Choosing My Religion: ‘Freedom of Religion Laws’ to Curb Liberty

Ram Puniyani
December 27, 2020

Indian Constitution gives us the right to practice, preach and propagate our religion. To not to follow any religion is also a matter of right for the individual. Now in our country as we are facing declining GDP, worsening economic situation, rising prices-unemployment-farmers suicides and currently farmer’s agitation, some of our state Governments are more worried about the interfaith marriages and conversions. Some of them are busy putting forth the laws to prevent conversions. As such conversions have been nagging issue since last few decades but currently they are being attributed as the goal behind inter faith marriages. BJP ruled states and particularly UP, are busy formulating the laws to punish those who are involved in the process of conversions. Parallel to the efforts of state Governments, the vigilante groups are having a gala time harassing couples to ‘save their religion’!

Conversion, mainly away from Hinduism, is yet again coming to fore. The UP Government is planning an ordinance against organizations which are involved in conversion process. As per this organizations will lose their registration and face dire consequences. The ordinance demands a two-month notice to be given to the local administration. The local administration will have the power to decide whether your intended act is legal or not. And of course the burden of proof will be on the converts and the persons converting them. There is a special; mention of SC/ST and women. Many states are now vying to bring in anti ‘Love jihad’ and anti-conversion laws. There are many individual cases where couples and their relatives are being tormented by groups in the name of conversion and love jihad. Many of the laws being framed by the states are mostly against many provisions of Indian constitution.

During freedom movement, Arya Samaj had started Shuddhi movement to bring back those who had embraced other religions. Similarly Tablighi Jamat was active with the parallel campaign of Tanzim to convert people into Islam. The biggest conversion of twentieth Century was of course the one undertaken by Bhimrao Ambedkar. This conversion as such tells us the real cause of the conversions into other religions. Ambedkar, a dalit, got the highest of degrees and on return he had to face the ignominy of being and untouchable. In his struggles for social justice and for dignified life his, his major conclusions were that Hindus cannot be a nation due to the caste hierarchy. Hinduism is dominated by Brahmanical values. This is what made him declare that ‘I was born a Hindu that was not in my hands but I will not die a Hindu’.

His exploration led him to Buddhism, which formed that basis of his decision to embrace Buddhism along with over three lakh followers. Law Professor Sameena Dalwai, in her article draws our attention to the fact that had the present type of laws would have been there, Ambedkar might be behind the bars by now. The architect of Indian Constitution was for Liberty. Liberty does include right to our choice to follow any faith of our liking, or to be an agnostic or atheist as well.

While many people have not been exercising their right to choose their religion, many have done so in the past. That’s how Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism spread in India. Buddhism did face a painful trajectory as it was attacked by elite intolerant traditions within Hinduism, which are totally against the concept of equality as propounded by Buddhism. Birth based inequality is peculiar feature of some sects prevailing here, with the sanction of Holy Scriptures. As a practice it is also part of other religions to some extent.

While today so many obstacles are being erected for the odd one opting to change one’s religion, history has seen streams of conversions, minor and major, to Islam and Christianity. Indian history has seen conversions mainly due to two factors. One is the tyranny of caste oppression. Swami Vivekananda tells us, “and The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation of the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think that it was all the work of sword and fire. It was to gain their liberty from the… zaminders and from the Priest, and as a consequence you find in Bengal there are more Mohammedans than Hindus amongst cultivators, because there were so many zaminders there.” (Selected Works of Swami Vivekanand, Vol.3, 12th edition, 1979.p.294.Extracted from the sayings of Swami Vivekananda compiled in `Proletariat! Win Equal Rights’ Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, 1984 p.16.).  

Many a conversions did take place also due to the social interaction and spiritual quest also. Some victor Kings also put humiliating condition of acceptance of their religion by the defeated kings. In India it was mainly the interaction with Sufi saints that many took to Islam. One interesting example is that of Dileep Kumar becoming A. R. Rahman, under the influence of a Sufi saint.

