A CRITIQUE ON INDIA’S MORAL COMPASS IN RELATION TO RELIGION, FAITH & EQUALITY
India has always been the land of diverse cultures, religions and faiths with so many people of different cultures living together that it comes with its own set of boundaries and limitations. Till date one of the biggest problems that India faces is ‘inter-faith marriages.’ The most common reason given by people who are against inter-faith marriages is that two different religions and cultures cannot co-exist in one house. If that anti- Muslim emotion wasn’t not causing enough problems, the Government and the State went on to pour more petrol to this fire and recently took out an Ordinance which prohibits marriages between Hindu’s and Muslims.
In which ideal world is it anyone’s business as to who marries whom? What is it about inter-faith marriages that makes the nation so cynical and hesitant about the match? What stage did the state feel the need to step in to protect the women?
Recently, Uttar Pradesh became the first ever state to pass laws against “involuntary” or “deceitful” religious conversions. Following the foot steps, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Assam are now planning to bring in laws against “Love Jihad”. Going by the Public Statements and opinions of various ministers in the country, the dire need for the laws to control the ‘alleged’ cases of “love Jihad”, a term used specifically to discredit marriages between Muslim Men and Hindu Women. This Ordinance not only disregards the decisions made by two consenting adults but also is a gross violation of the constitutional rights.
The right to marry a person of one’s choice is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21. At the same time, freedom of conscience, practice and propagation of a religion of one’s choice, are guaranteed under Article 25; needless to say that one set of rights absolutely cannot invalidate the other.
CASE THAT STARTED THE DEBATE OF LOVE JIHAD IN RECENT TIMES
Hadiya Case or Shafin Jahan case also known as Kerala Love Jihad case
Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan) is a 24-year-old homeopathic medical student from Vaikom, Kerala. She informed her parents later that she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man Shafin Jehan. He is an active member of PFI affiliated Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). Her family alleged that she was brainwashed and her marriage was forced, but Hadiya says she did the same of her own volition.
In May 2017, Hadiya’s marriage was annulled by the High Court of Kerala on the grounds of a report submitted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to the Supreme Court of India (SC), saying that Hadiya was a victim of indoctrination and psychological kidnapping, and that their claims of their marriage being arranged through a matrimony website were “bogus”. The High Court of Kerala then handed over Hadiya’s custody to her father, Ashokan, arguing that “As per Indian tradition, the custody of an unmarried daughter is with the parents, until she is properly married.” Shafin Jahan appealed against the Kerala High Court order, and moved the Supreme Court. In November 2017, the Supreme Court of India directed Hadiya to resume her internship, and further directed that she was free to meet whomever she wanted. In March 2018, the Supreme Court restored Hadiya’s marriage; 10 months after the Kerala High Court annulled it.
Another incident which managed to antagonize the whole country was an advertisement by a popular Jewellery brand ‘Tanishq’, where the ad portrayed that a Pregnant Hindu woman was escorted by her Muslim Mother-in-law to her baby shower ceremony, when the woman enquired that ‘this ceremony is not at your house…’ to which she replied, ‘isn’t it a tradition to keep daughters happy everywhere? As soon as the ad went viral the netizens slammed it for promoting inter-faith marriages. Some went on to question as to why always the Hindu woman marries into a Muslim family and not the other way around. Following this unnecessary uproar, Tanishq was forced to take down the advertisement.
Following such irrational and erroneous public outrage, various state governments, having being consumed with anti-muslim emotions, went on to not only draft an ordinance banning inter-faith marriages, but also penalising it under Section 5 of the UP Ordinance with an imprisonment of up to 10 years, further under section 6 of the Ordinance; it grossly termed any marriage of an Indian woman and Muslim man as a ‘Void marriage’.
It is bizarre that when two adults exercise the freedom under Article 21 and 25 to marry someone of their choice and during that process, and they choose to change their religion, how did the same become a matter of concern for the State, the Government or even the public at large? Not only is it an infringement of fundamental rights, but it also denies and interferes with a person’s basic ‘right to choose’. Isn’t it sufficient for the State that two consenting adults and their decision to marry each other is enough?
This Ordinance even further goes on against the principals of equality under Article 14 of our Constitution, when inter-faith couples can marry in other parts of the country without the State’s intervention, then why only in India there are such Ordinances cropping up which prohibit such marriages?
In a landmark judgement, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had very well-articulated “when two adults marry out of their volition, they choose their path; they consummate their relationship; they feel that it is their goal and they have the right to do it, and it can unequivocally be stated that they have that right and any infringement to the said right is a constitutional violation”.
The former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Madan B Lokur in a written statement to NDTV said “it will require a miracle to uphold its constitutional validity and further went to call it one of the strangest legislations he had ever seen”.
It amazes me that how can a marriage be performed as an unlawful conversion? If any Hindu woman chooses to convert into another religion, how does the marriage become void? Why does the state need to be informed of such conversion? Why an Individual is required to give notice to the District magistrate for such marriage? What is so special about a conversion, which need permission and needs to be part of public information.
Considering the gravity of this Ordinance, the State or the Government should also answer to facts that these days a lot of famous Muslim actors, cricketers, politicians marry our Indian women? Where does the ordinance come to play here? Then is it correct to say that such Ordinances are only applicable on common men with common lifestyle and not to the famous Richie riches of the Society; which I certainly feel amounts to a different sort of violation of fundamental rights altogether.
Our Constitution ensures that every citizen not only has a right to freedom of religion, but also has the right to his own beliefs and these beliefs need not necessarily be religious beliefs- one could be an atheist, or an agnostic- there can be no opinion or judgment against any such belief whatsoever.
Furthermore, what is more worrisome is that such laws and ordinances are being passed that specifically target women’s rights, as if women do not understand their own rights or religion or faiths. Not only should Indian women have the right to choose their own husbands, but they should also have the right to decide if they want to change their faith. The idea that there is a widespread Muslim conspiracy to prey on innocent Hindu girls and convert them to Islam is ludicrous.
I particularly fear that such type of non-sense and baseless Ordinance which in its own whims and fancies is allegedly trying to protect the people of U.P may soon be adopted by the whole country and create more diversions between Hindus and Muslims which will forever be beyond repair. The concept of marriage is for two people to come together and celebrate their life, why should anyone may it be state or Government or public at large be allowed to cross that threshold of privacy of two Individuals.