In India, the latest in a line of questionable policy decisions is a legislation criminalising “conversion of religion for the sake of marriage”, which many in the right wing refers to as “love jihad”. Hours after the new ordinance was promulgated, the Uttar Pradesh police registered its first case against a Muslim man from Bareilly district on Saturday. The accused, Uwaish Ahmad, is still absconding, and police have formed teams to arrest him. Reportedly, some of the right-wing group members have asked the police to add the new ordinance against the accused in old cases, but the police have turned down their demand.
As per reports, efforts were made to project another alleged case of marital dispute reported from Izzatnagar area of Bareilly as a case of “love jihad,” but police declined to file an FIR as the case was brought to them a day before the new legislation was implemented.
Meanwhile, the Assam government is reportedly all set to introduce a new marriage law under which the bride and groom will have to reveal their religion and income in official documents a month before the wedding. Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state minister, claims that the new law will “empower our sisters by bringing transparency”.
He added, “Assam’s law is not against love jihad. It would be inclusive of all religions and would empower our sisters by bringing transparency. One will have to disclose not only their religion but also their income source. Many times, even in same-religion marriage, we have found that the girl later finds that the husband had initiated the marriage using false pretexts.”
Under the proposed marriage law, couples will have to officially declare their family details, education, income source, profession, permanent address, and religion in a prescribed form a month before the wedding. If one fails to do, it will result in legal action, the minister added.
UP government was not the first state to introduce a law to bar “forceful religious conversions.” In 2018, Uttarakhand’s BJP-led administration under CM Trivendra Singh Rawat had brought a law similar to UP government’s Vidhi Virudh Dharmantaran Bill 2020. Similarly, Himachal Pradesh led by CM Jai Ram Thakur also amended the state’s 2007 anti-conversion law in 2019.
Former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur has criticised the UP government’s ordinance on love jihad, saying that it puts freedom of choice and dignity “on the backseat.” While addressing a public lecture on Sunday, Lokur said that the new laws against interfaith marriages violated jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court. He said, “Although ‘love jihad’ has no definition, one chief minister has defined it as ‘jihadis playing with the honour and dignity of our sisters and daughter by hiding their real names and identities’.” Love jihad is a term used by right wing to describe a “covert political movement” where Muslim men allegedly convert Hindu women into Islam after marrying them.
He added, “Another chief minister went to the extent of saying that ‘if these jihadis don’t mend their ways, it is the beginning of the journey to their graves.’ Is this possible death sentence already pronounced sanctioned under the Constitution or by the law? It seems to be a resurgence of the trend of mob lynching. What about the freedom of choice? Why not declare a war on child marriage, which by definition is forced marriage?” He also stressed on the Supreme Court’s earlier judgments ruling that states have no jurisdiction over an adult’s absolute right to choose a life partner.
On November 30, the Karnataka High Court made it clear that any adult has the right to marry the person of his/her choice. It is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India. The Court made this judgment, while disposing of a habeas corpus petition filed by one Wajeed Khan seeking the release of his girlfriend from confinement. The Court said, “It is well settled that a right of any major individual to marry the person of his/her choice is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India and the said liberty relating to the personal relationships of two individuals cannot be encroached by anybody irrespective of caste or religion.”