The second phenomenon is that of Christian missionaries. They have been working on issues of health and education in remote areas also. A couple of decades ago Pastor Stains was done to death on pretext of conversion (1999) and in 2008 anti Christian violence has been orchestrated in places like Kandhamal in particular. The extent of this conversion is not very huge if we see that despite centuries of work, the Christian population in India as per the census of 2011 is 2.3%. (First Church was set up by St. Thomas in AD 52).

Political phenomena of ‘reconversion to Hinduism’ are not far behind as witnessed in Agra, where the pavement dwellers were promised the BPL card and ration card. They were lured to come to a puja and declared that now they are Hindus. Ghar Wapsi by giving bath in hot springs in Adivasi areas is very much there. This is a political move to bring these sections into the fold of caste hierarchy, yet again.

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Agencies
January 17,2021

Farmers' Protests: Yogendra Yadav Detained by Haryana Police for 'Breach of  Peace'

New Delhi, Jan 17: A farmer leader on Sunday said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is targetting those who are part of the farmers' protest or supporting it, while the union leaders reiterated that the proposed tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day will go on. 

Addressing a press conference at the Singhu border protest site, union leader Yogendra Yadav said, "We will carry out a tractor parade on the Outer Ring Road in Delhi on Republic Day. The parade will be very peaceful. There will be no disruption of the Republic Day parade. The farmers will put up the national flag on their tractors."

The authorities had moved the Supreme Court seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor march or any other kind of protest by farmers which seeks to disrupt the gathering and celebrations of Republic Day on January 26. The matter is pending in court.

Another farmer union leader, Darshan Pal Singh, alleged that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is filing cases against those who are part of the protest or supporting it.

"All farmer unions condemn this," Pal said, referring to the NIA summons reportedly issued to a farmer union leader in a case related to the banned Sikhs For Justice outfit.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now demanding repeal of the three laws -- the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.

Enacted in September 2020, the central government has presented these laws as major farm reforms aimed at increasing farmers' income, but the protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the minimum support price (MSP) and "mandi" (wholesale market) systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out a repeal of the laws. 

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News Network
January 11,2021

The Supreme Court on Monday said that it was "extremely disappointed with the way negotiations were going on between the government and farmers over new farm laws."

“We don't want to make any stray observations on your negotiations but we are extremely disappointed with the process,” said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The apex court, which was hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues related to the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders, said it is not talking about the repeal of these farm laws at the moment.

The CJI said, "If the Centre does not want to stay the implementation of farm laws, we will put a stay on it. "You can carry on the protest. But the question is whether the protest should be held at the same site," he added. 

Stating that there is not a single petition before the apex court that says that these farm laws are beneficial to farmers, it asked the Centre, "What is going on? States are rebelling against your laws".

"Some people have committed suicide, old people and women are a part of the agitation. What is happening?" the CJI asked.

The court reiterated the need for a committee on farm laws, saying that it will stop the implementation of these laws if the panel advises to do so. The Supreme Court suggested names of former CJIs including R M Lodha to head panel for exploring the possibility of a solution over farm laws protests. 

Stating that its intention was to see a negotiated solution, the SC said, "We are sorry to say that the Centre has not been able to solve the problem and nor has it been able to address the issues arising out of the farmers' agitation." 

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Ram Puniyani
January 14,2021

Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020, passed by UP on 27th November 2020, has set the ball rolling. On one hand many other BJP ruled states like MP and Haryana are activating their machinery to bring in similar law in their states and on the other at social level many interfaith couples are being subjected to harassment, some of the Muslim men in particular are being put behind the bars. This law has intentions which are out and out communal as already from 1960s there have been anti-conversion laws. The new laws have goals which are sinister and have the potential of being misused to create social disharmony.

