Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra
Facebook (Narottam Mishra)

What is 'love jihad'? How do you define it? Who has the right to pronounce with authority that it is 'love jihad'? Not the neighbourhood police constable, we hope. Will the word of the parents of a girl be treated as gospel truth as against that of the girl herself, who wants to marry the boy of her choice of her free volition, on reaching the age of marriage at 18 years? These are some of the questions that crop up following the statement by the Madhya Pradesh Home Minister on Tuesday that the state would soon pass a law to ban what he called 'love jihad'.

Narottam Mishra said love jihad would be made a cognisable and a non-bailable offence, punishable by a five-year prison term. Also, those assisting 'love jihad' too were liable to be prosecuted. Madhya Pradesh is the first BJP-ruled state to concretise the proposal to bring in a Bill in the Assembly, a promise Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had made during the campaign for the recent assembly by-elections.

Other BJP-ruled states such as Haryana, Assam, Karnataka and UP too have spoken of their intention to ban 'love jihad', but have not yet firmed up the proposed legislation. Maybe once the law is passed by Madhya Pradesh, it will become a model for other BJP states to adopt. But there are bound to be legal challenges aplenty against the proposed law. While the BJP obsesses about Hindu girls being lured into marriage and converted to Islam against their will, the party is silent on a Hindu boy marrying a Muslim girl who upon marriage converts to Hinduism. Admittedly, such cases are rare but nonetheless there are a few and defy the conventional belief about only Hindu girls marrying Muslim boys against the wishes of their elders.

No doubt, media reports about Muslim boys luring Hindu girls for conversion-cum-marriage have generated adverse reactions from the Sangh Parivar. It is believed that targeting Hindu girls is part of a larger conspiracy against Hindus by Islamic outfits. Well-researched reports in the British media about how gangs of Muslim boys abused British girls and then pushed them into prostitution may have further stripped 'love’ from a Hindu girl-Muslim boy marriage. Besides, the fact that invariably, the Hindu partner in an inter-faith marriage feels obliged to convert, lends the controversy a sharper edge. A Muslim reneging on his religion attracts such opprobrium that he becomes an outcast in his own family and social circle. In short, Islam being a hard religion, its hold on believers makes 'love jihad' in reverse a black swan event.

Meanwhile, the Allahabad High Court in September last, had frowned upon religious conversions for marriage, saying it was unacceptable. But the answer for such conversions of convenience lies in enacting a uniform civil code and not on legislation to ban so-called 'love jihad'. Maybe the easier way to prevent religious conversion when a Hindu girl chooses to marry, of her own free volition, a non-Hindu, is to make civil marriage ceremony legally compulsory. Instead of 'nikaah', it could be marriage under the Special Marriage Act.

The fact is, Islam enjoins upon believers to convert non-Muslims. No such religious sanction even edgeways exists in the amorphous religion that is Hinduism. Nor do Hindus target their co-religionists who renege on the religion they were born under to embrace another religion. Yet, injecting criminality and making it punishable under law is not a solution to what is essentially a weakness of Hindu religion --- or maybe actually, it is a real strength, not being bound by a text written aeons ago, when rudimentary tribal life alone was a reality. The religion without a textbook to adhere to, that is Hinduism, cannot be, should not be, sought to be chained in legal edicts which militate against its core practice and way-of-life which, to put it simply, is 'sab chalta hai’.

You can be a good Hindu without going to a temple ever once in your life, without offering prayer to your god once or five times daily, you can renounce Hinduism and yet Hinduism will own you as a fellow Hindu. In short, Hindu religion is made for ages, while religions of the book are in dire need of updating theirs to circa 2020. Given this huge strength, the so-called love jihad law is a futile attempt to legislate a matter which, if not part of a larger conspiracy, is a very personal matter between two consenting adults. What the new law would definitely achieve is it would further arm the police with the power to harass the concerned couple and their families and friends. In sum, don’t turn electoral propaganda into a retrograde law.

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