Thou shalt not love thy neighbour, especially if the neighbour follows another religion. This will be the situation in Maharashtra if the state Government succeeds in passing a bill that will make religious conversions illegal, especially if a girl is forced to marry in order to convert her to another religion.
Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced in the state Legislature this week that the Government is studying the laws on religious conversions passed by various state Legislatures in the country. It will not be surprising that the Maharashtra Government comes up with a Bill on religious conversion, given that such bills have been introduced or ordinances promulgated on the issue in states ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
There are demands by party members and leaders from the BJP-ruled states, where such a law is not in place, to have it in their respective states too. The demand for such a law and its passing is primarily to prevent or curb the conversion of a Hindu woman to Islam through marriage to a Muslim man.
The Hindutva brigade has coined the term “Love Jihad” for this, alleging that Muslim men entice Hindu women to fall in love with them, with the the relationship culminating in marriage, after “forcing” the women to convert to Islam.
In order not to give the term a communal colour, Mr Fadnavis mentioned in the legislature that the term was coined by a police officer in Communist Party-ruled Kerala; however, there is no evidence to prove this claim. On the contrary, circumstantial evidence points to fanatic Hindutva organisations and their leaders for coming up with the term.
Who coined the term is not important — the effect of the term on credulous persons and nincompoops, who are found in plenty in the country, is a matter of concern. It is tragic that even professionals and highly qualified people fall in this category.
It is too far-fetched a hypothesis that Muslim men deliberately make Hindu women fall in love with them, because even if they have such plans, one cannot be forced to “fall in love” with someone. After the call for Hindus to boycott Muslim-owned commercial establishments, there is now a call to refrain from marrying Muslim men. The plan is to fire up communal hatred in order to gain political mileage.
Primarily, the nomenclature Love Jihad is in itself questionable, but there are more serious issues than that, which will affect the population at large if a legislation against religious conversion is passed in Maharashtra. The Maharashtra Government plans to study similar legislations in other states. The laws passed by other states have stringent measures and most of these need to stand judicial scrutiny as regards Constitutional validity in terms of human rights, individual privacy and right to religion.
Religion and religious beliefs are and should be personal issues for every individual, as long as these do not infringe upon the rights of others or affect public order. Hence, religion and its practice by one religious group should not be a matter of concern for those professing another religion. Ironically, those wanting to curb inter-religious marriages, on the grounds that the woman — generally presumed to be Hindu — is forced to change her religion, encourage and bring about political conversions, offering numerous allurements.
Change of political ideology, especially by elected representatives, affects the public at large and primarily the voters of such representatives. Mr Fadnavis is on record that he and his party brought about the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (by political “conversion” of Shiv Sena legislators). We require a stricter law to ban political conversion of elected representatives, while giving the citizens the right to change their religion as and when they want.
The legislations in question have been challenged in the Supreme Court and those cases are pending before it. Several eminent jurists are appearing for the petitioners challenging a ban on religious conversions, primarily due to marriage. Campaigns are run on social media against such jurists, naming them and calling them anti-Hindu, and claiming that thousands of crores of rupees are being pumped into India from Islamic countries to bring about conversion from Hinduism to Islam.
The Uttar Pradesh law on the matter states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or "otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion”.
The legislation defines allurements as offer of any temptation in the form of any gift, gratification, easy money or material benefit either in cash or kind; employment, free education in reputed school run by any religious body; or better lifestyle, divine displeasure or otherwise.
Only a Government blinded by religious fanaticism, without concern for the welfare of its subjects can be so foolish as to make these acts illegal. In a country where there is utter poverty, many cannot afford quality education or strive for better lifestyle, millions would be willing to denounce their religion for acquiring these facilities. Divine displeasure is also mentioned as an allurement, but almost all religions speak of divine displeasure, and so do conditions in insurance schemes; as such, a person may want to change her/his current religion as well, feeling divine displeasure in it.
If such a law existed in yesteryears, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar would have been arrested for converting millions from Hinduism to Buddhism. That is not all — the invaders, especially the Mughals, who could freely rule this country, would have been penalised, not for ruling India but for marrying and converting Hindu women to Islam.
The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi
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