That the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and now ministers in Karnataka are considering a law against what they call “love jihad” smacks of dangerous over-reach and a paranoia about inter-personal relations that has no place in a democracy. It certainly does not have any basis in the Constitution, which allows every citizen the freedom to marry any person she chooses, and the liberty to follow any faith. The state has no business policing those choices. The spectre of “love jihad” has been proved to be just that — as recently as February, the Union home ministry told Parliament that there was nothing called “love jihad” under the existing laws in the country and that the Constitution gave everyone the freedom to practise and propagate any religion.
Nevertheless, a consistent Hindutva campaign has, over the years, whipped up fears about a conspiracy that allegedly uses Muslim men to lure and convert Hindu women. It has been used to delegitimise inter-faith love and unions, and pit Muslims and Hindus as others in a zero-sum game of demographic domination that has little correspondence with reality. By attempting to enshrine such toxic prejudice in law, both Yogi Adityanath and Manohar Lal Khattar do disservice to their constitutional responsibilities. It also does not square with their much-touted agenda of transforming their states into international hubs of education and business. States weighed down by suspicion of inter-community relations are not hospitable to either capital or talent, nor the free exchange of ideas and people. The UP chief minister, whose record in bringing down cases of violence against women is not much to speak of, has peddled the promise that the law will be a way to protect “the respect of our sisters”. The Haryana CM’s immediate provocation was the murder of a 20-year-old young woman by a former classmate, who is also accused of forcing her to convert to Islam. But the fact remains that there are enough laws on the statute book that are adequate to convict those accused of the crime or tackle coercive conversion.
More crucially, even if it is being proposed as a shield to protect them, such a law is exceptionally bad news for Indian women. In the framing of the “love jihad” narrative, Hindu women are only gullible victims, who have been made to stray away from the fold of their clan and community. They are not consenting adults free to make their own choices — good or bad. It is an idea that feeds the need of all patriarchal societies to control “sisters and daughters” — never independent women — and their sexuality. It is, definitely, an idea whose time should never come.
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