Love Jihad

When it comes to inter-faith marriages, Indian state is like a super khap panchayat

The Special Marriage Act was meant to facilitate inter-religious marriages. But it actually creates huge hurdles.

Some parts of our political life have hit such a low that the right to marry someone outside one's religion has actually become a live election issue. This right is so basic that even to discuss it seems a waste of time; we might as well debate whether the sun rises in the east.

Nevertheless, the Sangh Parivar has tried to politicise this basic right through a campaign against what it calls "love jihad", a strategy by which Muslim men allegedly feign love for women from other religions in order to convert them to Islam.

From well before riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh in September 2013 to Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath’s rabble-rousing today, the Sangh Parivar has employed so-called love jihad as a  political strategy. The BJP discussed it at a conclave of its Uttar Pradesh unit in Vrindavan late last month, and although a few leaders expressed reservations, most of them endorsed the campaign enthusiastically.

In the run-up to by-elections in UP on September 13, this campaign is only likely to intensify. The BJP has even appointed Adityanath to lead the campaign, soon after a video of him surfaced promising to convert 100 Muslim girls for every Hindu girl that marries a Muslim.

The legal route

Legally, India has a clear route to inter-religious marriage: the Special Marriage Act, 1954, under which a couple, no matter what their caste or religious background, can marry without any need for conversion.

Just how manufactured the Sangh Parivar's brouhaha is can be seen from the fact that it is not even discussing this Act ‒ the one instrument that clearly separates the issue of conversion and marriage. Yet, this law is exactly what we should be discussing because its provisions show that the biases driving the Sangh Parivar animate the Indian state itself.

Under the British Raj, the only way for an inter-religious union to be solemnised was via Act III of 1872. However, getting married under this act required a public renunciation of one's religion ‒ clearly an unneeded measure but one that was an outcome of the Raj’s policy of not interfering in the personal and religious life of Indians.

Independence saw this policy being challenged, led by the Progressives within the Congress. Nehru as well as Ambedkar put in a tremendous amount of effort to reform and codify Hindu law and bring it in line with their liberal vision of India. Yet interestingly just like the colonial state, they left Muslim personal law untouched.

This vision was opposed by Conservatives both from within the Congress and outside. NC Chatterjee, president of the Hindu Mahasabha (the father of Somnath Chatterjee, who went on to become a Communist), led the charge against this reform.

Conservative opposition

For example, when Nehru's government tried to introduce a clause giving Hindu women the right to divorce, Chatterjee argued that "marriage is regarded as one of the 10 sanskars or sacraments necessary for regeneration of men of the twice-born classes and the only sacrament for women and shudras.  To introduce divorce then was to deny women the chance of rebirth in their karmic cycle."

So bitter was the opposition to reforming Hindu personal law that, battered by the struggle, Ambedkar resigned from Nehru’s cabinet.

Nevertheless, as is well known, Nehru managed to get the Hindu Code Bills passed, partly by using his immense clout and partly by giving some concessions to the Conservatives. One of those concessions, unfortunately, was watering down the Special Marriage Act, which was being debated at around the same time. Parliament wrote enough hurdles into the Act to render it effete as an instrument of social change.

A super khap panchayat

One of the most curious provisions of the Act is that the process requires a notice period, unlike under religious personal laws. Couples who want to marry under the Special Marriage Act have to apply in writing to the marriage officer. The marriage can be conducted only after a month and only if no objections are raised in that time. Moreover, a notification announcing the marriage needs to be displayed at a prominent place by the marriage officer.

Clearly, this provision has no other use other than to intimate the families of the couple getting married as well as other caste or religious leaders, who might oppose such a match. Once the marriage has been announced, not only can anyone raise a simple objection, thus delaying the marriage date indefinitely, the fact that the exact location and date of the marriage is publicly known means that physical force can easily be used to stop the ceremony.

Further, the Act also stipulates that an application for marriage can be made only in a place where at least one of the parties resides. In practice, this means that in India runaway inter-religious marriages are literally not permitted by law.

Furthermore, if either of the parties is not a permanent resident of the place, the Act says that the marriage officer has to inform the court in the district within whose limits that party is a permanent resident. The court must then display a copy of the announcement of the intended marriage at a conspicuous place in its premises.

In effect, what this means is that marriage officers must send a letter to the permanent addresses of the parties, informing them that their son or daughter is about to do the unthinkable: exercise his or her fundamental right to marry someone of his or her choosing.

Special protection to Hindus

In practice, therefore, by making sure that parents as well as caste or community leaders are aware of the time and location of the intended marriage well in advance, the Indian state acts like a super khap panchayat, by making sure that society decides whether the couple should get married or not.

The matter does not end here. Not only does the Act do its utmost to prevent an inter-religious marriage, in the event that it does somehow take place, it also has a punitive provision. If a Hindu (which includes Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists) marries a non-Hindu, he or she cannot inherit ancestral property.

Interestingly, this provision applies only to Hindus; the law does not bother to punish Muslims or Christians in a similar manner. It seems that while the Indian republic hates the idea of an inter-religious marriage in general, one involving a Hindu gives it special heartburn.

Lost opportunity

What is truly tragic in all this is that the Act could theoretically be a bedrock for identity based on the primacy of the individual, one that breaks away from the communal and other group identities that have so bedevilled India. In fact, the Act contains within it the seeds of a robust uniform civil code, given that it is the only provision under which Indians can opt out of their religious personal laws.

Of course, as can be seen from the current, pathetic state of this law, this project was always off to a hobbled start. Nehru's government might have gotten the Act passed but the Conservatives of his time made sure that the law was as good as useless.

Ideally, strengthening the Act would be the way to go in order to build a liberal Indian identity free of narrow parochialism ‒ the Indian state need not differentiate between types of marriages or worry about the fact that Hindus are marrying non-Hindus. However, now that the political heirs of the very same Conservatives who crippled the Special Marriage Act in the first place control the government, the chances of this happening appear dim.

What's more, given that the BJP now directly benefits electorally from making an issue out of inter-religious marriages, you would have to be a bit of a blind Pollyanna to expect it to saw off the branch that it’s sitting on and move towards reforming the Act.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.