In the most populous state of the world, India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party has endorsed legislation that carries out a jail sentence of up to 10 years for those found guilty of using marriage to compel anyone to change faith.
The declaration for the state of Uttar Pradesh was passed on Tuesday and follows a movement against inter-faith marriages by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The party defines such marriages as ‘sex jihad’, an unproven conspiracy theory used to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women through marriage by its leaders and Hindu hard-line organisations.
A formality, under the declaration that will become a law after its ratification by the state governor, a couple belonging to two separate faiths will have to send a district magistrate two months’ notice before getting married.
Only when the official considers no objections will the pair be allowed to marry.
Siddharth Nath Singh, the Uttar Pradesh government minister, said jail sentences of up to 10 years would discourage illegal conversions and provide women with justice.
After Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh is the third Indian state governed by Modi’s party to accept such legislation to check what Hindu nationalist leaders call involuntary and illegal religious conversions.
Earlier, at a public meeting, the state’s highest elected official, Yogi Aditynatah, a Hindu monk, said that anyone fighting ‘heart jihad’ should either refrain from it or be ready to die.
Hindu hard-line organisations have long accused minority Muslims of taking over the country by persuading Hindu women to marry them and convert to Islam in the midst of a growing wave of Hindu nationalism in India under Modi.
While the constitution of India is democratic and protects all religions, the topic of ‘heart jihad’ has gripped the media and pitted Modi’s party leaders against secular activists.
However the ‘love jihad’ idea, which many see as part of an anti-Muslim campaign by Modi’s faction, has been dismissed by India’s investigation agencies and courts.
A court in Uttar Pradesh heard an interfaith marriage case on Tuesday and said that intrusion in a personal partnership would constitute a severe violation of the two individuals’ right to freedom of choice.
After a Muslim man was charged with illegally converting his Hindu wife, the court’s decision arrived.
India is a primarily Hindu republic, with about 14 percent of its more than 1.3 billion population made up of Muslims. Hindu hard-line organisations are still opposed to Christianity conversions and have promised to keep attempting to stop interfaith relationships.
Critics of Modi, an avowed Hindu nationalist, argue that after his party gained power in 2014 and returned for a second term in 2019, India’s history of plurality and secularism has come under pressure.
They accuse the party of fanning religious sentiments and ruling over the intolerance of faith and occasionally even violence. The faction denies the indictment.
But among ordinary Indian Muslims, an evident mood of terror, rage and disenchantment is growing. They argue that Modi and his party are steadily disenfranchising them, leaving the group as second-class people counting on a future.
The latest declaration comes at a time when, rapidly, Indian politics is being religiously charged. On Monday, after a Modi party chief objected to scenes in the series “A Suitable Boy” in which a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy kiss against the backdrop of what appears to be a Hindu temple, police lodged a complaint against two executives of the online streaming service Netflix.
The police case for allegedly offending the religious marriage feelings of Hindus was reported in Madhya Pradesh province. A spokeswoman for Netflix India declined to comment.
On Twitter, many Indians requested a Netflix boycott and asked for the series to be pulled off the network.
Last month, after an uproar from Hindu nationalists and Modi’s party representatives, jewellery brand Tanishq pulled an advertisement depicting a Hindu-Muslim family attending a baby shower from TV channels and its social media sites.
The removal of the ad attracted strong condemnation from many in India and shed light on the increasing religious division of the country under Modi, whose party and followers see the nation as a Hindu nation and are accused of normalising anti-Muslim feelings by critics.