While the ordinance does not use the word love jihad, the foot soldiers of the Hindu nationalist politics are out in the open with apprehending Muslim Man-Hindu girl couple and subjecting them to increasing degrees of torture. In Northern states the phenomenon of intimidation and violence against such couples, the Muslim men in particular is surging. Gradually more couples are being brought into the spiral of moral policing and intimidations. The worst part of the process is that those taking the laws into their hands enjoy impunity and are becoming bolder in creating a divisive atmosphere in the society and pushing back the minority Muslim community into submission and marginalization. At the same time these are putting pressure on Hindu girls and restricting their mobility and freedom.

This time two issues are being rolled into one. The fear of conversions away from Hinduism is being linked to Hindu girls having relationship with Muslim boys. At one level interfaith and inter caste relationships are natural in an open society, where people from different castes/religion interact at various levels.  

Dislike for interfaith marriages was put bluntly by the UP Chief minister Adityanath Yogi, who citing a recent ruling of the Allahabad High Court which said religious conversion for the sake of marriage is unacceptable, warned that those waging “love jihad” should mend their ways or be prepared for their last journey — “Ram naam satya hai ki yatra nikalne waali hai”. (The slogan recited in the funeral processions) The instructions have also been passed down that parents should keep a watch on their daughters.

The new law brought in by the UP Government needs to be questioned in the courts as it is an outright attack on different clauses of the Constitution, which gives us the freedom to choose, practice and propagate our faith and other provisions giving us liberty to choose our life partner. This present law (UP and possibly in other states) aims to popularize that Hindu culture is under threat, Hindu girls are vulnerable and Hindu males have to act as their protectors. While the ordinance does not mention the word love jihad, the background and the statements of the top leaders of Hindu nationalism and the actions of vigilantes makes it clear that it is an outright attempt to target the inter faith marriages , especially when the groom is a Muslim. The accusation is that after such marriages the Hindu girl is unable to practice her religion in her marital home and is forced to convert.

Such cases of interfaith marriages are few and far between in this large country of ours’. In more democratized countries interfaith marriages are on the rise, close to becoming social norm. Also Muslim girl and Hindu boy cases are fewer in number, and in the present scenario even the Hindu boy (Ankit Saxena) has to face the wrath of the parents of the girl. The Trinmul Congress MP Nusrat Jahan was also trolled for her choice to marry a Hindu. But overall the hue and cry, the target is the Muslim boy.

 In Maharashtra, a group “Hindu Rakshak Samiti” has been claiming to save Hindu religion by breaking up the Hindu Muslim couples, if the girl happens to be a Hindu. A booklet in Marathi on Love Jihad shows a Muslim boy riding the Motor bike, with Hindu girl riding pillion. In case of a Muslim girl marrying a Hindu and converting is presented as Ghar Wapasi (return home) so is not attacked by Hindu vigilante groups. The police investigation mostly showed that there is no such phenomenon as Love Jihad. The organizational promotion of such marriages is a hoax but has become part of social understanding.

Why are there such and opposition to inter faith marriage? Is it a plan by Muslims to lure Hindu girls, marry and convert them? This is a make believe propaganda. As such it is an attempt to paint the Muslim men doing it deliberately under a plan! What is missed out in the whole scheme of things is that here, in this assertive aggressive propaganda and violence the agency of Hindu girls/women is reduced to zero. Hindu girls are presented as being gullible and without any will or decision making power of their own. While Muslim men are presented as a threat to Hinduism and the Hindu girls are presented as being without any mind of their own. The advice being given to parents to keep a watch on the movements of their daughters and their contacts is a mechanism to control the lives of girls.

All sectarian nationalist ideologies are strongly patriarchal and so the woman has to be under the control of men as ‘their property’. Patriarchal values and nationalism under the wraps of religion go hand in hand. With Independence and implementation of Indian Constitution this journey takes a good leap and we can see the women as their own selves coming to all the spheres of Indian social, educational and political life of the country. This is a matter of discomfiture to those who pay lip service to values of equality and eulogize the ancient holy texts, which give subordinate place to women.

Hope the judiciary is able to restrain the state governments in withdrawing these laws which are oppressive. The interfaith amity needs to be promoted at all the levels.

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