The most populist way to demonise a social reform in our country is to communalise it. The Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides Indian citizenship to religiously persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, was virulently opposed by Indian Muslims, labelling it as anti-Muslim, though the Act neither affected their nationality nor their constitutional rights.
Similarly, when the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act was passed criminalising triple talaq, the clerics were up in arms accusing the government of promoting Hindutva by interfering in their personal law and religious beliefs. Now, when Assam tries to modernise madrasa education, it is dubbed as an attempt to deprive Muslim students of Koranic teachings.
The latest reform to draw their fury is the move by eight BJP-ruled states to ban unlawful religious conversion, which Islamic law itself prohibits. The term ‘love jihad’, loosely referred to forced conversion, is the gift of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to the communal lexicon. Adults falling in love to marry across any faith is acceptable to him but not marriages that are conspired with the intent to convert gullible girls to different faiths.
Like him, other BJP chief ministers are aware that right to choose partners irrespective of caste, creed or religion is inherited under right to life and personal liberty enshrined in Articles 25-28 of the Constitution.
Accordingly, they have designed the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion ordinance/bills only to ensure that ‘love’ does not become an instrument for ‘jihad’ (proselytisation/religious conversion), a threat to law and order by creating social tension and a means to cause demographic imbalance.
Conversion of Hindus to other faiths is a historical reality and will continue, given the nature of our society and the Constitution.
However, before these bills become a rallying cry to organise Shaheen Baghs across the country, it is important to understand what they stand for.
First, they are neither against any particular religion nor opposed to inter-faith marriages that are voluntary and agreed upon in good faith. Second, they accept conversions and love marriages, but with no strings attached.
They only insist that if someone wants to marry a person of different faith, he/she must apply for District Magistrate’s permission and wait until it is verified that he did not give false identity to lure the girl in love and then coerce her to convert and marry.
These bills may be politically correct but unlikely to stem conversion of mostly Hindu ST/SC girls. What is actually required is to educate and financially empower the likely victims so that they make an informed choice in matters of love and conversion.
Amar Bhushan email@example.com
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing