To Love or Not To Love: The Moral Dilemma of Love Jihad
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Picture Courtesy: Indian Express
The Madhya Pradesh cabinet, last week, approved the draft of the controversial and regressive Freedom of Religion Bill 2020, under which forced conversion of a minor, woman or a person from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe would draw a minimum jail term of 2-10 years with a minimum penalty of Rs. 50,000. With this law in place, Madhya Pradesh will become the second Indian state after Uttar Pradesh to pass legislation that is aimed to tackle the problem of 'love jihad'- a claim by right-wing Hindutva groups that Muslim men are out to lure and convert Hindu women and minors through the pretext of marriage.
The law gives legitimacy to a conspiracy that seeks to posit Muslim men as dangerous predators who must be punished by the state. It undermines the freedom of citizens to marry whoever they wish to and attempts to police the interpersonal relationships of individuals. Not only is this a threat to democracy, but also an insult to the spirit of the Indian Constitution.
In the month since the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed, the Uttar Pradesh police has reportedly carried out more than one arrest a day, having arrested over 35 people so far. Almost a dozen FIRs have been submitted, showcasing the heightened level of intolerance in the minds of the people of our country. Induction is a cognisable, non-bailable felony under the current rules. It is not on the police to prove the offence, but on suspects to prove their innocence. This encourages the most overt abuse of the laws. Unless guilt is proven, innocence must not be considered to be believed . Acting swiftly after being tipped off about interfaith marriages, a wedding in the state capital was halted by the Lucknow Police, telling the pair to first fulfill the legal requirements.
In July, Rashid and Muskan got married in Dehradun, after having known each other for two years. When, like many other interfaith partnerships, the families got to know about their marriage, there was resistance, but entirely from Pinky's side. On December 5, Rashid and his brother were arrested under the newly promulgated ordinance before being released in lieu of a suitable complaint against them. Entirely blaming Bajrang Dal for making Muskan's mother press charges- in-spite her willing conversion to islam. The situation turned worse because of Bajrang Dal workers, triggering a turn of events panning out over two weeks of intimidation, forced jail time and the unfortunate miscarriage, subsequently ruining the lives of two individuals.
In the most recent case, a Muslim youth was arrested in Bijnor area of the state while he was walking back home from a birthday party with his friend, a Dalit girl. While returning from the party, the two were chased by a group of men, beaten with sticks, and when it became apparent that they belonged to different religions, they were taken away to a local police station. The girl as well as her father have both denied all claims of 'love jihad'.
A few exceptions of ‘forced conversion’ is being seen as a norm which is then being used as a means to violate the rights of individuals who are indulging in interfaith marriages. On December 6, in the district of Muzaffarnagar, one Nadeem and an accomplice were arrested for allegedly attempting to compel a married Hindu woman to convert. In Moradabad, two brothers, arrested earlier this month under the anti-conversion law, were released on an order of a CJM court. A 19-year-old woman lodged an FIR with Shahabad police station in Hardoi district on December 11 alleging that she was raped on the pretext of marriage and also pressured to convert by one Mohammed Azad. She also alleged that she was being sold by Azad in Delhi.
The law, which is set to come up in other BJP ruled states as well, has been rightfully criticized by activists and concerned citizens alike for unfairly targeting Muslim men in India and for delegitimizing interfaith marriages. So far, there is no concrete proof that any of the individuals arrested under the law were indeed trying to forcefully convert their partners. Moreover, the Central government had admitted in February that it has no records of any such cases. The 'love jihad' law also undermines the agency of women and reflects the patriarchal notions regarding marriage that still prevail in Indian society. "It’s the unholy trinity of patriarchy, caste and dominant religion that has always wanted to control women’s sexuality and freedom,” lawyer and rights activist Vrinda Grover told AFP.
Srijita Chakrabarti I Sanjukta Bose