Madhya Pradesh’s BJP government is tabling a bill to prosecute “love jihad”, a non-existent entity that also weighs heavily on the minds of other BJP state governments. The orchestrated thrust for such a law is surprising because central agencies haven’t detected a single love jihad case in the country. Hapless citizens must bear the cost of such unnecessary over-legislation, even now a prime underlying factor for poor governance in the country. Inclusive nationalism – or uniting the land and its people under one law, with the state not discriminating against citizens on grounds of region, religion, language, caste and sex – takes a beating here. In this regard, MP’s state sponsored discrimination directly challenges Article 15.
Far from BJP’s longstanding Uniform Civil Code promise, the love jihad legislative trajectory leads to a differentiated civil code. Where the Special Marriage Act invites Indians irrespective of religion to enter into a marital relationship, the MP bill frowns upon allowing the same right to interfaith couples. The interfaith couple, and a religious priest if theirs is a personal law marriage, must inform the district magistrate 30 days before the wedding. With offences being cognisable and non-bailable, attracting a five year jail term even for collaborators, the law will all but criminalise interfaith marriage.
A country aiming for a nation under one tax, one ration card, one civil and criminal code contradicts itself by herding citizens into religious ghettos, daring those who mingle with state sponsored harassment. Consenting adults having to contend with the state as gatekeeper and vetoholder in marriage, while being told in other contexts to become job creators and empowered citizens, betrays yet another contradiction. The new India is beginning to look like a really archaic India. Such laws will pose hurdles for New Delhi’s foreign policy as well. Unfavourable international attention stemming from discriminatory legislation with potential to fuel social conflict has grave reputational and soft power costs – recall CAA.
The Centre can, of course, reveal its hand when the bill comes to the stage of governor giving assent or referring to the President. The easiest course for Centre would be to reform the SMA’s convoluted provisions that force harried couples to take the easier route of religious marriages. Such a modernising move can end the love jihad conversation over religious conversion and earn the gratitude of lovestruck youngsters. And if all else fails there is the Supreme Court, which must act as the conscience keeper of the Constitution.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.