The Constitution of India guarantees the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate one’s religion under Article 25. However, due to real and imaginary concerns regarding increasing proselytisation activities of the Christian church among vulnerable populations, many states passed anti-conversion laws from the late 1960s itself.
This was challenged by Christian churches with the argument that the term ‘propagate one’s religion’ in Article 25 included the right to convert. The Supreme Court in Rev Stainislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh examined whether the right to practice and propagate one’s religion also had the right to convert. The court upheld the validity of the two of the earliest anti-conversion statutes, the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam, 1968, and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967.
It categorically stated that the right to propagate did not include the right to convert any person. Following this, Arunachal Pradesh enacted a similar law in 1978, Chhattisgarh in 2000, Gujarat in 2003. In 2006, Madhya Pradesh government passed a legislation that demanded people desiring to convert to a different religion to provide the government with one month’s notice or face fines and penalties.
Chhattisgarh followed it in the same year, and in February 2007, Himachal Pradesh under the Congress enacted a similar law. As of now, such rules are in effect in nine states, and they are Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
All these laws seek to ‘prevent conversions carried out’ by ‘forcible’ or ‘fraudulent’ means or by ‘allurement’ or ‘inducement.’ If the anti-conversion law was aimed to protect vulnerable communities, the ordinance in UP on ‘love jihad’ moves uncomfortably into the realms of private space of individuals. ‘Love jihad’, by itself, is an ambiguous and ridiculous term. How can the State decide who should fall in love with who, if the concerned individuals are adults? If they have the maturity to choose who should rule them, they have the maturity to choose who they should love and live with.
If an adult non-Muslim woman chooses to marry a Muslim man of her choice and decides to follow the religion of her husband or vice versa, it is the individual’s choice that needs to be respected. The patriarchal attitude of the State that it knows what is best for the women than the women themselves reeks of medieval tribalism.
Miscegenation laws were used by white supremacists in the USA to criminalise interracial marriage. It even criminalised sex between members of different races. It was first introduced in North America in the late 17th century and remained in force in many US states until 1967. Similar laws were also enforced in Nazi Germany as a part of the Nuremberg laws, which were passed in 1935. In South Africa, as a part of the Apartheid, such laws were passed in 1948. All these laws, after causing unfathomable suffering to its citizens, got eventually repealed once the governments became more enlightened. Such laws are the vestiges of medieval fanaticism and racism in these countries.
Should India join this group of nations by creating such arbitrary laws? If there are complaints of forced conversions, there are sufficient laws in India to deal with it already. Often, it is parents who allege of forceful conversion of their wards. Take the case of Hadiya in Kerala. NIA wasted resources and time of the nation and the individuals on a wild goose chase, and the case went up to the Supreme Court when the lady was insisting right from the beginning that she had married and converted of her own free will. Finally, the apex court overruled the judgement of Kerala High Court annulling the marriage and stated there was no ‘love jihad’. In a country where parents hire goons to assassin their daughters for marrying out of one’s caste, such allegations should not surprise anyone.
The irony is that one of the primary reasons for such conversions to Islam by women of other faiths is lying unaddressed. As per Muslim laws, the children born to non-Islamic partner get excluded from inheritance. Such discriminatory laws need to go, and there is no doubt that we need a uniform civil code. Each religion having its own personal laws is a flaw in the Indian Constitution and should be rectified at the earliest. But the ‘love jihad’ ordinance simply tries to criminalise private choices of citizens based on their religion, and this is a ticket to endless communal tension.
India is a country of 135 crore people in which at least 20 percent are Muslims. There are bound to be many who would not be looking at the religion or caste of the people who they choose to fall in love with. Are we going to flood the courts and make our investigative agencies busy investigating each of these marriages? Which medieval era darkness are we marching into?
Anand Neelakantan email@example.com
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy