The Uttar Pradesh government’s controversial anti-conversion ordinance has transformed the state into “the epicentre of politics of hate, division and bigotry”, a letter signed by 104 former IAS officers, including former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and former Adviser to the Prime Minister TKA Nair, and released Tuesday said.
Demanding that the “illegal ordinance be withdrawn forthwith”, they also said all politicians, including the Chief Minister, needed to “re-educate yourselves about the provisions of the Constitution which you and other lawmakers have sworn to uphold”.
The controversial ordinance targets so-called “love jihad” crimes, which is the name given to the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men seduce Hindu women to have them convert to their religion. The term is not one recognised by the centre but that hasn’t stopped several states from passing “anti-love jihad” laws that critics say can (and are) being used to terrorise minorities.
“… a series of heinous atrocities committed by your administration against young Indians across Uttar Pradesh… Indians who are simply seeking to live their lives as free citizens of a free country,” the letter’s signatories said.
The letter flagged multiple instances of minorities being targeted, including a horrific case from UP’s Moradabad last week – in which Rashid, 22, and Saleem, 25, were accosted by alleged Bajrang Dal men, dragged to the police and arrested on allegations the latter forced Pinki to marry him.
According to the letter, Pinki repeatedly told the police and the court that she had married Rashid willingly and wanted to live with her husband’s family.
“What is inexcusable is the police remained mute as vigilantes harassed and interrogated the innocent couple. Pinki suffered a miscarriage, possibly as a result of harassment,” the letter said, quoting an Indian Express report that said Rashid told the attackers his wife was pregnant.
Last week two teenagers in UP’s Bijnor were ambushed, harassed and taken to a police station where a case of “love jihad” was filed. One teen has been in jail for over a week for allegedly forcibly trying to convert a 16-year-old Hindu girl – a charge denied by both the girl and her mother.
“Around 11.30 pm some people caught hold of us – the villagers beat us up. They accused us of theft. They caught one boy, I don’t know who he was, and they caught me. I did not know who the boy was. It is not true that he was trying to convert me,” the girl said in a brief interview to NDTV.
“These atrocities, regardless of indignation of Indians devoted to rule of law, continue unabated. The anti-conversion ordinance… is being used as a stick to victimise especially those Indian men who are Muslim and women who dare to exercise their freedom of choice,” they added.
The Allahabad High Court made that same point last week as it reunited an interfaith couple, underlining the woman is an adult and had the “right to live life on her terms”.
The court passed another order last month that said “interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals”.
“…various High Courts, including the Allahabad High Court, have ruled unequivocally that choosing one’s life partner is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution, the state of UP is blithely undermining that very Constitution,” the signatories said.
“… UP state, once known as the cradle of the Ganga-Jamuna civilisation, has become the epicentre of the politics of hate, division and bigotry, and institutions of governance are now steeped in communal poison,” the letter said.
The ordinance has also been criticised by four former judges, including former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, who told NDTV it was “unconstitutional”.
Read the full text of the letter below: