(We take a close look at BJP’s politics that brands interfaith marriage as “love jehad”, and is trying to enact laws criminalising such relationships. We also include a report of AIPWA’s meeting with victims of such a law in UP.)
“Love jehad” is the term used by the RSS and BJP to spread hatred against interfaith marriages in which the man is Muslim and the woman Hindu.
As the @sanitarypanels cartoon puts it: the term “love jehad” is “a shorter way of saying we hate Muslims and think of women as property.” As an editorial in the Indian Express observed, the “love jehad” lies and laws based on those lies “discriminate against and harass members of the minority community”; but “There is another target: women. Such laws assume women’s helplessness, passivity and folly, as though constitutional guarantees do not apply to them; they do not know what is best for them. Women are being viewed here purely as vehicles of reproduction — the community’s property that it should ‘protect’ and keep ‘secure’.”
The RSS and BJP claim that there are thousands of cases of “love jehad” – i.e a planned conspiracy by Muslim men to masquerade as Hindus in order to woo Hindu women, with the aim of converting them to Islam, and increasing the population of Muslims. This conspiracy theory claims that Hindu women are nothing but Hindu wombs, that must produce only Hindu children.
Police forces in many states have investigated and found no basis whatsoever for the theory.
I) Karnataka Police Findings:
i) In 2009, the Karnataka police CID was asked by a division bench of Karnataka High Court to look into allegations of “love jihad” in the marriage of an 18-year-old girl, Silja Raj, from Chamarajnagar area of Bengaluru with a 24-year-old youth, Asghar Nazar, from Kannur in Kerala. In the interim report filed by the CID in the high court on November 13, 2009, Karnataka’s then director general of police Ajay Kumar Singh stated: “There seems to be no prima facie evidence of ‘love jihad’ in the case of Silja Raj of Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district marrying Asgar of Kannur district of Kerala. Silja Raj has married Asgar out of her own volition.”
ii) Subsequently after investigating hundreds of interfaith marriages that had occurred in Karnataka, the CID in a report dated December 31, 2009, stated that “there is no organised attempt by any group of individuals to entice girls/women belonging to Hindu or Christian religions to marry Muslim boys with the aim of converting them to Islam”.
iii) The CID looked into cases of missing girls/women from a five-year period (2005-09) and found that 149 of these were Hindu women who had married Muslim men, while 10 had married Christian men. Also, 38 Muslim women and 20 Christian women had married Hindu men. One Muslim woman had married a Christian man, and 11 Christian women had married Muslim men. Out of 229 cases involving women who were reported as missing and later found to be in an inter-religion marriage, conversion had occurred only in 63 cases.
iv) The Karnataka CID asked Sangh men for details of the allegations of “love jehad” – but no details were given. The final report by then DGP (CID) Dr D V Guruprasad found that “No one has come out with any specific instance of ‘love jihad’ that has taken place in the state. Many of the girls who have married outside their religion and who could be contacted stated that they were leading a happy life after marriage. They are adults and have got married to persons of other religions fully comprehending the consequences of their action.” (Source: ‘8 years before NIA, Karnataka CID probed ‘love jihad’, found no specific instance’, Indian Express, August 22, 2017)
2) NIA probe in Kerala:
Following a directive by the Supreme Court in the Hadiya case, the NIA examined 11 cases of interfaith marriages in Kerala to probe into so-called cases of “love jehad”. The NIA found “no evidence to suggest that in any of these cases either the man or the woman was coerced to convert. At least one among the 11 marriages under examination was purely a matter of relationship gone sour.” (Source: ‘NIA ends Kerala probe, says there’s love but no jihad’, Hindustan Times, October 18, 2018)
3) Kanpur SIT report:
An SIT was set up to probe 14 cases of interfaith Hindu-Muslim marriage reported in Kanpur city. In 8 of the 14 cases probed, the women openly declared that their relationships with the accused were consensual and based on love. In the remaining 6 cases, the FIRs registered are still being investigated, though in one of those cases the accused Muslim man has been released on bail for lack of evidence.
4) Home Ministry statement: On 04.02.2020 in response to queries on “love jehad” cases, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs Shri G. Kishan Reddy responded stating that “Article 25 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. Various courts have upheld this view including the Kerala High Court. The term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of ‘Love Jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.” (Source: “‘No case of love jihad in Kerala’: Centre tells Parliament”, Hindustan Times, February 4, 2020)
A man called Touseef stalked and killed Nikita Tomar in Ghaziabad. This is a case of stalking, not of “love jehad”. There have been many cases where Hindu men have stalked Hindu women: for example, law student Priyadarshini Mattoo was stalked and killed by Santosh Singh; actress Malvi Malhotra was stalked and stabbed by Mahipal Singh. Similarly, some Hindu youth killed Gulnaz in Bihar—that is also patriarchal violence, not ‘Prem Yuddh’ or ‘Love Jihad’.The community identity of the stalker or the victim is irrelevant here: stalking is a patriarchal crime.
There are many cases of rape, stalking, domestic violence, or murder committed by men of various communities against women of various communities. The Sangh cherry picks cases where the accused is Muslim and the victim Hindu, and then claims these are “love jehad”. Such a methodology actually reveals the Sangh’s lack of concern to fight and end patriarchal crimes – they are only interested in communalising those crimes for political gain.
UP’s new “love jehad” ordinance is actually called the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020. It is based on an Allahabad High Court judgement that said “that conversion should not be resorted to only for marriage”. That judgement by a one-judge bench was held to be bad in law and overruled by later judgements by larger benches of the Allahabad HC
a) requires individuals seeking to convert and religious convertors (who perform the conversion) to submit an advance declaration of the proposed religious conversion to the District Magistrate (DM). Failure to submit this declaration is punishable by prison time and fines for both the individual who converts, as well as the person performing the conversion. This means that a Hindu woman who converts to Islam, as well as the kazi performing the conversion, can be jailed and fined.
b) The ordinance seems to exempt conversions by non-Hindus to the Hindu faith, because it allows a person to “reconvert to his/her immediate previous religion”. This provision is in line with the Sangh’s “ghar wapsi” (return home) campaign, where Hinduism is claimed to be the “ghar” or original home of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and so on.
c) On receiving both the declarations, the DM must conduct a police enquiry into the intention, purpose, and cause of the proposed conversion. The Ordinance prohibits conversion of religion through: force, misrepresentation, undue influence, and allurement; or fraud; or marriage. It also prohibits a person from abetting, convincing, and conspiring to such conversions.
d) A First Information Report (FIR) against unlawful religious conversion may be filed by any aggrieved person; his/her parents or siblings; or any other person related to them by blood, marriage, or adoption.
e) There is extra punishment if the person getting converted is a woman, a dalit or an adivasi, or in cases of mass conversion (where entire communities decide to convert, for example, as Dalits led by Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism).
f) any marriage done solely for the purpose of conversion; or any conversion done solely for the purpose of marriage is held to be null and void.
g) According to basic principles of justice, it is the accuser, not the accused who must prove that a crime has been committed. In a violation of this principle, the ordinance assigns the burden of proof of the lawfulness of a religious conversion on the persons accused of causing or facilitating such conversions. And it is not clear how the lawfulness can be proved, given that it is not enough for the person being converted to declare that they are doing so willingly. As Justice (Retd) AP Shah observed, “In any criminal case [where] conversion is presumed to be illegal, the burden of proof is usually on the prosecution. In this ordinance, every religious conversion is presumed to be illegal. The burden of proof lies on the person accused of illegal conversion to prove that it is not illegal. So there is a presumption of guilt. The offence is cognisable. It is non-bailable and the police can arrest anyone.”
Basically, the District Magistrate becomes the government-approved khap panchayat who can arbitrarily declare conversions or interfaith marriages illegal.
i) The ordinance has provisions to punish the so-called victim of conversion, if they fail to give the DM a declaration explaining their reasons for converting to another faith. So a Hindu woman who converts to Islam can be punished under this law, if the DM so chooses.
ii) Women, dalits and adivasis are considered incapable of making their own decisions. The ordinance claims to protect these sections from “forcible” conversions – but it does not allow them to decide whether or not they are converting or marrying willingly or by force! Instead the State through the DM will decide! This is an unwarranted intrusion into the right to privacy of women, dalits and adivasis.
iii) If today, someone were to hold a public ceremony leading a group of Dalits in converting to Buddhism, as Babasaheb Ambedkar did in 1956, he would be punished under the law for “mass conversion.”
iv) If the ordinance indeed claims to protect women, why does the ordinance allow the parents, brother, sister, or any other relation by blood, marriage, or adoption to lodge an FIR? If indeed the ordinance is intended to protect (Hindu) women from forced conversion or deceit by Muslim men, why not allow the woman alone the right to file an FIR? The law itself is designed to be used to overrule and override the will of adult women, because it allows members of the woman’s family to file a complaint even without her consent.
v) The “crimes” defined in the ordinance are of a very broad, vague nature. Justice Shah observed, “the term allurement itself is defined in a very broad way in this law: a single wedding gift like a wrist watch, a bangle, or say a ring, could amount to an allurement.”
The UP Chief Minister had declared his intention to criminalise “love jehad” following an Allahabad High Court judgement that said “that conversion should not be resorted to only for marriage”. But a later verdict of the Allahabad High Court dashed away that flimsy legal pretext for criminalising interfaith marriages. This verdict by the Bench of Justices Pankaj Naqvi and Vivek Agarwal found that the previous High Court’s judgements in the Noor Jehan and Priyanshi cases (in which a Muslim woman converted to Hinduism, and a Hindu woman to Islam respectively) holding that “conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable”, were “not laying good law”. The Allahabad HC observed that “None of these judgments dealt with the issue of life and liberty of two matured individuals in choosing a partner or their right to freedom of choice as to with whom they would like to live.” (Source: ‘Allahabad HC says previous orders on interfaith marriages not ‘good law’’, Indian Express, November 25, 2020)
If these judgements are not good law because they failed to appreciate and protect the life, liberty, and freedom to choose a partner, naturally an ordinance or law based on those judgements also violates the right to life and liberty and freedom to choose a partner.
But the BJP says that the ordinance does not criminalise interfaith love. It only criminalises forced conversion and marriage based on a false identity (i.e cases where a Muslim man allegedly masquerades as Hindu to seduce a Hindu woman).
a) If a Muslim man has pretended to be a Hindu to marry a Hindu woman, how come such marriages adopt a nikaah ceremony? Clearly, if the Hindu woman is agreeing to a nikaah, she is fully aware that the man she is marrying is Muslim, not Hindu.
b) If a woman wants to file a complaint against a man who has cohabited with or married her while hiding his true name and identity, she can very well do so under Section 493 IPC, and needs no new law.
c) If the ordinance indeed claims to protect women, why does the ordinance allow the parents, brother, sister, or any other relation by blood, marriage, or adoption to lodge an FIR? If indeed the ordinance is intended to protect (Hindu) women from forced conversion or deceit by Muslim men, why not allow the woman alone the right to file an FIR? The law itself is designed to be used to overrule and override the will of adult women, because it allows members of the woman’s family to file a complaint even without her consent. This is why, in case after case filed by the UP police under this ordinance, we can see Hindu women being violently separated from their Muslim life-partners, by a toxic combination of Sanghi thugs and the police. In nearly all of the cases filed by the police under this ordinance, the woman asserts that she has loved and married of her own will – while it is her parents who, instigated by the Sanghi thugs, who have filed the complaint.
Women’s groups have, for long, raised the demand to do away with the Special Marriage Act’s requirement of a month’s public notice, pointing out that it this puts the life and liberty of inter-caste and interfaith couples in danger of organised violence. In the Cobrapost ‘Operation Juliet’ sting operation in 2015, one can hear BJP and RSS leaders describing how they stalk city courts to track and trace interfaith couples who, under the Special Marriage Act, have had to give a month’s public notice of their intention to marry: “A lot of advocates are swayamsevaks [‘volunteers’ or members of the RSS]. They keep an eye to see if a Hindu girl registers at the city magistrate or the SDM’s office for marriage and the date given. ... Then they call us. We go there with our whole team . . . fifty, sixty, seventy people.” (Source: ‘Operation Juliet: Busting The Bogey Of “Love Jihad”’, Cobrapost, October 4, 2015)
It is to avoid such violence that interfaith couples tend to marry in Islamic nikah ceremonies or Arya Samaj rituals, where fewer questions are asked and the process is quicker. To avail of a nikah or Arya Samaj ceremony, one of the parties converts to Islam or Hinduism, as needed.
Would the government like to see less “conversions for marriage”? They should lose no time in doing away with the month-long notice period for marriages under the SMA.
Actually, the new ordinance is a sarkari honour crime against inter-faith relationships. Justice AP Shah said it reflects the “philosophy of a khap panchayat”, and was aimed at perpetuating the subjugation of women. It gives legal cover and incentives to honour crimes – which should more accurately be described as crimes against women’s autonomy.
Violence against women’s autonomy is the leading form of gender violence in India, and that such violence hides in plain sight, masquerading as “protection of women from rape.”
In 2014, The Hindu tracked 583 rape cases decided by New Delhi’s district trial courts in 2013, and found that over 40 per cent of “what is classified as rape (in Delhi Police files) is actually parental criminalization of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples.” (Source: ‘The many shades of rape cases in Delhi’, The Hindu, 29 July 2014)
So, over 40 percent of “rape” cases are false, because they are filed, not by the woman who is alleged to be the victim, but by her parents or other members of her family and community. Such “rape” cases actually hide another form of brutal violence (including beatings, threats of acid attacks, force-feeding drugs, and forced abortions): inflicted on adult women by their own patriarchal families and communities.
But with the “love jehad” campaign and laws, this violence against women’s autonomy does not remain a social evil: it gets political and legal backing from the ruling BJP party and the government directly.
Earlier, families who did not like their daughter marrying a Muslim, might only have tried to bully their daughter and might have given up eventually. Today the same families find a government-backed Bajrang Dal at their door, offering state-sponsored force to back up their worst instincts.
“Love jehad” laws are not meant to address allegations of rape or coerced conversion or marriage under false pretences or anything else of which a woman may herself complain. “Love jehad” allegations and laws are acts of violence against any Hindu woman’s decision to love a Muslim man. They are an attack on a woman’s right to love someone of her own choice.
In October 2015, the media portal Cobrapost released recordings of their sting ‘Operation Juliet’ (ibid). Their reporters caught leaders of BJP and many Hindu supremacist outfits on secret camera, explaining in detail how their network works all over the country to separate Hindu women from their Muslim lovers/husbands. One BJP leader from Western UP explained how they beat up Hindu women to coerce them to disown their relationships with Muslim men: “If she doesn’t listen to us, we hit her. We get her beaten up. We misbehave (poori badtameezi karte hain). Such a girl is thrashed with a wooden board (bilkul, phatte se bajwate hain).”
Another leader, BJP MLA Suresh Rana, added that the “woman insists, ‘No matter what, I will stay with him. I won’t go without him.’ If she is taken aside and given two slaps, then she herself goes and gets the FIR registered claiming, ‘He sexually assaulted me.”
Ravish Tantri, the chief of Hindu Unity Forum in Kerala, was caught on camera describing his organisation’s involvement in death threats and forced marriages: “We warn her (the woman) that if she does not give a statement on her parents side and does not marry the guy prescribed by us, then the moment she and her husband step out of the court, they will be killed by our people.”
Members of Hindu supremacist outfits are also caught on camera describing how women are abducted, imprisoned and drugged to coerce them to relinquish their relationship with Muslim men.
Now, in 2020, one no longer needs a sting operation to hear the BJP leaders’ violence in the name of the “love jehad” lie. In a speech, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ssued a death threat to Muslim men in relationships with Hindu women, saying that such “love jehadis” should “prepare for their funeral”. (Source: ‘Yogi warning: End love jihad, or get ready for Ram naam satya hai’, Indian Express, November 1, 2020).
One of the key aspects of Nazism was the deterring and prohibition of inter-racial relationships between men and women. “Love jehad” campaigns and laws are inspired by Hitler’s racist ideology.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler accused Jewish men of seeking to deliberately ‘pollute’ the ‘Aryan’ race by seducing, and encouraging Black men to seduce, white ‘Aryan’ women. He wrote, “The black-haired Jewish youth lies for hours in ambush, a Satanic joy in his face, for the unsuspecting girl whom he pollutes with his blood and steals from her own race. By every means, he seeks to wreck the racial bases of the nation he intends to subdue. Just as individually he deliberately befouls women and girls, so he never shrinks from breaking the barriers race has erected against foreign elements. It was, and is, the Jew who brought Negroes to the Rhine, brought them with the same aim and with deliberate intent to destroy the white race he hates, by persistent bastardisation, to hurl it from the cultural and political heights it has attained, and to ascend to them as its masters. He deliberately seeks to lower the race level by steady corruption of the individual…”
This hateful language is reproduced almost word for word by the Sangh and BJP here in India, claiming that the Muslims are trying to seduce Hindu women.
One model that Nazi Germany wanted to emulate was that of racist US laws enforcing segregation and prohibiting ‘miscegenation’ (inter-racial relationships). In 1934, leading Nazi lawyers met to draft the anti-Jewish ‘Nuremberg Laws’, and took for their model the notorious racist ‘Jim Crow’ laws of the USA. Anti-miscegenation laws that criminalized inter-racial sexual relationships and marriage were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court as late as 1967. Hitler and the Nazis also admired another aspect of US racism – eugenics (forced sterilisation to prevent the birth of humans of genes deemed to be ‘inferior’). In the US in the 1930s, there were laws allowing forced sterilization of women deemed to be genetically ‘immoral,’ ‘criminal’ or disabled. A large proportion of such women were poor and/or Black. Hitler’s eugenics program (that finally led to genocide in the gas chambers) was also inspired by these racist laws.
Hitler also admired the genocide of the American Indians – the original inhabitants of the land now known as ‘USA’. “Indeed as early as 1928, Hitler was speechifying admiringly about the way Americans had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.” (Source: Hitler’s American Model, The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, James Q. Whitman, Princeton University Press, 2017)
In the era of the ‘Jim Crow’ laws, Black men in the US could be killed for having or even being suspected of having consensual relationships with white women. Mob lynching of Black men – often on the pretext of allegations of ‘raping’ white women – was common. We have seen how Nazi Germany admired and wanted to replicate racist laws that provided a pretext and a rationalization of such mob lynchings.
In India, too, we can easily see how the ‘love jehad’ bogey raised by the Sangh Parivar and its various outfits is a copy of the ‘Jim Crow’ and the Nazi models.
Justice Leila Seth, in her powerful plea to repeal Section 377 that criminalised homosexual relationships, wrote, “What makes life meaningful is love. The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalize the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane.” (‘A mother and a judge speaks out on Section 377’, The Times of India, 26 January, 2014.) Today, the Hindu supremacist outfits are spreading hate even against a kiss exchanged between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in a Netflix film based on a novel by Vikram Seth, son of Justice Leila Seth!
The laws criminalising “love jehad” in UP and other BJP-ruled states are indeed cruel and inhumane. They represent the attempt by the BJP to push a toe out of the Constitutional ambit, to begin to build the legal infrastructure of the Hindu Nation.
Many have approached the Allahabad High Court to challenge the UP anti-love ordinance – and it is certainly hoped that the Court will strike down the ordinance. There are many recent instances in which Courts have ruled to protect the right of adult women to love and marry who they choose. But the very fact that this right is repeatedly subjected to legal challenges, indicates how fragile it is today. With the anti-love laws, India’s ruling party wishes to strangulate that already fragile right.
The BJP is trying to define India as a country that hates love, and loves hate. It is for India’s people to fight back and prove otherwise. The Manusmriti, the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany and the odious laws criminalising inter-racial love in apartheid USA and South Africa have been consigned to the dustbin of history and are abhorred the world over. The attempt to enact the same kind of laws in 21st century India must be resisted, tooth and nail, by movements of youth and women.
(Kavita Krishnan writes about the visit of an AIPWA-AISA team to meet victims of the new UP anti-love ordinance. The article was first published in thewire.in)
At first glance, what strikes you about Muskan (Pinky) is how skinny and frail she looks, huddled in bed under a blanket: a far cry from her glowing self in the photograph of herself with Rashid, which made it the Telegraph UK story on her forced abortion.
Mohammad Sartaj Alam, one of the journalists who broke the story, had advised Muskan’s mother-in-law, to get a fresh ultrasound in some hospital outside Moradabad district. So Muskan was taken to Bijnor, where she got an ultrasound done at a private clinic. The report reads, clearly “RPC/blood clots in UT”. This shows that there are “retained products of conception” (fetal matter left over after a miscarriage or abortion) in her uterus. We sent this ultrasound report to a senior gynaecologist, Dr Puneet Bedi, in Delhi, and had Muskan speak to him on phone. She told him she continued to bleed and experience pain. He explained to her, and to us, that it is standard practice to prescribe a course of antibiotics and painkillers after any miscarriage (whether it was spontaneous or induced by abortifacients). Failing this, uterine infections could develop, which might even prevent future pregnancies.
Muskan has alleged that the District Women’s Hospital in Moradabad where she was taken while in police custody, injected her with abortifacients to induce an abortion. The hospital denies this – but their denial rings false because of their suspicious conduct. They declared that no miscarriage had occurred – which is now proven to be a lie. Most shockingly, in actions that befit a Mengele, they did not prescribe any antibiotics to Muskan after the miscarriage. Surely they knew that this could mean that she might lose her ability to ever bear a child? They also withheld Muskan’s treatment papers from her, though she asked for them.
Kawalpreet Kaur from AISA, and Sneha, an advocate from Human Rights Law Network, went to buy the medicines Dr Bedi had prescribed, as Muskan made an effort to sit up and speak to me. Her mother-in-law, Naseema, and two aunts of Rashid’s who have come down from Uttarakhand, ask me whether it is safe to give her eggs, meat, ghee to strengthen her up. She has been wasting away from blood loss, weakness, sorrow at the miscarriage and worry for Rashid’s wellbeing, they tell me.
Asked about how she and Rashid met, she hid a little smile: the memory still brought her joy. She has a BA degree, and she was living alone and working in a financial company in Dehradun, when she met Rashid, who ran a saloon. They courted each other for over a year, then got married in July 2020.
Naseema told us that after the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 was passed, she began to worry about her son and daughter-in-law. She knew they had done a nikah ceremony in July 2020 in Dehradun, after duly informing the SP Dehradun as required by Uttarakhand’s own Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act 2018. Since then, they had been living together happily, and Muskan was pregnant. But Naseema was uneasy, hearing all the hateful warning issued by the UP CM and other BJP leaders against inter-faith relationships. She asked a lawyer, Deepak, whether it was advisable for the couple to get the marriage registered, to protect them from any harassment. He told her that the marriage must be registered, and took Rs 5000 from her, to get the documents uploaded and the marriage registered. Either he, or someone in the bureaucracy who was part of the registration process, must have informed Bajrang Dal.
Muskan describes how, on 5 December, she, Naseema, and Rashid’s brother Salim were accosted by a violent Bajrang Dal mob on their way to get the marriage registered. The mob abused them, slapped and roughed up Salim, and videotaped the whole episode. I found a video on Facebook of some part of this heckling (see screengrab below). It is striking to see how calm and confident Muskan manages to remain, in the face of the Bajrang Dal thugs. They tell her “You have to get permission from the DM to get married – they’ve had to make a law for the likes of you”. Asked on camera if her father or “guardian” has given her permission to marry Rashid, she replies, “I am an adult, I am 22, I have married him of my own choice 5 months ago.”
The Bajrang Dal got Muskan’s mother to the police station, and induced them to file an FIR alleging that Rashid had masqueraded as a Hindu to seduce her daughter, who is from a Scheduled Caste. Muskan scoffed when I asked her about this: “I am an adult, I know my own mind, and I was living on my own when I met Rashid. I knew full well he was Muslim. We loved each other. I converted to Islam of my own accord, and we both got married. My mother does not know him, she has just parroted whatever the Bajrang Dal men asked her to.”
Why did Muskan need to convert to Islam, and why did Rashid and she choose a nikah ceremony rather than registration under the Special Marriage Act? Muskan’s experience of trying to get her marriage registered answers that riddle quite well. The SMA or registration process discriminates against couples. It places hurdles that couples who marry under the Hindu or Muslim or Christian or other religious laws, do not face. Unlike religious ceremonies, the SMA process requires a couple to put up a public notice of their intention to marry, and allow a month’s interval for anyone to raise an objection to the marriage. Informers within the bureaucracy alert the Hindu-supremacist outfits, and they spring into action to separate the couple, unleash violence, and prevent the marriage. In the case of Muskan and Rashid also, the Bajrang Dal thug-in-chief who interfered, boasts that he has a network of informers everywhere. (Source: 'Moradabad ‘love jihad’: What killed Muskan’s child?' Newslaundry, 20 Dec 2020)
It is to avoid this kind of violence, that couples choose a religious ceremony. Since patriarchal objections to the marriage are most likely to be raised by the woman’s community, it is the women in such relationships who tend to convert to their partner’s faith. In another recent instance in UP, a Muslim woman converted to the Hindu faith to marry Naman, a Hindu young man. (Source: Navbharat Times)
On the day we visited Muskan, Rashid and Salim were released from prison. The police itself had filed a petition under Section 169 CrPC, informing a magistrate that they lacked evidence against the accused. But, as Muskan told us, the police knew the truth from the start. Yet, they acted to appease the Bajrang Dal thugs rather than punish them for their attempts to terrorise an inter-faith couple. It is no wonder that Hindu supremacist thugs in UP act like a shadow government – after all, one of their own is the Chief Minister. When CM Adityanath issues death threats to Muslim men who love and marry Hindu women, he is promising the thugs his blessing and protection.
So on 5 December, what was to be a happy and festive occasion turned into a nightmare. Rashid and his brother Salim were taken away to prison, Muskan was taken into a “shelter home”, and Rashid’s younger brother Nasir escaped a mob of Bajrang Dal thugs who were out to lynch him.
What Muskan told us about the shelter home was not surprising. “It is a prison, women are tortured there”, she said, adding that there are other adult women imprisoned there for the crime of loving someone from a different caste or faith. “Their parents claim they are minors, and they are kept there, prevented from having mobile phones. No one but their own parents are allowed to meet women incarcerated in these “shelter” homes, they are made to cook and clean, and the staff bully them. They are told that they can be free from the “shelter home” only if they agree to give up their relationship and be released into parental custody.
