On Friday, March 4, a controversial bill was proposed in Haryana's state assembly, triggering opposition members' outcry. Haryana, a state in northern India, has a state legislative assembly dominated by the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Anil Vij, Haryana Home Minister, sponsored The Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill. Vij is a senior figure in BJP's Haryana leadership. In 2020, Vij announced that his party will create a three-member committee that will make a bill against "love jihad."
The proposed bill seeks to prohibit "religious conversions which are effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, and allurement." The bill also prohibits conversions through "any fraudulent means or by marriage or for marriage."
The bill's chilling words effectively criminalize interfaith marriage and interfaith relationships.
Haryana is the 11th state in India to adopt laws designed to criminalize an unfounded conspiracy theory.
In Uttar Pradesh, over 50 individuals have been arrested in the first month after the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion law was enacted in December 2020. Those convicted face up to ten-year jail sentences.
Love jihad is a religious conspiracy theory adapted by many right-wing Hindutva groups. These groups include members from Prime Minister Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. Subscribers to this conspiracy theory believe Muslims across India are plotting to convert Hindu women through marriage.
The conspiracy has dangerous effects; some are violent and deadly. Last year, a 24-year old Muslim man was beheaded in the Belgavi district in Karnataka, India. The victim, whose body was left on a railway track, had a Hindu girlfriend. Police suspected that it was a case of love jihad-related murder.
The opposition has mounted fierce resistance against the bill. Raghuvir Singh Kadian, an MP of the Indian National Congress (INC) party, tore a copy of the bill. Refusing to apologize, Kadian was suspended for the remainder of the Budget session.
Kadian accused Vij and the BJP of advancing a hidden agenda in their anti-conversion bill.
Assembly members Bharat Bhushan Batra, Geeta Bhukkal, Shamsher Singh Gogi, and Aftab Ahmed expressed strong opposition to the proposed bill, calling it unconstitutional. The group also accuses the BJP of creating a "divide in the society on the basis of religion."