By next month, Madhya Pradesh could become the first state to bring in a law against what is called love jihad. Any marriage deemed to have been carried out through force or solemnised for religious conversion will become an offence, inviting a jail term of up to five years. The law will also provide for all interfaith marriages to be necessarily intimated to the district authorities a month in advance. MP will not be the only state to bring in such a law; the BJP-ruled states of Karnataka, UP and Haryana plan to do an encore.
For right-wing outfits, it is a validation of their decade-long campaign that Hindu girls are being trapped by Muslim boys on the pretext of marriage and being converted to Islam. But most of these allegations, if not all, have been found to be dodgy. The impetus for the new law came after a girl was killed by her lover in UP in what was labelled by her family as love jihad. And UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath went into needless hyperbole, threatening in colourful language to bump off such offenders.
While the National Crime Records Bureau has no documented case of love jihad, the head of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma, was exercised enough to raise the matter when she called on the Maharashtra Governor a few weeks ago. But given the lack of empirical evidence, the laws being contemplated by the states are bound to instil fear of harassment among interfaith couples. And the clause on advance notice of a month is bound to raise consternation. How can the state sit in judgement on who will be life partners?
The new law smacks of over-legislation at a time when the country is just about slipping into the second wave of the novel coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, it is being seen as divisive, regressive and undemocratic. It is also bound to draw negative global attention—like the CAA—from leaders such as US President-elect Joe Biden. India has been a melting pot of, among other things, interfaith union and harmony, of which BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain himself is an example. Let not anything be done to disturb the fine balance.