While the Gujarat HC’s protection should prod some course correction, the larger responsibility lies with the communities themselves, to see inter-faith marriages as uniting communities rather than a cause for unfounded insecurity.
The Gujarat High Court judgment that protects inter-faith marriages between consenting adults, where one of the partners converts to the faith of the other, from the state’s anti-conversion law—the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act 2021—should help exorcise the bogey of the “love jihad”. The communally-minded notion that inter-faith marriages are for the sole purpose of conversion, as absurd and dangerous as it is, has found many votaries within the members of the ruling dispensation at the Centre and some states.
The HC observed that the law, prima facie, “interferes with the intricacies of marriage including the right to the choice of an individual, thereby infringing Article 21 of the Constitution”. The law puts the burden of showing that the conversion didn’t materialise because of fraud, allurement, or coercion on the persons entering the marriage.
While the state contended that the 2021 law was meant to guard against conversion related to marriage where there is an instance of allurement, fraud or coercion, the fact is, on the ground, it translates into harassment, even persecution, of couples who originally were from different faiths. Indeed, as several legal experts have pointed out, the Special Marriage Act, governing inter-faith marriages without conversion, has provisions hostile to such marriages; it requires a public notice of the marriage application, for a long period before the marriage is solemnised.
However, this serves as an alert for the parties’ communities to take heed of any such intent and presurre an inter-faith couple to desist from getting married. So, many couples choose conversion as a route to escape harassment and unite under the laws governing one or the faith.
The Gujarat HC’s statement that the common man will perceive every such marriage as a marriage for unlawful conversion should serve as a reminder of the toxic effects of the “love jihad” narrative. From the Hadiya case to the recent incident of a Muslim man being dragged to a police station in Karnataka by members of a communal organisation on the mere suspicion of travelling with a Hindu woman in a bus, there are enough examples of the divisive nature of the narrative.
Laws like Gujarat’s stoke these flames. Many, including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, have enacted anti-conversion laws that are couched in religion-agnostic terms, but are intended to enable communities to police inter-faith interactions and prevent inter-faith marriages. As recently as June this year, the UP law forced the Allahabad HC to refuse protection to three inter-faith couples.
Bear in mind, the court, in November 2020, had said earlier judgments that held conversion for the purpose of marriage as unlawful did not “lay good law” and failed to deal with “with the issue of life and liberty of two matured individuals in choosing a partner or their right to freedom of choice”. While the Gujarat HC’s protection should prod some course correction, the larger responsibility lies with the communities themselves, to see inter-faith marriages as uniting communities rather than a cause for unfounded insecurity.