Author: Tirtho Banerjee: The Maharashtra government has announced that it will look into the bills and laws of other states related to ‘Love Jihad’ and take an appropriate decision.
“Such cases are happening all over the country. Some states have made strict laws to prevent such cases; therefore, Maharashtra is also ready to enact a law on similar lines to ensure long-term protection to women,” Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the portfolio of law and judiciary, said on December 20. call soon.
Fadnavis also pointed out that in the recent past there have been about 40 marches in various parts of the state demanding the ‘Love Jihad’ law.
His comments came a day when right-wing activists beat up a youth accused of love jihad in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore district.
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WHAT IS ‘LOVE JIHAD’?
In “Love Jihad”, Muslim men are believed to be intended to convert mainly Hindu women, but also Christians, through means such as seduction, feigning love, fraud, kidnapping and marriage. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been probing several cases, mainly from Kerala.
Some also see it as an Islamophobic conspiracy theory developed by Hindutva supporters. They say the use of the term is targeting a particular community and appealing to the right-wing constituency for electoral gains. After the brutal murder of Shraddha Walkar in which her neighbor Aaftab Poonawala chopped her body into pieces, social media was abuzz with the term.
When Chandy scored conversions
It gained more attention in 2009 when the Kerala Bishops’ Council reported that 4,500 girls in Kerala had been targeted in ‘Love Jihad’, and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that 30,000 girls had been converted to Islam in Karnataka alone.
On 25 June 2012, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy of the Congress informed the state legislature that since 2006, 2,667 young women had converted to Islam in the state, of which 2,195 were Hindus and 492 were Christians.
Although Chandy said there was no evidence of forced conversions in the state and fears about love jihad were unfounded, his statement sparked a debate on the sensitive issue.
Many Hindu and Christian groups called for an investigation into the “phenomenon”. Similarly, the People’s Front of India and Campus Front were banned in September this year because they were behind the ‘Love Jihad’ cases.
In September 2009, the right-wing group Shri Ram Sena put up posters warning against love jihad in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. In December 2011, BJP’s Mallika Prasad stirred up a hornet’s nest in the Karnataka legislature when she claimed that 84 girls had gone missing in Dakshina Kannada district between June and November of that year, of which only 69 had been found. Following his statement, the Karnataka government decided to launch an inquiry into ‘Love Jihad’.
Also Read: No need for separate law against ‘love jihad’: Karnataka Home Minister
In 2019, the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission submitted a report to the chief minister saying that forced religious conversions or conversions through fraudulent means were on the rise. He recommended a law to check this. In 2020, the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet approved a draft ordinance against enforced interfaith conversions: ‘Love Jihad’. It was aggressively implemented by the Uttar Pradesh government.
The law prohibits conversion by force, misrepresentation, undue influence, enticement, fraud or marriage. It also prohibits a person from aiding, abetting and conspiring in such conversions. The marriage will be declared null and void if it was performed for the sole purpose of illegal conversion, vice versa or if the religious conversion did not follow the procedure of the ordinance.
Apart from the penalty, it also makes this act of conversion a non-bailable criminal offence. Offenses under the Act are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
On September 19 this year, UP’s first conviction under the ordinance took place when the Amroha district court sentenced 25-year-old Mohammad Afzal to five years in prison and fined him 40,000 euros.
Afzal was accused of lying about his identity, taking a 16-year-old Hindu girl to Delhi and forcing her to convert to Islam for marriage. Afzal’s lawyer challenged the verdict and said, “The case is based on forcible conversion, but there is no evidence to prove that the accused was trying to forcefully convert the minor.”
After Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state, Madhya Pradesh, followed suit and passed a similar law. In March 2021, the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.
Those found guilty of “conversion by fraudulent means” face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. Any marriage solemnized in violation of the law is considered null and void. Those willing to convert must apply 60 days in advance to the district administration. Religious leaders who facilitate conversion are also required to do so. they must give 60 days notice, and jail and fines will be imposed if this is not complied with.
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The law also has many other provisions, including imprisonment of three to 10 years and a fine of 50,000 rupees, in cases of marriages performed by concealing religion, misrepresentation or concealment of identity.
Other states with anti-conversion laws include Gujarat, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Karnataka.
THE MILESTONE HADIYA CASE
In 2017, the Hadiya case investigated by the NIA made headlines. The father of a Hindu woman alias Akhila Hadiya alleged that a Muslim man forcibly converted her to Islam for marriage. The Kerala High Court annulled the marriage on the grounds that the bride’s parents were not present nor had they given permission for the marriage. On March 8, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the annulment of Hadiya’s marriage.
In June 2018, the Jharkhand High Court ruled in favor of divorce in an alleged ‘Love Jihad’ case in which the accused allegedly lied about her religion and forced the victim to convert to Islam after marriage.
Also Read: Why Maharashtra panel sparks outcry on inter-faith marriages
FREEDOM OF CHOICE
Although the laws against ‘Love Jihad’ are becoming stricter, it is worth noting that more and more interfaith couples are facing the prospect of tying the knot. Laws against forced conversions are fine, but they shouldn’t create a culture of fear, experts say.
If this happens, couples will turn to conversion as an escape. India’s Special Marriage Act requires a month’s notice before interfaith couples get married. The couple’s family can object and stop it.
While illegal activities must be tackled, it is also essential to allow mature couples the freedom to choose their partner and religion. â