In a memorandum submitted to Gujarat governor Acharya Devrat, signatories on behalf of the India’s top civil society network, National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) and the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), Gujarat, has said that the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2021, passed recently in the state assembly, is “unconstitutional, infringes on the rights of women and polarizes the society along lines of religion.”
Stating that the Bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly, driven by the vicious propaganda of “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory by Hindutva supremacists which propagates the falsehood that Hindu women are “lured” into marriages by Muslim men, the memorandum says, on April 9, 2021, the Supreme Court Bench observed that “every person is the final judge of their own choice of religion or who their life partner should be.”
Asking the governor not to accent to the Bill, NAPM insists, “The Bill has adverse implications on personal liberty, the rule of law and equality before law.”
The Gujarat assembly recently passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2021 which seeks to regulate religious conversions under the garb of inter-faith marriages. We, the signatories of this memorandum, as part of civil society would like to express our deepest concern and objection to this Bill which in our view is unconstitutional, infringes on the rights of women and polarizes the society along lines of religion.
The Bill, which has been passed by the Legislative Assembly, was driven by the vicious propaganda of “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory by Hindutva supremacists which propagates the falsehood that Hindu women are “lured” into marriages by Muslim men. This premise itself is outrageous and flawed at multiple levels. It is public knowledge that the Union Ministry in February 2020 had admitted that the term “love jihad” is not defined by law and thus not recognized legally. Consequently there is no data or evidence to show cases where any crime is committed. This notwithstanding there is a concerted effort by Hindu supremacist to normalize this imaginary narrative by constant and persistent public rhetoric sans any reliable data.
This emotive issue is used to stigmatize the Muslim community by portraying the Muslim men as predatory. Equally of concern is the fact that the Bill infantilizes women and robs them of agency. Women as equal citizens of the country are perfectly capable of making their own decisions about their choices in the matters of marriage, sexuality and control over their own bodies. In fact it is their constitutional prerogative.
This above prerogative is upheld in numerous landmark judgments by the High Courts and Supreme Court in India. Very recently, ironically in the face of a similar law in the State of Uttar Pradesh, High Court of Allahabad observed:
“Right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them, is intrinsic to right to life and personal liberty. Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals.”
The Supreme Court in the judgment in KS Puttaswamy v Union of India upheld the right to privacy. Who the consenting adults have relationships with and marry is matter of their privacy and cannot be intruded upon. Similarly, the SC in the famous Shafin Jahan v Ashokan KM judgment not only observed that there was no evidence to support the dubious theory of “love jihad” but also upheld that the right to marry the person of one’s own choice is integral part of article 21 of the Constitution.Article 21 of the Constitution states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. Article 25 states, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health”.
Gujarat Legislative Assembly has passed the Bill despite the clear legal jurisprudence on the matter of love jihadJust recently, on April 9, 2021, while dismissing as withdrawn a PIL seeking, among other things, to control ‘mass conversion through intimidation’, the Supreme Court Bench made the observation that “every person is the final judge of their own choice of religion or who their life partner should be. Courts cannot sit in judgment of a person’s choice of religion or life partner”.
The passing of this Bill by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly is alarming as it has been passed despite the clear legal jurisprudence on the matter of “love jihad”. It is adequately clear that the Bill seeks to address an alleged wrong or a situation that doesn’t exist.
In fact, the real intent of the Bill is to give legitimacy and institutionalize a sectarian campaign which could lead to communal conflicts and criminalization of the already marginalized Muslim community. That the narrative of “love jihad” which the Bill wants to counter is a hoax, is clear from the arguments placed in the Assembly by Pradipsinh Jadeja, Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home.The real intent is to nurture a form of political and ideological assertion and intimidation; and this is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that that the term “love Jihad” doesn’t find a mention even once in this Bill! The Bill has adverse implications on personal liberty, the rule of law and equality before law — the ideas which are the very soul of the Constitution. This Bill seeks to blatantly destroy constitutional morality.
Keeping the above in mind, the signatories to this letter urge Your Excellency to reconsider the said Bill which has been passed by the Legislative Assembly. This Bill, if finally granted assent by the Hon’ble Governor and becomes a piece of legislation, would do irreversible damage to the struggle for women’s rights, harmonious inter-community relations and the respect for diversity within the society.
As the Guardian of the Constitution, we plead that Your Excellency reserves the Bill for the consideration of the President using the power bestowed on you under Article 200 of the Constitution.
May the truth and constitutional morality prevail! — Click here for signatories