Vinod Mubayi

The “love jihad” law passed by the UP legislature late November 2020 essentially criminalizes marriage between persons of different religious faiths, more specifically between Muslim men and Hindu women; the former are accused of luring the latter by false promises in to marriage and converting them to Islam. This piece of legislation, if it can at all be called a “law” is so blatantly unconstitutional that even the cowed courts of India’s current judicial system are likely to reject it. But what may have been regarded as another example of insanity perpetrated by the Yogi regime has swiftly morphed into outright criminality.

The violent assault on a young Hindu woman Pinki, legally married to a Muslim man, whose pregnancy was illegally aborted, in a government hospital no less, tells us in no uncertain terms of the Nazi like behavior of the UP regime. In not only aborting her fetus, but also by withholding antibiotics needed to prevent further infection to her uterus that would endanger her ability to bear children in future, this hospital functioned on the same lines as the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. All this because a Hindu girl of legal age had married a Muslim man of her own choice.

In a sane and decent society, the love jihad “law” would be regarded as criminal legislation as it can cause grievous physical harm to individuals simply exercising their basic constitutional right to choose their partner. There is hardly any doubt the source of this criminality in UP is its Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, whose actions and utterances have become a byword for fascist behavior. Yogi and his followers have transformed the UP police into a veritable criminal gang who either stand by as vigilante Hindu groups like the Bajrang Dal or the Hindu Yuva Vahini (youth brigade) or upper caste goons assault minorities and Dalits or indulge in these activities themselves.  

Former IAS officer and one of India’s leading human rights activists, Harsh Mander, has explained the situation in UP in an interview given to the news portal The Wire. Mander points out that while Indian police have frequently suffered from a communal bias against minorities as evidenced for example in the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and surrounding areas in 1984, the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002, and the killings of tribal Christians in Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2008, in most of these riots, reprehensible as they were, the police were mostly guilty of what Mander termed “culpable inaction”, i.e. turning a blind eye to the rioting and killings and allowing the mostly Hindutva criminal gangs and gangsters to rampage at the behest of their political bosses for a sufficient period of time until their objective of exacerbating political polarization between the majority and minority religious communities had been met.

What is new in UP under Yogi Adityanath’s administration, Mander indicates, is that the UP police itself has turned into a criminal gang, barging into the homes of Muslims, destroying personal belongings like refrigerators and television sets, and ousting the inhabitants on one pretext or another. Most ominous is the language that UP policemen have begun to use and the sentiments they have frequently expressed towards Muslims. Jao kabristan ya jao Pakistan (Go to Pakistan or go to the grave) is a battle cry that Hindutva mobs have frequently directed at Muslims. For a police officer like the Superintendent of Police, Meerut, UP, to repeat these sentiments to Muslims and term them as the “unfinished business” of the Partition of India, is what makes the situation in UP truly chilling.

At the time of partition and independence in August 1947, the erstwhile colonial power Britain divided the country into two states: a Muslim Pakistan (now reduced to the former West Pakistan alone following the emergence of Bangladesh in what was East Pakistan) and India. Under the leadership of the Indian National Congress and especially Gandhi and Nehru who led the independence movement, India opted to become a secular, democratic republic and adopted a liberal constitution granting basic freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and full equality to all citizens, regardless of caste, creed or gender. The Partition in 1947, however, was sullied by an appalling amount of violence and mayhem mainly in the province of Punjab that was divided into West Punjab, which became part of Pakistan, and East Punjab, which became part of India. [Violence and mayhem also occurred, though at a somewhat lesser scale, in the division of Bengal into East Pakistan and West Bengal]. Perhaps, more than a million were killed and many thousands of women raped and abducted in the frantic exchange of populations in the Punjab, as Hindus and Sikhs rushed east from West Punjab and areas further west, while Muslims from East Punjab and neighboring areas of Delhi and UP rushed west. The horrors of this frightful and insane population exchange or ethnic cleansing were a result of the vivisection of the country based on the “two nation theory”, viz. that Hindus and Muslims constituted two different nations who could not co-exist in one state.

