Love Jihad in Uttar Pradesh: 5 Problems With The Law Against It & Why The Alternative Is Being Ignored

Recent reports have suggested that the Chief Minister of UP is considering an ordinance to enact an anti-conversion law. The specific aim of this law will be to prevent ‘love jihad’ in Uttar Pradesh.

This move seems to be a response to the call for action made by Shree Mohan Bhagwat, Chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Recently, the RSS Chief was in the State for a visit. In a meeting with officers of the RSS, he reportedly expressed concerns over ‘Love Jihad’ in Uttar Pradesh. That is to say, religious conversions in the name of love, in the State.

The State seems to have seen a rise in incidents of Muslim boys luring Hindu girls into marriage. The boys allegedly conceal their religious identity. Later, the boys or their families force the girls to convert to Islam. In some cases, they reportedly abandon or even kill the girls. The RSS Chief called for effective strategies to deal with the issue.

The Before and After- of ‘Love Jihad’ or Sometimes Only ‘Love’?

So how will an anti-conversion law counter Love Jihad in Uttar Pradesh?

Last year, the U.P. State Law Commission had presented a draft anti-conversion bill along with a report. Under the proposed law, if one wants to change their religion, they need to give prior notice to a State official. The official will then look into the real intention behind the proposed conversion. If the person fails to give such notice, they face imprisonment. Their religious conversion is also nullified.

The proposed law further prohibits religious conversion by force, allurement, or deceit.

Problems with an anti-conversion law

Uttar Pradesh will not be the first State to enact an anti-conversion law. Quite a few States in the country have already enacted such laws. These include Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh.

The Supreme Court of India (SC) has held the anti-conversion laws in M.P. and Odisha to be constitutionally valid. But the SC has not yet had the opportunity to review newer laws in other States. The States of Uttarakhand, H.P., and U.P. have introduced some new aspects into their laws/proposed law. In my view, these aspects are problematic. Let’s see how.

1) Punishing the victim of Love Jihad

These State laws punish a person who fails to make an advance declaration of his/her intent to convert. But a person who is subject to religious conversion by force or fraud is the victim of an offence. A provision of law that makes such a victim punishable hardly seems justified.

And what about cases not involving any force or fraud? Having to make a prior declaration is only restrictive of a person’s freedom of religion in such a case.

2) Conversion for the sole purpose of marriage

Under these laws, Courts may declare a conversion for the sole purpose of marriage, a nullity.

But the Constitution allows each person the freedom to convert into any religion. It also guarantees one the freedom to marry any person of one’s choice. Both these acts are legal and permissible. Why then should one not be free to convert for the sole purpose of getting married to the person of their choice?

3) Any relative of the person converted may complain

The laws enable any family member to lodge a complaint of forced conversion. But this provision is highly susceptible to misuse. Especially in cases of inter-religion marriages, families may misuse this provision. They may try to prevent a member from exercising his/her right to marry as per choice.

4) Burden to prove no Love Jihad

Some of these laws put the ‘burden of proof’ on the person converting or causing such conversion. So it would be for this person to prove that the conversion was not effected through force, etc.

This provision has the inbuilt possibility to turn into a tool of harassment. How can one prove they had bona fide ‘intent’ to convert into the other religion? How can one prove that extraneous factors did not bring about this conversion?

An anti-conversion law aims to prevent forcible or fraudulent conversions. The goal is not to put unnecessary fetters on the right of any individual to convert to another religion. So, it may be a better course to make the person or State who alleges force or fraud, etc. to prove the same.

5) Infantilisation of women

I now come to the most insidious issue there is with these laws. It lies with the message being conveyed here. The message is that Indian women do not just need a father or a husband as a guardian. They also need the State to act as their guardian angel.

Why do we need an anti-conversion law to deal with the alleged menace of ‘Love Jihad’? To criminalize the act of inducing or forcing a conversion? Yes. That is surely a way to deter men from committing such an act. But what about the harassment caused in genuine cases of marriage? Should we accept it as the cost to prevent Love Jihad?

Maybe we don’t need to. We can simply educate vulnerable women about their legal rights. Let them know all about the differences in Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and secular law. Empower them to make informed choices as well as be responsible for their decisions. Then leave them on their own.

Reason For Ignoring This Alternative

Perhaps that last bit is what the powers that be, are not so interested in doing. Empowering women might prevent Love Jihad, perhaps even better than any law. But it may also lead to women becoming ‘too liberal’ for anyone’s liking. Liberal women may voluntarily choose to marry and convert into the other religion. This might further set bad precedents for the not-so-liberalized women. People may have to finally accept that women can have brains and agencies of their own. And that they need not always be ‘lured’ into marrying men from another community.

So it’s perhaps better to treat women like the law treats a minor. Indian women should simply be seen as incapable of making informed choices. Lest they become too informed.

The ‘Father of the Bride’ Syndrome

One of my all-time favourite movies is ‘Father of the Bride’. It stars Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams as the father-daughter duo. It is a comedy about a doting and protective father coming to terms with his daughter’s decision to marry. One of the most hilarious scenes is where the daughter announces getting married. And the father pictures her as a pre-schooler in pigtails!

Perhaps the RSS and State leaders too look at Indian women this way. Awww!

Enjoy the scene.

Indian, lawyer, aspiring writer, and a mother.