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Anti-Conversion Law: A law meant for abuse
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Protest by activists from human and civil rights groups in Bengaluru in December 2020 over BJP-led states' move to ban conversions through new anti-conversion law (Phot credit: AFP)

To any learned person, there will be little to yoke together the German thinker Nietzsche with Yogi Adityanath, the cow-worshipping UP Chief Minister. A passing reference in the philosopher's writing mentions cows, whom he remarked, humans have to envy; because, lacking memory, they are not prone to grief the way the naked apes are. But in fact there is something deeper that connects the philosophical giant with the saffron-clad Yogi. Both of them hate love, and love hate to boot (For Nietzsche, it was the fashionable hatred towards the Jews of his time and for Yogi, it is the more rampant phobia of our times).

But more pertinent to us is how they hate love and love-marriage. Nietzsche wanted love-marriage to be banned by law. According to him, love and reason would always be uneasy bedfellows. Love forces people into unhealthy relationships, eventually leading to the degeneration of the human race. Yogi hates love, because it breaches the boundaries of caste and religion. When it breaches the former, Yogi's henchmen take law into their hands and terrorize lower caste boys who dared love an upper-caste girl. And to deal with the latter Yogi has a new law, the anti-conversion Law (Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance), known for the media as the Love Jihad Law. If the world needs a specimen of how lawlessness can be instituted as law, they can study this as a text book case.

First of all, this has come in the form of an ordinance signed by the Governor, without being debated in the assembly. An ordinance is something to be resorted to only when there is an immediate and pressing reason for it. Even Rajnath Singh had categorically denied the existence of something called Love Jihad. In successive police cases, including the famous Hadiya case in Kerala, the love jihad angle was found to be spurious and part of a conspiracy by right wing extremists, and hence they sputtered in the courts. This illegitimate phrase, had its 'immaculate conception' in the perverse imagination of a story-starved Kerala journalist whose paymasters believe in spicing up every non-news to make a killing. What it made was a real 'killing,' that is now boomeranging on its progenitors themselves.

Legal experts, including former Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur, have voiced apprehensions about the vagueness of the law and its potential abuse. But since it is meant for abuse, these apprehensions are ill-founded and there is no point in crying foul, just as there is no point in pointing out that Weapons of Mass Destruction will cause destruction. Isn't it their very raison-d'être? As for the law being vague, the authorities are not going to be perplexed by that either. Because, a vague law can be blindly applied according to the whims of any police officer wanting to toady up to his/masters.

As per the deceptively titled 'Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance', anything like abetment, allurement, and coercion is a non-bailable offence punishable up to 10 years in prison. As Justice Lokur observes, even eating a pizza with a girlfriend belonging to another community might invite prosecution under this provision. Any 'stranger' can lodge a complaint to the police that he overheard the girl being offered temptations, including a delicious pizza to convert (The Hindu Jan 2-2021). What better alibi would the UP police need to pounce on the man born to the wrong side of the religious divide? The onus would be on the accused to prove that he did not offer any allurements, and how easily can the pizza bill belie his protestations? Indeed the very vagueness of this law will provide a long handle to the lawless law enforcers.

That exactly was what the UP police demonstrated within hours of the promulgation of the ordinance. Young Muslim men barely out of their teens, were rounded up and taken into police custody and harassed for falling in love. But it was not only the young who were harassed; the long arms of the law didn't spare even those who had been married/were in relationship much before the promulgation of the ordinance. It was like a rutting elephant high on rum tearing and romping through a crowd. Within a month more than seventeen cases were registered and more than fifty arrested. It was not only those who crossed the fences in the choice of their partners that were hunted by the police but their aged parents, brothers, and relatives. All but one case involved Muslims, and one was a Christian. In a state where dozens were converted under massive Ghar Vapasi program, not a Hindu family was found guilty of using threat/abetment/ coercion to convert into their faith.

Indeed, when the threats to the minorities in the shape of CAA and UAPA are officially sponsored and promoted, it will be a mockery clamping down on the petty retailers of threat and intimidation. Within 48 hours after the promulgation, UP police with professionalism outmatching the Scotland Yard, had arrested 22 year old Uwais Ahmed who had been dating his classmate.

A spate of other arrests continued and in Moradabad, a young man called Rahid and his brother were granted bail after Pinki, Rashid's wife resolutely refused to bow down to the pressure of the authorities who wanted her to 'admit' that she was converted under coercion. But, immediately after Rashid's arrest, she was tortured by the Hindutva brigand and administered an injection in a clinic which led to her abortion. (Indeed no amount of coercion or allurement for the cause of Ghar Vapasi seems punishable under the provisions of religious conversion laws). The heart-rending scenes of Rashid and his brother rejoining the family can serve as the best advertisement for India's much touted tolerance in the 21st Century.

But the more worrying developments took place in the neighboring Madhya Pradesh. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, during his first stint, had projected himself as the tolerant face of the BJP, but in his second stint he is busy trying to outdo Yogi in Hindutva machinations. His Love Jihad law, termed Freedom of Religion (Dharma Swatantrya) Bill is more draconian and calls for stricter punishment and fines than the one trundled by Yogi. Since, it is the more toxic ones that win the day in the Hindutva camp, other BJP ruled states are bound to come up with more draconian laws. The MP law also contains provisions against mass conversions, mainly aimed at Christian missionaries operating in the tribal areas.

As Frantz Fanon observed, once a group is cast and castigated as the phobic object, all amounts of violence against them become justified. In Modi's India, this is happening under the guise of the laws that promote lawlessness. Aime Cesaire was right that we have been lied to; we have been terribly lied to, Hitler is not dead. Cesaire for one couldn't believe that Hitler was dead when black boys were being routinely lynched in the southern US states. As for us, we can't believe it either, when Muslim youths are being tortured, and tormented for the crime of falling in love.

(Umer O Thasneem teaches English at Calicut University. His book Orhan Pamuk and the Poetics of Fiction has been published by Cambridge Scholars UK. The views expressed here are personal)

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TAGS:Anti-coversion law Uttar Pradesh MP Muslim harassment 
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