RSS push for law on interfaith marriage
After four Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states declared their intent to frame laws to prevent religious conversions through coercion or deception in marriage, the party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is exerting pressure on other states to bar the practice they have dubbed “love jihad”.
To be sure, religious conversion is protected by law and is a state subject. While a bunch of states already have laws in place that make conversion through inducement, coercion or deception an offence that invites a jail term as well as a fine, the Sangh wants states to frame laws that specifically deal with conversion through interfaith marriage.
Alok Kumar, the international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, said the announcements by Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana that they will explore legal options to prevent marriage for religious conversion are an outcome of the VHP’s longstanding demand.
“There is an urgent need to take steps. We have made this demand based on the ground situation. There are so many cases where Muslims enticed girls by posing as Hindus and revealed their identity only after marriage. Conversion through inducement and deception is not acceptable. These are demographic aggressors and it is a planned effort,” he said.
The VHP has petitioned all state governments to frame laws to regulate inter-faith marriages. “We have demanded there should be safeguards against such marriages and to make it mandatory for families on both sides to be given a month’s notice ahead of any interfaith marriage. And if marriage has been fraudulently conducted there should be deterrent punishment. We have asked all state governments, irrespective of which party is in power, to frame such laws. And we feel some [non-BJP] governments are also sensitized about this issue. In the past, when the laws against forceful conversion were drafted, it was during the Congress rule in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha,” Kumar said.
The VHP has also demanded that all interfaith marriages should be registered and in case of complaints of a crime, an investigation should be completed within 30 days. “There should be fast-track courts to deal with such cases and the government should request the court to carry out the hearing on a day-to-day basis,” Kumar said.
Last week, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath referred to an order by the Allahabad high court, which said religious conversion is not necessary for marriage, to support his decision to enact a new law. “I warn those who conceal identity and play with the respect of our sisters. If you don’t mend your ways, your Ram Naam Satya journey will begin,” he said last week, referring to the slogan that Hindus chant while carrying the dead to the cremation site.
In Assam, health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that if the BJP returns to power in 2021, it will start a “strict fight” against “love jihad” and there would be severe punishment for those who hide their religious identity in marriage.
In Haryana, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar also said his government was taking the love jihad issue very seriously as did Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
BJP leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity said love jihad, based on complaints, needs to be addressed. “There are laws against forced conversion; interfaith marriages are conducted through the Special Marriage Act so there are safeguards in place. What else can be done to prevent deception will have to be legally weighed in,” said a senior party functionary.
The Congress has pronounced that such declaration would be unconstitutional. Former minister and Lok Sabha MP, Manish Tewari, said: “It is unconstitutional because the state has no right to interfere in the lives of two consenting adults. The state cannot transgress into peoples’ bedrooms; it is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy. The faith I profess is also guaranteed under the Constitution.”
His view was echoed by senior lawyer Sanjay Hegde, who said the state’s intervention in marriages between consenting adults will be a violation of rights. “I know there is love and I know there is the concept of jihad, but I don’t think there is something called love jihad. There are people who seem to have love for fights based on religion. Any law that prevents an adult from marrying any other adult of their choice will be unconstitutional on more grounds than one. It will be violation of privacy, it will be violation of the freedom of religion and will be manifest arbitrarily,” Hegde said.
The demand for more stringent checks against religious conversions is not new and has been raised in Parliament as well. As a member of the Lok Sabha in 2015, Yogi Adityanath had moved a private member’s bill seeking a ban on religious conversion. He had sought the insertion of a new article, 25 (a), in Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2015 that would ban forcible religious conversions. In 2015, Shiv Sena MP Sadashiv Lokhande introduced the Prohibition on Religious Conversion (by Inducement or Force) Bill 2015 in the Lok Sabha. The bill proposed a jail term of up to 10 years for those guilty of forced conversions and a fine of Rs.1 lakh.
Masoom Moradabadi, editor of Jadid Khabar and a former member of the All India Muslims Personal Law Board said instances such as the recent killing of a girl in Haryana’s Ballabgarh that are being cited as an evidence of love jihad should not been seen from a religious point of view.
“These are crimes that should be condemned. These are not acts based on religion. Such crimes can be carried out by people of any faith.”
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