Maharashtra may be on its way to joining a string of Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states that have enacted strict rules against forced conversions in recent years. Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state legislative council that prima facie there was a design behind alleged cases of “love jihad” and announced that the state government was thinking of a legal solution for this. Though first used in Kerala by some Christian groups, love jihad is a term popularised by Right-wing groups to describe interfaith unions between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman.
Several states have had laws against forcible conversion attempts, and any such effort to compel someone to change their faith must be tried to the fullest extent of the law, because it curtails the right to practise one’s religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution. But the state administration would be well served to note the complaints of harassment and violence that many interfaith couples have lodged against groups that claim to fight against love jihad, and the attempts at weaponising the criminal justice system to curtail individual liberties. The Maharashtra government must also look at the data collected by its controversial committee set up last December to track interfaith marriages. The committee’s remit was to seek information about couples who had gotten into an interfaith marriage — the initial ambit was also inter-caste couples which was later dropped — and it received zero complaints in three months. This indicates that claims of there being a problem of conversion through marriage are misleading. In a country where only a handful of couples transcend barriers of faith, the government should safeguard their rights.