The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, was signed by Governor Anandiben Patel on the 28th of November. It was formulated four days earlier by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, against forced and fraudulent religious conversion.
The ‘anti-love jihad’ law, as it is commonly known, describes certain interfaith marriages as a conspiracy to convert Hindu women to other religions through different allurements and the promise of love. ‘Love jihad’, is the unproven BJP conspiracy theory that Hindu women are being falsely enticed and converted by Muslim men. The new ‘anti-love jihad’ law makes forced religious conversions a non-bailable offence, and an individual found guilty under this law can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Within first 10 days of the ordinance getting passed, the state police has registered five cases under the new ‘anti love jihad’ law. But in three of the five cases, the alleged crimes were committed before the promulgation of the law, which means it is unconstitutional to prosecute them under the controversial law.
The UP Police have registered cases of alleged forced conversion or ‘love jihad’ in Bareilly and one each in Sitapur, Moradabad and Mau. The first case was reported on 2 December from Bareilly, where a man named Uwais Ahmad was arrested on a complaint filed by a girl’s father, alleging that he “coerced, coaxed and allured” his daughter into converting to Islam. The complaint was filed within hours of the governor’s assent. The FIR does not mention the date of the crime, and simply accuses Ahmad of threatening the girl’s family. However, Ahmad claims that he was not in touch with the girl who already got married to someone else in June, so the legal validity of the FIR has come into question.
However, in similar cases in Sitapur and Moradabad, the ordinance has also been applied. For instance, on 5th December, the police arrested seven persons under the anti-conversion law in Sitapur for allegedly abducting a 19-year-old woman. Here, the case was filed on 26 November, two days after the alleged crime and two days before the law was notified, based on a complaint by the girl’s father.
A few days ago, a video went viral of a group of Bajrang Dal men in UP heckling a young Hindu-Muslim couple at a police station. The couple was simply trying to get their marriage registered but the mob and the police prevented registration, and arrested the husband despite the fact that the couple had already married in July, months before the new bill was passed and the young woman had admitted that she converted to Islam and married her husband of her own free will. Below is a video that highlights the details of the events:
The new law has become an excuse to give legal teeth to the bogus and dangerous love jihad conspiracy theories. The police are stepping in again and again to disrupt, harass and even arrest Hindu Muslim couples. Indian human rights activists are concerned that the new ‘anti-love jihad’ law will be used as a tool to persecute both interfaith couple and muslims.
Interfaith marriages in India are rare. One study estimated that only a little over 2% of all marriages in India are between people from different religions. The spectre of love jihad is resurrected from time to time by Hindu groups for political gains, and there is a history of such claims in India.
Before the partition of the Indian subcontinent during the time of rising communal tensions in the 1920s and 1930s, Hindu nationalist groups in parts of northern India launched a campaign against “kidnapping” of Hindu women by Muslim men and demanded the recovery of their Hindu wives. A Hindu group was set up in Uttar Pradesh to prevent Muslims from allegedly kidnapping Hindu women. A Muslim bureaucrat in Kanpur was accused of”abducting and seducing” a Hindu girl and forcefully converting her, in 1924.
Charu Gupta, a historian at University of Delhi, who has researched the “myth of love jihad” when speaking to the BBC said that Hindu groups launched an “orchestrated propaganda campaign”, using posters, rumours and gossip, against the “supposed abductions and conversion of Hindu women by Muslim men, ranging from allegations of rape and forced marriage, to elopement, love, luring and conversion” ahead of elections in order to polarise voters.
Professor Gupta also stated, while talking to the BBC, “Before Independence such campaigns were buried in the inside pages of newspaper. There were no mainstream parties or leaders stoking such tensions. Now it is a front-page subject and the state is critically involved in enforcing these laws”.