The unhealthy ordinance of 'Love Jihad'

The 'Love Jihad Ordinance' is antithetical in letter and spirit to an empowered, integrated nation constituted in 1947

Nirupama Sekhri Dec 05, 2020

The 'Love Jihad Ordinance' is antithetical in letter and spirit to an empowered, integrated nation constituted in 1947 

As any matrimonial advertisement in the country bears witness, Indians prefer to seek matches within community and caste. In fact, a unique study undertaken 'Exploding the myth of mixed marriages in India'  shows how between just 1981 to 2005 there has been only a sluggish increase in mixed marriages, with inter-religious marriages continuing to languish way below inter-economic and inter-caste ones. 

So, given the extremely limited scope of this issue, it is indeed curious why Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest turned nationalist politician, has chosen to draft and push for what is now commonly known as the  'Love Jihad Ordinance' on such hurried priority, when governments like his around the world are putting their heads together to address imminent problems like economic slowdown and growing joblessness, spiking cases of domestic violence and mental health distress, set off by the Covid pandemic.

It is since last year that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh - India's most populous state with 220 million people of whom nearly 20 percent are Muslims - has been working on a draft law that allows the government to intervene in marriages where there is a perception of forced religious conversion - especially of Hindus to Islam - and stringently punish 'guilty' parties. The Ordinance - Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, - a special decree cleared by the UP cabinet and promulgated on November 27. enjoins inter-religious couples to submit an application for 'permission' to the District Magistare two months prior to the wedding. Understandably, it has set off a flurry of legal and civil challenges by citizens alarmed at the communally divisive spirit of the ruling.    

There is no doubt that marriage is an area that could do with more robust and active involvement of the government to check the still existing practice of child marriage, dowry demands, forced marriage, among others, to facilitate citizens exercise greater agency and power to make this extremely personal choice, as well as ease a more integrated society. Neither of which the ordinance seems to be attempting. Rather it is further suffocating personal choice and encouraging a divided view of communities even by the choice of a loaded, aggressive word like 'Jihad'.  

To many around the country, this step is yet another blow by the BJP government to the idea of a more united and secular India. In 1947, the country chose to bear a highly unique position in the region, and in the world, of extending legal recognition to different marriage laws through its Hindu, Muslim and Christian Marriage Acts, to respect the diverse religions flourishing in the Indian subcontinent for centuries. No doubt, this has also thrown up challenges over the decades, in particular about divorce, alimony, property inheritance, etc. for which too there have been concomitant legal benches and committees set up to address. 

It was hoped at the time, and since, that the Special Marriage Act 1954 which did not recognize the religion of any citizen but was the same for all, would steadily attract more people to it and help in evolving a uniform marriage code for all citizens. In fact, the drafter of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B.R Ambedkar, declared forcefully in his famous 'Annihilation of Caste' speech that - "I am convinced that the real remedy is intermarriage.  .... Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity." Chief Minister Yoginath's vision seems in direct contrast to this!

Sara, born in a Muslim family in Delhi, at 18, eloped with a local Hindu since both families opposed the match. They went on to live independently and raise four children. Today, at the age of 62, what are her views on the Ordinance? 

“It’s nonsense,” she says, “Who is the government to tell me who to marry or allow our families to interfere! What I regret is not having studied and not getting part of the family property, which would’ve given me so many more choices in life.”

Recently, the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Rajesh Pandey, told a leading newspaper - “When I was transferred to Bareilly, I observed a strange pattern — many couples were killing themselves." He recorded eight suicides and 17 couple suicides in just his district within a couple of years. "All the couple wanted to do was lead a peaceful life. But their family could not get past the caste differences,” he said. So, it seems clear that the government should be protecting the victims of such discrimination rather than fanning such incidents.

India was the last country in the South Asian region to eradicate polio, with Uttar Pradesh being one of the most challenging to ensure universal vaccination. There are more serious health legacies that the UP chief minister would do better to focus on.  

(The writer is an educator. The views expressed are personal)

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