By the looks of it, the monk Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh seems to have thrown his hat in the ring to be the next Hriday Samrat of the majority community of secular India.
Arguably, Mr. Amit Shah so far has an enviable lead in this particular palace manoeuvre, but Yogi Adityanath has the optics. Add to this that while the Union Home Minister has to reckon with incalcitrant state governments who may challenge or block actions of central investigation agencies, as the lord and master of the country's largest and most populous state, Yogi is unencumbered with any opposition. In fact, many segments of the fragmented opposition may actually be cheering for him as he targets Muslims, in particular, and anyone else he sees may come in handy as the "Other" in marshalling his vote bank.
Other than an Islamophobic zeal weaponized as a polarizing electoral Brahmo cruise missile for battles internal to the BJP, or in some future general elections, there seems to be no sane reason why Yogi took the Ordinance path to criminalize and brutally punish Muslim young men in particular for marrying Hindu women who had chosen a man in defiance of traditions, caste boundaries and the purity line. In one stroke, he has made the men abductors and rapists, and he has robbed the young women of all rights that had been earned in hard struggles since the Sarada Act was passed in 1929.
In the one month since the promulgation of the 'Love Jihad’ Ordinance, 35 Muslim men have been incarcerated -- an arrest per day. Elsewhere in the country, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka have similar copy-cat Acts ready. But like the laws that prevent a Dalit, tribal or poor person from becoming a Christian or Muslim, the force of the new law is being felt even in states where no such law is operational. Police officers and men, and the occasional magistrate seem to think the crux of the law has an all-India jurisdiction.
Perhaps one day, it may have, together with the ironically titled Freedom of Religion Acts that are operational now in eight of twenty-nine states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. All these laws seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, another person through ‘forcible’ or ’fraudulent’ means, or by ‘allurement’ or ‘inducement’. Marriage, or its promise, can be interpolated, even if it is not specifically mentioned as inducement, allurement, fraud or coercion.
America, as also South Africa, officially once frowned upon miscegenation, believing that this would contaminate the purity of the White race. This did not prevent white men raping their black slaves, but black men in love with a white woman could face lynching. Even into the second half of the 20th century, this was frowned upon in the well-off sections of American society. The Guest Who Came for Dinner, festering the pioneering black hero Sydney Poitier spelled it out in detailed albeit dark humour. Spain, with its Moorish connection, and even England were not too perturbed. Sherlock Holmes featured an upper crust woman marrying a black African prince, but hiding her daughter who had, ‘unfortunately; taken after the father, rather than the white mother. The case also with US President Barak Obama, for instance. Even now the social snigger in the US is that white women are attracted to black men for their masculinity and sexuality.
But race is not religion. Not even caste. In India with its ‘divine’ purity -- devastatingly exposed by D.D. Kosambi and B R Ambedkar -- the elite castes’ cultural memory conflates both Manu the Law Giver and their 19th and twentieth century understanding of the Muslin invasions into south Asia, and later the rule of the Sultanates and the Moghuls in various regions of the Indian landmass before the British drew the modern map of the nation state.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, requires any proposal to convert permission from the District Magistrate, two months in advance. It prohibits any conversion by "misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or by any fraudulent means or by marriage." The law significantly also says that marriages that are done "for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice versa" would not be allowed.
Those found guilty under the law would face a jail term from one to five years, and a fine of Rs 15,000. If the woman involved is a minor or belongs to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, the jail term would range from three to 10 years, and the fine would increase to Rs 25,000. In the case of mass conversions, the punishment is from three years to 10 years and a fine of Rs 50,000 on the organisations which indulge in it.
Historian Aparna Vaidik of Asoka University has researched the evolution of the idea of ‘love jihad’. As she notes, the non-violence myth provided the necessary camouflage for majoritarian violence. First, it helped deny the existence of caste violence and, second, it projected violence outwards on to other communities. The belief was that it was the Muslims, the foreigners who came to India from outside, who were the ones who indulged in violence. It was the Hindu who was the victim of others’ violence.
“The idea of ‘love jihad’ is not simply about the Hindu-Muslim divide but is intrinsically tied to Indian caste system with its roots in the early 20th century, when some Muslim and Christian organisations were able to convert several lower castes such as sweepers, Chandals, Chamars, Doms, and Lai Begis in various towns of Uttar Pradesh. The publicists of the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha lamented these conversions as they felt the Hindu ‘numbers were declining’ and launched a massive campaign against conversion to Islam (and Christianity).