The police and shelter home authorities knew Muskan was pregnant. Yet she was taken away from a loving home, violently separated from her husband who was jailed, and taken into custody as though she were a criminal. A few days later, she began to develop abdominal pains. The shelter home authorities said she was making it all up. When the pain became unbearable, she was eventually taken to hospital on 11 December, where she was admitted, and, except for a brief interval, remained till 14 December. She says that she was given tablets and injections by the hospital authorities, after which she miscarried.
When Muskan was still in custody, I had heard a recording of a phone call she had managed to make to her mother-in-law. I asked Muskan how she managed to make the call. She said one could bribe the shelter home staff to use a phone. With great presence of mind, she recalled Naseema’s number and managed to call and tell her that she suspected she had been forced to miscarry.
When Rashid and Salim come home, Naseema and the boys’ aunts embrace them fiercely. Rashid and Salim are weeping. Rashid comes over to Muskan and holds her, and both are in tears. As media cameras flash and TV journalists keep asking questions, Rashid whispers to Muskan. He is obviously devastated at her weak appearance.
But Rashid and Salim are both guarded in what they say about the police. They were escorted into their own home by an officious, grim and unsmiling man in a black suit, who kept saying to the family “What are all the tears for, it is all okay now, all is now well.” This man kept trying to disperse the media as well as activists like us. A friend of the family whispered to me that this man worked with the police, and his presence was meant to remind Rashid and Salim that they were being watched.
Rashid’s is a very poor, working class household in Kanth village in UP’s Moradabad district. Naseema has had to spend a lot of money in bribes. Without bribes, she said, it was impossible to get warm clothes to her daughter-in-law in the shelter home, nor to her sons who were being held captive in a quarantine centre.
By the police’s own admission, there is no evidence that Muskan, Rashid or Salim had committed any crime. Their arrest and detention was clearly illegal. The officious man in a suit may say “no harm has been done and all is well”, but in fact, Muskan and Rashid and their loved ones are all victims of a series of violent acts by the Bajrang Dal, and by a range of UP Government authorities including the police, shelter home and hospital.
It would be truly obscene if we, the people of India, too say “no harm done”, shrug and look the other way.
A loving husband and wife were violently attacked by an outfit which, by its own admission, trains its members in violence and makes a habit of separating inter-faith couples. The police, instead of acting against the thugs, illegally arrested the victims of the violence. A pregnant woman was subjected to trauma. Whether as a result of the trauma or as a result of forced administration of abortifacients, she suffered a miscarriage. The authorities lied, denied the miscarriage, and in order to protect the lie, failed to protect her from a possible uterine infection that could affect child-bearing in the future. In two weeks, a pregnant bride in the pink of health has been reduced to a shadow of herself.
UP’s anti-love ordinance is a blood-purity law to rival Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg laws. Muskan’s and Rashid’s case is not a “misuse” of the law. The only “use” of such an ordinance is to give legal cover to Hindu supremacist thugs who inflict violence on inter-faith couples. It is not enough for such ordinances to be struck down and declared unconstitutional by courts. Courts, if they are to do their duty, must order a countrywide probe into the violent Hindu supremacist outfits that terrorise inter-faith couples, and their enablers embedded in the police and administration. They must mandate changes in the Special Marriage Act to do away with the month-long notice period. The Supreme Court Right to Privacy judgement must not just be an elegant piece of prose for the history books. Courts must act to protect the right of inter-faith, inter-caste and same-sex couples to privacy, so that any government employee who leaks information about impending marriages to vigilante groups, should lose his job and face prosecution. And last, but not least, all laws seeking to restrict conversion must be struck down. Faith, like love and marriage, is a private affair. The State cannot claim authority to ask adult individuals to furnish justifications for their decision to convert, or to marry.