The Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police has lodged the first case under the just-promulgated UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance against a person in Bareilly — a Muslim man, accused of seeking to coerce and convert a Hindu woman in order to marry her. News reports present a complicated picture, with the woman’s father alleging the accused had threatened the family for opposing conversion; the woman’s brother claiming that the entire episode took place a year ago, the matter had been settled, his sister was now married to someone else, and the police took the initiative of lodging the case; others suggesting that the relationship was consensual; and the family of the accused arguing that this was a false case.
If the multiple versions of this story present a somewhat complex picture, it is because the truth about relationships between young people in a patriarchal set-up in general, and about interfaith relationships in a set-up where religious prejudices are deep in particular, has many layers. Young people, even when they are in consensual relationships, often keep it under wraps for fear of parental recrimination; families try to end such relationships, when it goes against their beliefs and they fear social sanction. In the backdrop of a political climate where a certain type of relationship — between Muslim men and Hindu women — is stigmatised and now made legally difficult, the ability to exercise autonomy and be truthful about it is even more difficult.
As this newspaper has consistently argued, the UP legislation as well as the proposed legislations in other states — based on the flawed theory of “love jihad” — stems from patriarchy and bigotry. Unless there is criminality and conversion due to inducement, coercion, allurement or fraud — which is covered by other laws — matters of the heart are best left to individuals. Instead, what has happened is first, an attempt to politically deepen the distrust about interfaith relationships, and second, an attempt to address this through laws. Irrespective of the truth of the case in Bareilly, the state is making a mistake. It should avoid interfering in the personal realm, and its current social outlook could increase the possibility of the law being implemented in a discriminatory manner. UP should review the law which could deepen existing fractures.