On paper, the Government of India doesn’t want to come across as problematic, for the most part. Whether it’s the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the “Rights” of Transgender Persons Act, there is great care taken by the political leaders of this country (or their bureaucrats) to ensure that, on paper, they use the right words and say the right things. Two recent “written” documents from the government prove this: the first, an RTI reply to activist Saket Gokhale that said the Ministry of Home Affairs has no information regarding the ‘tukde tukde gang’ – a term that even the Home Minister himself has used to identify critics of the government. The second, is a reply in the Lok Sabha, where the Ministry of Home Affairs (once again) has said that there is no legal definition of the term ‘Love Jihad’.
On paper, this government wants us to believe that everything is hunky-dory and going as per the Constitution of India. But what’s ‘on paper’ in the narrow sense hardly matters, in reality. And that’s why, whatever they might put ‘on paper’ should not be a celebration of victory.
Take for instance the term ‘tukde tukde gang’, or ‘urban naxal’. The government doesn’t need to recognise these terms for the right-wing ecosystem fuelled by tacit approval from the government to identify and target people as such. To every dissenter who has either been arrested or is facing sedition charges – whether it’s Sudha Bharadwaj or the 50 young queer people in Mumbai who raised slogans in support of Sharjeel – it doesn’t matter if the Ministry of Home Affairs has officially ‘identified’ a ‘tukde tukde gang’. It’s enough that the police force in the country has internalised that dissent is criminal – and ‘anti-national’.
And while the government might, ‘on paper’ in an RTI reply say that they don’t have any details of a ‘tukde tukde gang’ – will they ever tell Arnab Goswami to stop using the term, or tell the right-wing ecosystem to stop targeting people using the term?
Will they ever tell the hordes on the streets and online that ‘Love Jihad’ doesn’t actually exist according to law – or that, ‘on paper’, the government stands by Article 25 of the Constitution that guarantees right to freedom of religion to all citizens? Especially when the very idea of ‘citizenship’ is going through a seemingly ugly metamorphosis?
The short answer is no.
Let’s take Yogi Adityanath for instance – the saffron clad Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh who seems to have a bunch of friendly advice for his counterparts in more developed states, never mind the condition of his own backyard. When the BJP brought him in as a ‘star campaigner’ to Kerala, Yogi raised the bogey of ‘Love Jihad’, and said, "Love Jihad is a dangerous thing and the Kerala government should make its stand clear about it."
The right-wing ecosystem meanwhile has bandied the term about so much, it’s shameful. The VHP in fact held a workshop for parents on how to stalk their children in order to stop ‘Love Jihad’.
In one of the sickest manifestations of this form of communal warfare, people who self identified with the right-wing in Kerala launched a social media campaign in December 2019 against couples who were about to marry. The ecosystem managed to destroy the privacy of individuals and put their safety at risk by putting out photos and personal details of scores of interfaith couples, where the man was a Muslim.
So while the government says, on paper, “Article 25 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. The term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws,” their supporters go around denying people their freedoms.
Perhaps the height of this tasteless campaign against interfaith marriages and right to freedom of religion, is the witch hunt of Hadiya. An adult woman who chose to convert to Islam was hounded by right wingers across the country, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. "Supreme Court has already observed that love jihad exists in Kerala and Karnataka through various judgments. But, Kerala has not taken effective steps to control it. Hadiya case itself is an evidence of love jihad," Adityanath had said.
Never mind that Hadiya chose to convert first, and then married a Muslim man chosen for her by her guardian. Never mind that it wasn’t even a ‘love marriage’. But the hordes that herald hate had subjected Hadiya to a vicious campaign – because, unlike the Ministry of Home Affairs’s ‘on paper’ stand, the right-wing ecosystem does not care for Article 25 of the Constitution.
Views expressed are the author’s own.