“At the heart of the ‘love jihad’ is the upper-caste Hindu man’s fear of the lustful Dalit or Muslim man who is supposedly after the Hindu woman. It is the sexual potency of the Dalit/ Muslim man that is feared, one that makes the Hindu man feel insecure and inadequate. In this discourse, it is the Hindu man who is the victim. The lusty Muslim did not stop at stealing their women but also attacked the cows and the lower castes and untouchables by means of conversion. Thus, the Hindu fear of losing their women (love jihad), their cows (gauraksha) and their numerical strength to the conversion of the lower castes to Islam (Ghar Wapsi) were all tied to the Muslim/Dalit man.”
The Chief Minister is then patently doing something that his predecessors had not dared to do though they too would have wanted to have such legal powers to ban mixed marriages. The law also gives Adityanath the opportunity to use the state police forces in enforcing this ban.
He also has at his command various independent groups of the broader Sangh Parivar. While prime among them is the Bajrang Dal, whose hand we have seen in such ghastly incident as the burning alive of Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons in Orissa in 1999, and in various lynching of Muslim youth alleged to be carrying beef. Th Vishwa Hindu parishad has an overlapping cadre base.
Patently, as documented by a few newspapers, members are experts in preventing mixed marriages, “saving” Hindu girls much as they save cows. Sociologists would say they treat them both as property and as issues of religious security. The boast of one Suresh Sharma, 49, a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, is remarkable. A cadre for 20 years, he says he has brought back 50 Hindu girls who had been in relationships with Muslim men or eloped with them.
He doesn’t have the sophistry of the law makers. In his mind, Love jihad is entrapment of Hindu girls by Muslim men in order to turn them into baby-making machines and increase the Muslim population. He says, “This whole thing is a deep conspiracy and starts outside coaching centres, schools, or even inside your homes.” At various times, BJP leaders, legislators and the occasional minister have said the same thing, more or less.
The report quotes him saying the VHP has set up a wide network of its members, followers and supporters to combat ‘love jihad’. “Even if families don’t inform us, we come to know about such affairs and marriages from our activists and sources, and the notice boards of marriage courts. There are lawyers who are connected with our organisation, either directly or indirectly, and they provide us with information on the dates of inter-faith marriages in court.”
More than a hundred retired members of the Indian Administrative and other senior services have called the bluff of the Chief Minister in an open letter to him. They cited a case in Moradabad where, 22-year-old Rashid and his 25-year-old brother, Saleem, were arrested, to be released only two weeks later when Rashid’s wife, Pinki, gave testimony that she had married him willingly, without any compulsion. Rashid and Pinki, who married in July 2020, well before the promulgation of any ordinance on the issue of interfaith marriage, were on their way to have their marriage registered on December 5 when they were accosted by alleged Bajrang Dal men who took them to the police. The obliging policemen sent Pinki to a shelter home. The vigilantes who had accosted the couple brought the young woman’s family to the police station.
“What is inexcusable is that the police remained mute as the vigilantes harassed and interrogated the innocent couple. Pinki suffered a miscarriage, possibly as a result of the harassment,” the open letter said.
The miscarriage was later confirmed by hospital doctors. “Does this not amount to effective murder of an unborn child and is the police force of your State, by their inaction, not complicit in this?” the open letter asked, demanding the state Ordinance be withdrawn immediately. That is the demand of many other civil society groups, apart from political parties and the Muslim community.
Many senior retired judges have condemned the ordinance, calling it unconstitutional, against fundamental rights, and one of the strangest laws.
Former chairman of the National Law Commission, Justice A.P. Shah, told NDTV that the new law reflects the philosophy of a Khap panchayat, with the objective essentially being to subjugate women. Its provisions violate the fundamental right to practice religion, "striking at the very root of right to life and liberty guaranteed under the Constitution". The ordinance was "capable of great public mischief".
Former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, in a statement, said that "it will require a miracle to uphold its constitutional validity," while calling it "one of the strangest legislations" he had ever seen. He particularly questioned the clause that said the burden of proof would fall on the accused.
Justice Lokur pointed out something that Christian activists have been saying for a long time about the so-called Freedom of Religion laws enacted in various states, that while conversion has been deemed illegal, reconversion back to the previous immediate religion was not.
Justice Lokur’s most touching argument against the ordinance is that it impacts not just the couple but even their children. “How can marriages be done for unlawful conversions, as envisaged in the law. Even children born of such marriages would have to bear the brunt”.
The Supreme Court will certainly have to speak on these ordinances as many groups are taking the PIL route to seek its intervention.
In December, the apex court dismissed a PIL against the order of Allahabad High Court which had held that conversions just for the sake of marriage are invalid. The judge had held in the case of Priyanshi @ Km Shamreen & Others Vs State of UP that conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable. The Division Bench of Allahabad on appeal set aside the order.
The U.P. Chief Minister remains unfazed in the face of court orders. As do other BJP chief ministers in Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.