A young, Muslim man — a Macaulayputra (a term to describe covenanted, elitist English-speaking Indians; named after Lord Macaulay, who pioneered English-medium, Anglicised education in India), working a white-collar job, is sitting in an upmarket café in Uttar Pradesh with a Hindu woman of the ilk. The meeting is going well, until suddenly, a group of men, wearing saffron bandanas and carrying sticks, bats — with bellicose eyes and an intimidating demeanour, start policing unmarried couples. The 'features' of the Muslim man arise suspicion and after coercively rounding him up, his identity is confirmed. No one dares to dissuade them as they nab the man and take him away; with the words “love jihad” echoing in different decibels.
This abhorring picture is how the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance of 2020 — colloquially and contemptuously known as the “love jihad” law, is taking shape and will continue to take shape. This law touts to curb the forceful conversion of Hindu women to other religions (a caveat here is that the law does not speak much, if nothing at all, about Muslim or Christian women) under the false pretext of marriage. If booked under this law, the perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to ten years.
Giving things some context, the firebrand Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath — a Hindu monk from the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), has, on multiple occasions in his political career, addressed crowds with the clarion call of retorting violently to Muslims hostile towards Hindus. His narrative is also infamous for stoking fears among Hindus of Muslim domination; often citing convoluted historical anecdotes of Aurangzeb’s and Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasions.
Ever since the BJP won a landslide majority in the state in 2017, the Yogi Adityanath government’s rule has been marred by increasing instances of violent attacks on minorities and cow vigilantism after the government banned illegal slaughterhouses on top of banning the sale and export of beef. Early on in his tenure, Yogi went on a spree of moral policing under the garb of stepping up measures for women safety by introducing 'Anti-Romeo squads' — law enforcement officers dressed in civilian clothes, policing anywhere and everywhere, given a free-hand to persecute those unmarried couples, who according to them, arouse suspicion.
The love jihad ordinance (the use of the word ‘ordinance’ here carries a lot of legislative significance here because ordinances are laws passed on an ‘urgent’ basis and are not open to debate and discussions in the State Assembly) in its essence, deters all interfaith relationships to get the much needed legal approval in a society which is hitherto apprehensive of such courtships — especially one between Hindus and Muslims.
This law, being passed as an ordinance and not going through the democratic process, raises questions about what it espouses— whether it legitimises Adityanath’s authoritarian rule which places state over the individual. Furthermore, this legislation also gives legal precedence to Hindu vigilante groups such as Bajrang Dal to prosecute all interfaith relationships.
One of the biggest points of contention is the cumbersome bureaucratic process that is required to gain legal approval of interfaith marriages in the state. The law mandates people involved in such a marital union to fill out paperwork and seek approval from the district magistrate. Consequently, they will end up exposing information about their private lives to an entire office of babus — colloquial lexicon for bureaucrats and clerks, often describing their lax and recalcitrant demeanour.
As laborious as getting through all the paperwork sounds, what makes it even more problematic is that anyone who knows the girl – a relative, neighbour, for instance, can object to the union and thereby deter the marriage from happening. Given how precarious interfaith unions are, especially a Hindu-Muslim one, it wouldn’t be incredulous to find a person in every union who would object to it, making the process almost improbable.
It is only logical to think that with such intricacies and nuances, the law would be equally comprehensive in persecuting those violating this law. In its application, especially the recent incarcerations under this law, it could be opined that the law has been “blatant” and “arbitrary”. An interfaith wedding in the state’s capital, Lucknow, was stopped mid-way by members of The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha — despite the bride’s father confirming to Newslaundry that his daughter was not pressured to convert.
One of the more riveting cases of this draconian legislation being applied was seen in Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh. An interfaith couple was confronted by the Bajrang Dal — a vigilante group hitherto nefarious for moral policing unmarried couples on Valentine’s Day. What prevailed was a horrific tale of a miscarriage which exposed gaping holes in the administration which executes the law and the subsequent, incalculable human cost of “love jihad”.
Forceful conversions, ones under undue influence or allurement — literally what the legislation espouses to protect Hindu women from, does indeed exist. However, those should be treated as isolated incidents and not precedence to plot a conspiracy against all Muslim men who purportedly 'lure' women into converting into Islam, as part of an 'Islamic invasion' in India. There should be stringent laws to punish those who indeed trick people into abandoning their faith, but not at the cost of all interfaith unions.
The recalcitrance of the Yogi Adityanath government to continue persecuting couples despite it drawing flak for violating the right to profess any religion further embellishes an authoritarian rule which borrows its doctrines from the Hindutva ideology. What is even more worrisome is that this rule also makes men strong patriarchs in families and restricts women’s freedom and liberty. This is further cemented by the Lucknow Police’s decision of installing AR-powered CCTV cameras in public places, which would identify “a woman’s facial expression when in distress” to curb attacks on women.
The fictional narrative quoted in the beginning highlights that the rich — who often get away with persecution in somewhat of a closeted plutocracy, might not also be able to use their privilege to save themselves. The government, henceforth, should tread carefully — the palpable air of tensions simmering in the state during the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots — a communal clash between Hindus and Muslims, is still too recent to be forgotten. Anything igniting that flame could be detrimental for the whole populace.
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