Religious Freedom in India: A Thing of the Past?

This past week, the first charges were filed under the new law against “Love Jihad” in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

The law criminalizes religious conversions which occur for the purpose of marriage and requires interfaith couples who intend to marry to notify the government months in advance. Identical laws are currently being considered in at least four other states.

Aside from the requirement that citizens disclose their religion to the government, the laws are draconian in multiple ways. Accused persons are ineligible for bail. The burden of proof is on the accused. And punishment includes up to 10 years imprisonment.

Such laws, which essentially ban interfaith marriage, are a manifestation of the widespread Hindu nationalist conspiracy theory — called “Love Jihad” — that Muslim men are engaged in a nationwide campaign to surreptitiously marry Hindu women for the purpose of converting them and altering India’s religious demographics.

Since the burden of proof is on the accused, these laws potentially allow a disgruntled father angered over his daughter’s independent decision to choose whom she will love and marry to end her consensual relationship and destroy the life of her loved one with nothing more than an allegation — as appears to be the situation in the first case just filed this past week in Uttar Pradesh.

These laws strongly reflect so-called “anti-conversion” laws already in effect in eight states. Such laws essentially criminalize religious freedom by requiring people who want to change their religion to notify, and in some cases even receive permission from, the government. Under India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, there is a renewed push to enact a national “anti-conversion” law.

This legislative agenda is foundational to the goals of the RSS, a paramilitary which is the parent organization of the BJP and which seeks to officially turn India into a “Hindu nation” where non-Hindus are treated as “foreigners” and “anti-nationals.”

In India today, freedom of religion is becoming a thing of the past.

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Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.

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