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By Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: The bogey of ‘Love Jihad’ continues to be kept on center-stage. Recently, a Bishop from Kerala directly accused Muslims of making ‘Catholic’ girls in the State, victims of ‘love and narcotic jihad.’
On 10 September the Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani who has resigned said that his Government is “dealing strictly with those who trap Hindu girls and elope with them.” Both the Bishop and the CM Rupani are wrong on several counts- and in fact, their words are patently unconstitutional.
Instead of taking a visible and vocal stand in championing the rights particularly, dignity and equality of women, their words are reflective of a patriarchal mindset – which regards an adult woman as a child who is unable to think and decide for herself: be it in marrying the person of one’s choice or for that matter embracing the religion of one’s choice.
Secondly, both the Bishop and CM Rupani have absolutely nothing substantive to prove their point: the Bishop is certainly unable to say how many Kerala Catholic girls have married Hindus or people from other faiths; or for that matter just left the Catholic Church. It is exactly the same for the ex-Gujarat CM.
The questions the Bishop and the CM Rupani need to answer: if two mature consenting adults would like to marry, does the State or the Church have the right to stop them from doing so?
Why should the State (with its brutal mechanism and vigilantes) or the Church, interfere in matters which are personal and private and clearly violative of Article 21: the right to privacy.
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On 24 August 2017, the Supreme Court of India in a historic judgment declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right, protected under the Indian Constitution. In declaring that this right stems from the fundamental right to life and liberty, the Court’s decision has far-reaching consequences for every citizen
On 8 September 2021, the Gujarat High Court sent a notice to the Government as to why it should not quash the first ‘love jihad’ case under the newly amended law. The woman concerned has petitioned the court to do so; she says that the charges made against her husband were fabricated by the police.
Earlier, on 19 August, in a landmark interim order, the High Court stayed the operation of several sections of the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, including the provision that termed interfaith marriages as means for forceful conversion.
The law, which was amended to bring in the clause on interfaith marriages as a means to carry out the forced conversion, among other things was passed by the Gujarat Assembly on April 1; after Gujarat Governor gave his assent on May 22, the State Government notified it and enforced the amended law in the entire State from June 15.
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There were two petitions that had challenged some provisions of the amended Act, primarily on the grounds that the law is completely arbitrary and violates the right to privacy.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath (who has now been elevated to the Supreme Court) stayed sections 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6 and 6A of the amended Act pending further hearing, saying they “shall not operate merely because a marriage is solemnized by a person of one religion with a person of another religion without force or by allurement or by fraudulent means and such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purposes of unlawful conversion”.
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A week later the High Court (on August 26) turned down the State Government’s plea seeking rectification of its recent order in which it stayed the operation of Section 5 of the new anti-conversion law.
That Section of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 mandates that religious priests must take prior permission from the district magistrate for converting any person from one religion to another.
Moreover, the one who got converted also needs to “send an intimation” to the district magistrate in a prescribed form. “We do not find a reason to make any changes in the order passed by us on August 19”, the same division bench stated after hearing the arguments put forth by the State Advocate General.
The recent interim orders passed by the Gujarat High Court are indeed path-breaking and will surely be used as a precedence in the challenge of the other draconian and unconstitutional ‘anti-conversion laws (or by its more innocuous-sounding sobriquet ‘freedom of religion or the more derogative ‘love jihad’) which exist in some of the States today and is high on the agenda of the ruling regime as national legislation.
The basic premise is not whether one has the right ‘to convert another’; but whether a citizen has the right to freely choose a religion of one’s choice. Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion to all citizens and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which India is a signatory)asserts that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
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The amended Gujarat Freedom of Religion law has provisions like the ‘offenses to be cognizable and non-bailable which seem to be taken right out from another draconian and anti-people legislation the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Any informed and concerned citizen knows that there are ample provisions in the CrPC to deal with anything to do with force and fraud, bribery and corruption, threat and kidnap – why are these not being used to deal with say the bogey of ‘love jihad’?
These laws are against democratic tenets, the nation’s secular fabric and the fundamental rights of citizens. It reveals the agenda of a fascist regime that is clearly afraid that thinking and discerning the citizenry will expose their hegemony on the marginalized and the minorities, the Dalits and Adivasis of the country; above all, it is a pitiable attempt to defocus from the urgent and pressing issues which are destroying the nation today!
The Gujarat Court’s interim orders are a ray of hope to many who cherish the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. The so-called ‘love jihad’ is clearly a bogey and a divisive agenda!
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Curated and Compiled By Humra Kidwai