UP’s ‘love jihad’ law denies dignity of choice, targets only Muslims

Many Muslim men have been arrested so far under the anti-conversion law and released later because the administration found no proof of ‘love jihad’.

Fifteen days after their arrest by the Moradabad police, Rashid and Salim returned home after it was confirmed that no proof of “love-jihad” was found. The brothers were arrested on December 5 under the draconian anti-conversion or “Love-Jihad” law that was passed by the Uttar Pradesh government recently.

Rashid, his partner Pinky and brother Salim had gone to register their marriage when they were stopped by Bajrang Dal activists and arrested by the police. Pinky was pregnant at the time and was sent to a shelter home. She was allowed to return to her in-laws’ home after she told a magistrate that she is an adult and married Rashid out of her own free will.

There were also reports of Pinky having a miscarriage in the shelter home. It was alleged that an injection might have been administered to her in order to abort the pregnancy. These reports were denied by the shelter and the police. However, as per a report in The Print, her ultrasound shows that “uterus is bulky” and has “RPC (Retained product of conception)/blood clots in UT”, pointing to pregnancy and miscarriage.

Even though the three have returned home, the trauma of the past twenty days–of being jailed, tortured, having a miscarriage and most importantly, being denied the dignity of making a choice will continue to haunt them forever.

Police in Uttar Pradesh has been on the lookout to crack down on inter-faith marriages in the state after the passing of the law.

According to the Hindu, at least 34 persons have been arrested so far in various districts. Interestingly, no Hindu has been arrested so far.

What is the anti-conversion law? 

According to the law, if a person intends to change their religion, they must serve a notice to the District Magistrate. This would be followed by inquiries into whether the conversion was consensual or not. 

Inter-faith couples wishing to get married will have to opt for the Special Marriage Act and risk being jailed for 5 years if they convert before or after marriage. 

Why are people opposed to it? 

The anti-conversion law is understood by most as a step to further the ‘love-jihad’ theory of the BJP. According to this controversial unproven theory, Muslim men are luring Hindu women and forcing them to convert to Islam.

Section 12 of the law places the burden of proof on the accused. It states that the burden of proof as to “whether a religious conversion was effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion and, where such conversion has been facilitated by any person, on such other person.”

To give it a binary perspective, this law is a combination of two things that make up a larger part of what is wrong with the country today–Communalism and Sexism.

Many Muslim men have been arrested so far under the anti-conversion law and released later because the administration found no proof of ‘love jihad’. The scariest part is the ambiguity of the law; the right it gives to people in power to intimidate people.

The law also assumes women have no agency over their bodies and over who they want to spend their life with. It treats women as mere subjects who are incapable of making a choice and thinking for themselves. It comes as an attack on the choice to love or marry. 

Uttar Pradesh, under the new BJP government, has become the center for groups that are anti-love and leave no opportunity to deny people freedom, choice, and love. The “anti-Romeo” squad freely indulge in violence and their tactics have legal support now.

Former Delhi High Court judge and former chairman of the National Law Commission, Justice AP Shah, while commenting on the law, told NDTV that several of its provisions violate the fundamental right to practice religion, “striking at the very root of right to life and liberty guaranteed under the constitution”.

This ordinance, he said, was “capable of great public mischief”. The former judge found it “difficult to believe it was passed by a government in a country governed by the rule of law and a constitution”.

Various leaders and political parties have also spoken out against the ‘love-jihad’ law. 

Samajwadi Party (SP) leader, Akhilesh Yadav announced that his party will oppose the law in the assembly. “On one hand, the government offers Rs 50,000 to those opting for inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, and on the other, they have brought this law,” he said.

National President of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Mayawati also opposed it, saying the hastily implemented love jihad law is full of contradictions. 

Congress leader P Chidambaram too criticized the law.

“One can conclude that the most rampant crime in UP is two young people falling in love and marrying! Hence it is engaging the attention of the Chief Minister and the entire police force, more than the growing number of cases of murder, rape, assault or theft to which the people are apparently accustomed as ‘normal‘ in UP,” Chidambaram wrote in The Indian Express. 

A campaign has also been launched by the All India Students Association (AISA) to counter the false narrative of ‘love jihad’. The campaign promotes the idea of ‘Love Azad’ as an antithesis to the hateful and divisive politics of BJP.

What’s scary is that anti-love jihad sentiment is spreading faster than the coronovirus virus. From real people to fictional characters, it leaves no one. While we may get a vaccine for the virus soon, we wouldn’t be able to get one for the rampant Islamophobia, sexism, misogyny and the anti-choice virus.

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