he fears about the consequences of the so-called love jihad ordinance and moves by three other BJP-ruled states to enact a legislation with similar intent have turned out to be not misplaced the day after the Uttar Pradesh government promulgated the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 after getting the nod from Governor Anandiben Patel. It was only natural that the Governor, a former chief minister of the BJP-government of Gujarat, would give her clearance without any delay. What is interesting is the speed with which the ordinance was implemented within 24 hours after its promulgation. Immediately thereafter, the UP police registered its first case under the new law. The case has been filed against a 22-year old college student, Uvaish Ahmed, on Saturday, 28 November, under Section 3/5 of the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Act along with Sections 504 (breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC. The case was registered at the Deorania police station in Bareilly district against Ahmed for forcibly trying to convert a 20-year old Hindoo girl for nikaah (marriage). Following the predictable pattern of abuse of the law, Tikaram, father of the girl who is a resident of Bareilly district, filed the case. The accused is stated to have gone absconding.
The ordinance, stated to be a prelude to a Bill to be brought by the UP government, reflects regressive, medieval mindset as it empowers the law enforcing agencies to pry into private lives and beliefs of citizens and hound them out for exercising their decision to choose their life partners. What is galling is that the Yogi Adityanath-government went ahead with its Hindootva agenda in the teeth of an Allahabad High Court ruling overturning another HC judgement that questioned a ‘conversion just for marriage.’ In fact, the UP government used the fig leaf of that flawed judgement, declared by the Allahabad HC as bad in law, to buttress its argument in favour of the ordinance.
Love jihad is a term used by the BJP and religious thinkers and groups aligned with it to spin the theory that Moslem men lure Hindoo women, by hook or by crook, into marrying them and converting to Islam. The claim that this is an organised racket seems far-fetched and unfeasible. Successive probes have failed to find any evidence that such a conspiracy exists and the Home ministry under the Modi-government has admitted that the term has no credible definition. Moreover, there are existing laws that deal with offences such as forced conversion or marriage effected under false pretences or duress. The short-term need for the ordinance is, of course, the desperation of the UP government to deflect national attention from the farmers’ unrest, terrible economic situation and incidents such as the Hathras gangrape that have received international traction. Instead of doing soul-searching and taking corrective steps, the government seeks to point the spotlight elsewhere. The truth is that this administrative fiat could be considered akin to the clan councils or khap panchayat system which can’t claim the right to sit in judgement over personal choice of a life partner or a faith in any civilized society.
The long-term objective of the ordinance and the legislation three other BJP-ruled states – MP, Haryana and Karnataka – are planning to make is the mobilisation of Hindoo majority votes by tapping anti-Moslem sentiments and the male paranoia about women asserting their freedom to choose their life partners and exercising their religious preferences. This is part of a larger agenda to consolidate vote banks by the BJP which is projecting itself as the only political outfit that openly and boldly talks about Hindoo belief and sentiments. The bias of the government was revealed in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the aggressive campaign on conducting the National Register of Citizens (NRC). These have also triggered hostile international reactions as the CAA and NRC are perceived to be geared to reducing minorities into second class citizens to garner majority votes. This government’s silence on the ordinance shows the BJP is only testing waters.
Ideas of purity of blood are intrinsically linked to ideologies that seek to establish the supremacy of one community over another. The Nuremberg laws of the 1930s were framed casting sinister aspersions over the citizenship of Jews and intermarriage between ‘Aryan’ people and Jews. The love jihad ordinance, though carefully drafted to dodge legal challenge, may not stand legal scrutiny for the simple reason that it violates the Constitutional right to profess one’s religious freedom and choose one’s life partner. What is being tried by male chauvinists through criminal acts like ‘honour-killing’ now gets the legal cover from the UP government ordinance. This kind of administrative adventurism is probably being experimented in with a view to divert attention from the BJP-led Union government’s failure to check the country from plunging into an economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude due to its inept handling and plethora of promises that may prove impossible to fulfill.