Announcement of Love-Jihad Bill In Madhya Pradesh Reminds Of Germany’s Rassenschande (Racial Defilement) And Takes Away Women’s Agency To Choose
By Shivangi Sharma
NEW DELHI:-Madhya Pradesh Home Minister has recently announced to introduce the “Love Jihad” Bill in the upcoming state assembly session. The bill, to be called Dharma Swatantrya Bill, 2020 will have provision for cognizable and non-bailable offences and will carry five years rigorous imprisonment for violators. Similar announcements have been made by other BJP ruled states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka to introduce law to curb religious conversion in the name of love jihad. A conspiracy theory riddled in the bigoted and misogynist ideology is being formalized with legal provisions in a country that constitutionally guarantees freedom of religion and right to marry a person of one’s choice. Following is a critique of the proposed bill and all the conspiracy theories surrounding it through a feminist and constitutional lens.
Not legally recognized a term yet, conservative religious groups claim that love jihad is when Muslim men feign love to non-muslims, especially Hindu women to convert them to Islam with an intention to increase their population. It is a tactic to lure Hindu women into marrying in Muslim families and thus deceivingly converting them to Islam. It has also been alleged that various crimes like kidnapping, abduction and sexual assault are committed on women to forcefully convert their religion. As per the proposed bill by Madhya Pradesh Home Minister, there is an assumption that inter-faith marriages are a result of fraud and enticing women into religious conversion but the same assumption do not hold true in a vice-versa situation.
Going by the statements made by various Hindu conservative groups, they speak as if Hindu women are their property who do not have a will of their own. It reaffirms the idea that our patriarchal society does not acknowledge the agency of a woman to choose her own life partner. The authority of making any decision in a woman’s life is assumed by her parents till she gets married and after that by her husband. Deeply rooted misogyny and casteism in Hinduism stemming from Manu-Smriti has ensured that women do not get any say in the matter of marriage. The culture of arranged marriage does not let men and women marry outside their community to keep the Brahminical patriarchy intact. It is fair to say that a society so consumed in patriarchy is threatened by women taking over their right to life and cannot bear the idea of them choosing a man from different religion. Flouting this culture by marrying outside of the caste and religion has often been met with honour killing of the couple by their own families. While the government itself agrees that no case of ‘love jihad’ has ever been registered (as it is not recognized by law yet), National Crime Records Bureau has shown rapid growth in number of honour killings especially in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
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A society that is already hostile towards inter-faith couples, legal recognition to ‘love jihad’ legitimizes all the hate-crimes committed under the garb of protecting religious identity. The proposed laws will give sanction to the State for further harassment of such couples ensuring that they do not receive an equal protection under the law as intra-faith and intra-caste couples get.
Our Constitution guarantees to its citizens ‘Right to Life’ that includes the right to choose their own life partner. It also guarantees the right to practice and profess any religion and Supreme Court has time and again protected these rights even against family members. The famous case of ‘Hadiya Jahan’ very categorically says that parental love and concern cannot be allowed to fluster the right of choice of an adult in choosing a man to whom she gets married. As far as the concern regarding fraudulent marriage and forceful conversion goes, the existing laws already protect a person from them and carry sufficient punishment. Special Marriage Act, 1954 declares a marriage voidable if consent of either of the party was obtained by coercion or fraud. Anti-conversion laws in India criminalize the conversion of people by the means of force, inducement, allurement and fraudulent tactics. People aiding in such conversions are also liable to be punished.
Introducing a law based on dubious theories is going to serve the twofold purpose of targeting Muslim community and restricting the growth of women empowerment by keeping them in clutches of law and society. One cannot help but draw the parallels between love jihad and the propaganda of Rassenschande (racial defilement) in Nazi Germany. It was the Nazi term for sexual relations between Aryans and non-Aryans which was punishable by law. Persons accused of racial defilement were publicly humiliated, Germans who had intermarried with Jews prior to the Nuremberg laws were targeted and encouraged to divorce their existing partners. India is aggrieved of similar social environment with increasing religious disharmony. Legal recognition of love jihad propaganda is a giant leap in the façade of “Hindu Rashtra” that religious conservative groups have built. It is a pure distraction from working on issues of gender inequality, domestic violence, religious and caste atrocities and making religious conversion a scapegoat in furthering false agendas.
At a time when Indian feminists are raising their voices to legally recognize marital rape, dismantle patriarchal and misogynist attitude of judiciary in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and caste atrocities, legislature is taking several steps backward undoing all the work done by progressive leaders of gender and religious rights. It is needless to say that the proposed laws are unconstitutional on the face of it but it will be better if instead of judiciary striking them down, they should never come alive to see the light of the day.
THE WOMB TEAM