that person should be punished?

All criminal acts that are against the laid down laws and Constitutional provisions and must be punished.

What I found strange in their argument is that they do not think a woman has any agency, has no brains of her own to decide.

And to think some of the signatories even worked in organisations related to women empowerment, I find that hard to reconcile, since, as a woman, I must be given due respect to make my own choices and not be held hostage by family or community.

Also, what is the evidence they are basing their arguments, apprehensions, fears and anxieties on?

After all, these persons are educated, have held responsible positions and discharged their Constitutional duties.

I, and we the Indian public, do expect a greater application of mind from them.

The report of the VII State Law Commission under the chairmanship of Justice Aditya Nath Mittal says any conversion through misrepresentation should be declared illegal.
And when we have cases like Tara Sahdeo in Jharkhand where she was a victim of 'love jihad', don't you feel anti-conversion law is the need of the hour?

As I said, forced conversion is illegal -- whether through inducements or misrepresentation or cheating. That should be punished.

But we are talking about two adults born in two different religious denominations falling in love and deciding to get married.

That freedom of choice must be safeguarded.

Do you feel there is more to the law, and it is an attempt to make sections of Muslims feel under siege while majoritarian rule is driving the country?

I am not worried. It's a phase that will pass. It is pure politics and less ideology.

The BJP is simply using religion for gaining power.

The minute Hindus begin to make them accountable for jobs and development and not get swayed by their actions to promote social divisions and disturb social harmony, they will be rejected.

That is likely to happen sooner than one imagines; see the way farmers rejected their attempt to communalise the agitation as a Hindu vs Sikh issue.

As days get tougher, people are going to demand attention to the real issues.

See what happened in the United States where an insecure President (Donald J) Trump tried to polarise society along racial lines.

He not only got defeated and had to leave in a humiliating condition, rejected by his own partymen, but also helped elect the first woman of black origin to the high office of vice president.

I look forward to such a day when we reject use of religion for politics and not allow our religion to be misused so cynically.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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