Interfaith couples wanting to get married can use the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to escape the heavy hand of the recently passed ordinance in Uttar Pradesh restricting such marriages on the ground that they constitute “love jihad”. But the police and government officials are finding ways to circumvent the secular marriage law to harass and arrest inter-faith couples.
Though the BJP-led central government has officially stated that the term “love jihad” does not exist in law, the Uttar Pradesh state government led by the same party has passed the ordinance to curb interfaith marriages. The BJP’s governments in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, and Assam are also planning to follow suit.
The Special Marriage Act (SMA) could be a saviour as, under this law, no one needs to change their religion. In fact, religion does not figure in such marriages as it is a civil marriage where the minimum requirement is that the groom and the bride must be above 18 for women and 21 for men.
Yet, Bajrang Dal workers reportedly heckled a 22-year-old Hindu woman for marrying a Muslim youth in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad district. The couple had lived together for the last five months and appeared before the court at Kanth town to get their marriage registered under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA).
The Hindu outfit got information and reached the court where they termed the marriage as “love jihad”. Though the woman insisted she had married on her own will, the police arrested the Muslim groom and his brother under the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 or ‘love-jihad’ law after the bride’s mother alleged that her daughter had been tricked into marriage.
Usually, interfaith couples who marry against the wishes of their parents opt for SMA. Godal Chahal, a housewife from Gurugram district of Haryana, got married under the SMA. She told The Federal that she got opted for an SMA marriage because it is a “quiet” process. She said: “Not even our parents got to know that we had applied for marriage. If our parents had got to know about our court marriage, they wouldn’t have allowed us to do that.”
According to the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, a marriage can be declared “null and void” if it is solely meant to change the bride’s religion. It also asks those wishing to change their religion for marriage to first apply to the district magistrate.
A 26-year-old UP-based Muslim boy, on the condition of anonymity, told The Federal, “I love a Hindu girl and she loves me back, but now we are afraid that we cannot marry. I don’t want to change the religion of the girl, nor the girl wants to change mine. We were thinking of marrying under SMA if our parents oppose our wedding.”
He added, “There is a fear and confusion now as the law makes it compulsory to get the consent of parents from both sides and there is the need to inform the district magistrate. It is impossible for us to get married as our parents will not consent.”
Since the two families are against their marriage, the boy is also afraid that if the girl’s family files a case against him under the new law, he will be jailed just for loving her.
‘Interfaith couple is helpless’
Dr Subhash C Kashyap, an expert on the Indian Constitution and author of many books based on the Constitution of India, told The Federal that he supports the law. According to him, the law is not against the Constitution. It prevents forced conversion and forced marriages or marriages based on cheating. The Indian Constitution lacked these laws and now the states are coming up with them.
He said, “Under this law, you need to inform the district magistrate a month earlier so they can verify if there is forced conversion, forced marriage or elopement. If the boy and girl genuinely love each other, they will definitely not have any problem.”
When asked what happens if a family files a case under the “love jihad law” in case a couple marries under SMA, Dr Kashyap said once the district magistrate approves the marriage, nobody can come in their way.
Sarada Mahesh, a Bengaluru-based lawyer who works on issues of freedom of speech and liberty, said the “love jihad” law is unconstitutional as it violates Article 14, which provides for equality before the law, and Article 15 that counters discrimination on grounds of religion. The law also violates personal choice of marriage and Article 25, which provides freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise, and propagate religion, she added.
When asked if the SMA provided safety to a couple, Sarada said, “Unfortunately, power is now with the” love jihad” law. An interfaith couple is helpless.” She termed the law as “anti-love” and “anti-Muslim”.
Against the idea of India
Saurabh Singh, who heads a UP-based NGO Innervoice Foundation, told The Federal that the “love jihad” law is against the idea of the composite culture of India. He said, “It violates personal choices guaranteed by our constitution. The choice of marriage solely depends upon individuals and the state has no authority to interfere in that matters.”
“Will persons who have married outside their religion abandon their spouses?” he questioned. He added, “Muslims are unhappy with the BJP government in UP but they do not say it openly as they are in a state of fear.”
R Kaleem Ullah, Karnataka state convener of Swaraj Abhiyaan Aman committee, said this is a political drama for getting votes. He said, “The government can’t control rapes but they bring such laws and say that they want to save women. Our courts allow people to stay in a live-in relationship and marry whom they love. The ‘love jihad’ law is directed against the rulings of the court as well as the constitution. This law is just brought to break the peace and harmony among the people of this country.”
He added, “This government always tries to suppress its critics. They are targeting Muslims by bringing laws like CAA, and now this. They are creating an environment of fear among Muslims.”