inter-faith relationships


While we celebrate love today, let us take a moment to recognise how it is vilified every day in this country. The violins, the doves, and the flowing chiffon that we devour on screen are subject to a milieu of conditions when it comes to the grassroots. Faith being the primary.

Between 10 and 16 January, 2024, the Allahabad High Court quashed petitions by eight Hindu-Muslim couples who were seeking protection for their lives. This was due to the fact that their marriages were not in compliance with the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, known popularly as ‘the Anti-Conversion Law’.

NDTV reported in the year 2020 that in a matter of two months, half of the cases that the police were investigating had collapsed, revealing simply consensual relationships. The Uttar Pradesh Police has registered 433 cases so far since the inception of the law in 2020. As one of the most discussed legislations falling in the category of ‘anti-conversion laws’, it lends credence to the bogey of ‘Love-Jihad’. The arbitrary clumsiness of the legislation includes a “prohibition of conversion by marriage,” disregarding the reality that no religion upholds ‘automatic conversion’ of a person by way of inter-faith marriage.

There may exist, however, a natural correlation between conversions and interfaith marriages. The complexities that lie behind this correlation carry us to the dreaded elephant in the room: the Special Marriage Act 1954. This “umbrella statute” for securing inter-faith marriages in the country has left couples weathering the brunt of hatred in the spaces of its grey areas. Asking couples to give a notice 30 days prior to the solemnization, which is to be displayed publicly, violates their Right to Privacy and actively exposes them to the violence of society and vigilantism. There are many such “procedural compliances.” For instance, the requirement for couples to submit an undertaking that there are no FIRs lodged against them simply displays the uncongenial nature of the legislation. Another section, implying severance from the family upon marriage under this Act, further exposes the admonishing attitude towards interfaith relationships. These factors, combined with the disinheritance of future generations, probably propel couples to seek conversion as an effort to solemnise the relationship. These fallacies have been noted in the 2018 Law Commission report as well.

Only 2.2% of unions in India were interfaith, as per the “India Human Development Survey 2005 (IHDS)”. These ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ reports can be chalked down to the ‘survival’ of such relationships. Only the unions that sustain and weather the odds that the social apparatus rains down upon them will be up for survey. Despite the minuscule statistical presence of these relationships, the ruling governmental apparatus seems to have showered the phenomenon with ample attention, drafting in states with BJP-led governments several such ‘Anti-Love Jihad laws’ despite the presence of laws already prohibiting forceful conversion.

By inserting vague, loosely articulated phrases, the criminality of which cannot be traced, such as “convincing,” into conversion, it succeeds in passing ideological paranoia into the societal fabric and erodes the freedom to love and live implicitly omnipresent in Article 21, Right to Life.

The law further extends the term of imprisonment if the victim in question is a woman. The justification for this added “safeguard” is something that the state has not been able to provide. It just goes on to show the perspective through which women’s autonomy over their own private affairs is viewed and appears as a penalty for reproductive pollution. Further, the reverse burden of proof is put on the shoulders of the accused rather than the accuser.

The light in which cases of violence against women are discussed also points to the degree to which this conspiracy has penetrated the Indian psyche. The Shraddha Walker case, for instance, triggered the Maharashtra government to set up a panel to look into interfaith relationships concerning state residents, thus increasing the already strenuous surveillance and scrutiny that couples undergo.

Daniel Oesch points to the existence of economic anxiety in tandem with cultural anxiety of a ‘newer culture’ replacing an older one as the reason behind why the working-class electorate finds cultural questions of identity to be more important and rewards the political framework that upholds the status quo, vilifying the “other”. If a democracy, however, concedes to penalising the held decisions of consenting adults instead of the urgency on the contrary to protect and safeguard their constitutional rights, it reflects a democracy that not only shows wear but blindspots in its empathy for those who merely have chosen to follow their hearts.

Read also: What It Takes to Love in India

Featured Image Credits: A Suitable Boy on Netflix

Deevya Deo
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