UP’s new ‘love jihad’ ordinance is a sarkari honour crime against interfaith relationships. With it, the district magistrate becomes the government-approved khap panchayat which can arbitrarily decide to separate lovers; deem a marriage illegitimate, and sentence a Muslim man to prison for 5-10 years. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 – which the Uttar Pradesh Government and the ruling BJP are calling the ‘love jihad prevention ordinance’ gives legal cover and incentives to honour crimes – which should more accurately be described as crimes against women’s autonomy. Defenders of the Ordinance claim that it does not criminalise interfaith love, and only criminalises forced conversion and marriage based on a false identity.
In 2014, The Hindu tracked 583 rape cases decided by New Delhi’s district trial courts in 2013, and found that over 40 percent of “what is classified as rape (in Delhi Police files) is actually parental criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples.” It is important to remember here that 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’. 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. However, two cases from Kerala involving inter-faith marriages have been investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had issued a death threat to Muslim men in relationships with Hindu women, saying that such ‘love jihadis’ should prepare for their ‘last journey’.
The courts and the Constitutional Courts, in particular, are enjoined to uphold the life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty. Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals and would not only be antithetic to the freedom of choice of a grown-up individual but would also be a threat to the concept of unity in diversity. The new UP ‘love jihad’ ordinance is a legal tool to harass interfaith couples and force them to undergo the trauma and humiliation of having their love placed at the mercy of the district magistrate. The laws criminalising ‘love jihad’ 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. 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 will be resisted, tooth and nail, by movements of youth and women.