Protests build up against government’s ‘interfaith marriages committee’
The groups have formed a committee called ‘Salokha Samiti’ (harmony committee) to demand the withdrawal of the interfaith panel. Alleging that the government’s intention was solely to harass people from a particular community, they said the interfaith marriage committee was a precursor to bringing in an anti-conversion law in Maharashtra
Mumbai: The opposition to the Maharashtra government’s ‘Interfaith Marriages Family Coordination Committee’ is likely to gather steam and turn into a full-fledged protest. Several citizens’ and women’s groups on Monday gathered at the Y B Chavan Centre to discuss ways and means of opposing the government’s move, supported by a host of political parties. NCP chief Sharad Pawar also attended the meet to demonstrate his solidarity.
The groups have formed a committee called ‘Salokha Samiti’ (harmony committee) to demand the withdrawal of the interfaith panel. Alleging that the government’s intention was solely to harass people from a particular community, they said the interfaith marriage committee was a precursor to bringing in an anti-conversion law in Maharashtra. The activists, supported by the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena (UBT), Samajwadi Party, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (M), are planning to start agitations against the decision.
The government’s interfaith marriage committee was set up on December 13 to ostensibly look into ways to help women married outside their faith to connect with their families. The 13-member committee is headed by Maharashtra women and child development minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha.
Sandhya Gokhale, activist from the Forum Against Oppression of Women, (FAOW) said that the government had shrouded the committee and its members with a veil of secrecy. “No one knows the background of the committee members, their qualifications and their work in the sector of women welfare,” she said, questioning the intention of the state government.
Gokhale declared that the Shinde-Fadnavis government was following the ancient code of Manu, the ‘Manusmriti’. “The Manusmriti states that women do not deserve freedom,” she said. “In pursuance of this, they are attempting to interfere in the personal lives of women who have decided to marry someone from another faith.”
The move violated many provisions of the Constitution such as Article 14, 15 and 21, opined Mihir Desai, human rights activist and lawyer. “The order issued by the state government states that the committee will meet only women,” he said. “Why? Because the state government believes that women have no intelligence and can be fooled. It directly violates Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law and says that no person shall be deprived of his life or liberty.”
Desai said that the development was a precursor to bring in an anti-conversion law in Maharashtra the way it was brought in in other BJP-ruled states. “This is the reason Hindutva organisations are holding a series of protests across the state,” he said. “They believe that women are their property, and Muslim men are taking them away.”
Supriya Sule, NCP MP suggested that a working group be formed to devise a strategy to take the fight forward. “Representatives from various political parties should also be made part of it along with members from civil society and women’s groups,” she said. “We need to fight against this government the way farmers fought with them. We cannot change our goal posts all the time.” Pawar announced Jitendra Awhad and Fauziya Khan as representatives of the NCP in the working group.
Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap said that his party was ready to support any move against the interfaith committee. He also assured the gathering that they would oppose the anti-conversion bill in the legislative council if the Shinde-Fadnavis government tabled it for approval in the upcoming budget session.
Manisha Kayande, Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesperson, who was also present at the meeting, said, “By constantly harping on Hindu this and Hindu that, the BJP is looking to divide society on religious lines,” she said. “This is not our idea of Hindutva.”