Gandhi’s and Nehru’s promise, however, to build a secular, not Hindu, India meant that many millions of Muslims remained in India, especially in states far from what became the border with Pakistan. Ethnic cleansing was almost complete in the old, undivided Punjab so that Pakistan was left with a minority Hindu population of just 1.6%, most of them in Sindh. India, however, now has a Muslim population amounting to over 190 million, 14.2% of the total population of the country, while UP itself has a Muslim population of around 44 million, about 19% of the population of the state.

Can one assert sentiments like the “unfinished business” of partition to harass and oppress the Muslims remaining in India more than 70 years after the horrors of the one that took place in 1947? It needs to be recalled that while the two-nation theory is most frequently ascribed to Muslim politicians like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, it was one of the major ideologues of Hindutva, Savarkar, who developed it more than a decade prior to Jinnah. Savarkar, who was suspected of involvement in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but acquitted on a technicality, claimed that Muslim and Christian residents of India could never be citizens like the Hindus as their homeland and holy lands were not the same. Savarkar’s descendants now rule India and the shadowy RSS, the power behind the throne occupied by the BJP, has proclaimed its goal to make India a Hindu Rashtra (nation), perhaps a mirror image of Muslim Pakistan. It is this background that makes what is now taking place in Yogi’s UP extremely sinister when it is placed in the context of the other moves the Modi regime is implementing in India like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. The love jihad law is another way to harass and persecute Muslims, the tip of an iceberg of other discriminatory laws such as the anti-cow slaughter act that threaten to render millions of Muslims and Dalits in the meat and leather industry jobless. 

Newspaper reports reveal that 35 Muslim men have already been arrested in UP since the love jihad law was passed barely a month ago. Some have been released by the courts. But the intention behind such laws as love jihad is not only to harass Muslim men. Rather, as some liberals in India who were big fans of Modi when the BJP swept into power in 2014 are now finding out, the love jihad law is evidence of an effort to assert a deeply patriarchal mindset to control the lives and choices of women, in fact Hindu women, that takes its cue from Manusmriti (or the Code of Manu), the two-thousand-year-old book of Hindu law that the architect of the liberal Indian Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar termed the Hindu Bible. The book defines and prescribes the most extreme features of caste and gender restrictions and inequality, deeply regressive in the modern era. Marriage between different castes is strongly discouraged and of course marriages between caste Hindus and mlechhas (the impure, e.g., Muslims) are forbidden. Following UP, laws similar to love jihad are being developed in other BJP ruled states such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The RSS and its cohorts that never tire of asserting their desire to resurrect a glorious ancient Hindu India also embrace their patriarchal vision of a woman: a wife, mother, and householder tied to her home and hearth. The love jihad “law” is also a way of controlling a woman’s sexuality and, most importantly, her ability to make independent decisions about her life while its primary, public thrust is ostensibly focused on “lustful” Muslim men aiming to convert innocent and gullible Hindu women.   

Like other acts of the BJP regimes at the Centre and in the states demonizing minorities, the “laws” being passed, like the love jihad “law”, resemble most closely the racist Nuremburg laws of Nazi Germany. In fact, early icons of RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha obtained a lot of their inspiration and ideology from fascist European regimes, mainly Italy and Germany, in the 1920s and 1930s. The RSS supreme leader, Guru Golwalkar, in his book We, Or the Nation Defined, written in the late 1930s, offered unstinting praise for the violent anti-Jewish acts of the Nazis when he wrote:

“To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”         

Golwalkar’s successors such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, once an RSS pracharak (preacher) himself for many years before entering politics, no doubt shares these views and Modi’s choice of the rabidly anti-Muslim Hindu priest, Yogi Adityanath, as BJP chief minister of UP in the 2017 state elections shows this. The question before the country is whether the courts will declare “laws” like love jihad unconstitutional. On this the jury is still out.

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