The Uttar Pradesh government’s ordinance against unlawful conversions is a ploy to pit Dalits and Muslims against each other and would create fear among the communities, Dalit rights activists in the State said on Wednesday.
S.R. Darapuri, retired IPS officer and Dalit and social rights activist, said the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 was indirectly targeted at Muslims, Dalits and Christians. While noting that conversion of Dalits to Christianity and Islam was not as common as before, Mr. Darapuri said the ordinance was meant to deter them from converting to the Buddhist faith.
“They are killing many birds with one stone…propagation of Christianity and Islam. Dalits will face the biggest hitch. The biggest adverse impact will be on the Buddhist conversion of Dalits,” Mr. Darapuri told The Hindu.
He pointed out that Dalits in several parts of the country would convert to Buddhism on a mass scale every year especially on October 14 (the day on which B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956). He fears that the organisers of these events would now become targets of criminal cases.
The ordinance passed by the U.P. Cabinet on Tuesday lays down strict action including cancellation of registration of social organisations conducting mass conversions. Mass conversions would invite a jail term of not less than three years up to 10 years and a fine of ₹50,000.
The retired cop also claimed that the ordinance was against Articles 21 (personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution.
Udit Raj, former MP and Congress spokesperson, who has conducted mass conversions in the past, said the ordinance was a ploy to pit Dalits against Muslims.
“They are making an issue out of falsehood. The real issues are COVID-19 and unemployment. But instead of that they are trying to pit Dalits and Muslims against each other,” he said.
The ordinance makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence inviting penalties up to 10 years in prison if found to be effected for marriage or through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or other allegedly fraudulent means.
Violation of the provisions of the law would invite a jail term of not less than one year extendable to five years with a fine of ₹15,000. However, if a minor woman or a woman from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes communities was converted through the said unlawful means, the jail term would be a minimum of three years which could be extended to 10 years with a fine of ₹25,000.
Mr. Raj said the ordinance would not stop conversions. “This is against the Constitution. We are also against conversion taking place for greed and allurements. But 99% of [conversions] are not out of greed. They [OBC and Dalit) are oppressed,” he said.
Mr. Raj also dismissed the U.P. government’s claim that the Ordinance would protect Dalits, especially their women. “Those who oppress Dalits the most, what will they save Dalits,” he asked.
Kuldeep Baudh, a Dalit rights activist from Jalaun who runs the Bundelkhand Dalit Adhikar Manch, said the ordinance was brought to “create fear” among Dalits.
“Dalits convert to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam because they face insult and torture due to the caste structure,” he said.
Mr. Baudh recalled that in 2016, a pastor from the barber community was tonsured, garlanded with shoes and paraded on a donkey on the streets of Jalaun by Bajrang Dal activists who accused him of converting Hindu men to Christianity. “They are trying to create fear. But we won’t stop our campaign till Dalits get justice and constitutional values are safeguarded,” he said.
While introducing the ordinance, Cabinet Minister Sidharth Nath Singh said it would “provide justice” to women especially those from the SC and ST communities.
Ram Kripal Pasi, national general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Pasi Samaj outfit, said the ordinance creating hurdles for conversion and inter-faith marriages was a strategy of the BJP-RSS to “keep Dalits under the Hindu fold”.
He also stressed that it could deter marriages between Dalits and Muslims due to fear of criminality.
Zafaryab Jilani, senior lawyer and secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the ordinance was indirectly brought to prevent conversion, which is otherwise permitted under Article 25 of the Constitution.
“As far as marriage [between castes and faiths) goes, there is the Special Marriages Act in place. So, they are placing these restrictions and criminal clauses to prevent conversion,” he said.
Manoj Jacob, U.P. president of the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, a federation of Christian forums, said they had ‘concerns’ over the ordinance.
“They are indirectly implementing their dictatorship on the minorities. What do they want to communicate to minorities? That they should not live in India,” he asked speaking from Prayagraj.