New Delhi: The opposition parties of Maharashtra have come together to form a working group to exert pressure on the state government to withdraw a controversial government resolution on inter-faith marriages in the state, which many believe is a precursor to “love jihad” laws enacted in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states.
The decision was taken at a meeting orgainsed by Saloka Samiti under the banner of the All India Secular Forum at Y.B. Chavan Auditorium in Mumbai on Monday, February 13. The meeting saw the participation of representatives from Shiva Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party, among others. NCP chief and senior opposition leader, Sharad Pawar, was also present in the meeting to extend his support to the proposed working group. Prominent Mumbaikars, including lawyers, writers, activists, filmmakers, actors, among others also took part in the meeting.
The government resolution passed by the Eknath Shinde government in December 2022 led to the formation of the ‘Interfaith Marriage-Family Coordination Committee’ at the state level. According to the government, the committee is aimed at monitoring inter-religious marriages in the state and extending support to women in distress in such marriages. The sensational murder of Maharashtra woman Shraddha Walkar in May 2022 by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla in Delhi that drew national attention prompted the resolution. The BJP, which is part of the coalition government under Shinde, has joined the chorus with Hindutva groups across the country in projecting it as a case of “love jihad”.
Speaking on behalf of the Congress party in the state, Neela Limaye said the working group would strategise on ways and means to oppose the government committee in every district. “We decided on two main points: One is that the government resolution that set up the interfaith marriage committee should be quashed. The opposition has also decided to form a working committee and plan a strategy to oppose the committee at the district level. We will create awareness and pressure the government to withdraw it,” Indian Express quoted Limaye as saying.
Samajwadi Party MLA Rais Shaikh, who has been a vocal critic of the government resolution, reiterated his party’s stand that it would take legal recourse to force the government to withdraw the “unconstitutional resolution”.
“For any resolution, there is a process of law. In this case, there was no cabinet discussion, no conversation with anyone, no suggestions from people or from other elected representatives. In the GR, there is no SOP on how to go about this. It does not say only woman can complain, in fact anyone — be it a neighbour or an organisation can come and complain to the committee about an interfaith marriage, and ask for information. We (SP) have also decided to take legal recourse. This is an attempt to build a kind of image about a community, to spoil how it is perceived. And this is not just about the Muslim community, it is an unconstitutional GR, and goes against the very spirit of our country (sic),” the newspaper quoted Shaikh as saying.
Senior advocate Mihir Desai of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) pointed out that the resolution is violative of Articles 15 (forbidding discrimination), 21 (right to life which includes the right to privacy), and 25 (right to freedom of religion) of the constitution.
Calling it a “precursor to love-jihad” laws enacted in BJP-ruled states, Desai said the aim of such a resolution is to forbid conversion. “While those laws have been stayed by some high courts, it is important to challenge this government resolution politically,” said Desai, according to Mid-Day.
Bhai Jagtap, a Congress party legislator, alleged that the Maharashtra government had used the Nirbhaya Fund, meant for fighting crimes against women, to buy escort vehicles for its MLAs. The speakers scoffed at the BJP’s supposed concern for women, pointing at the multiple ways the government has been failing women in the state.
Lok Sabha MP and NCP leader Supriya Sule appealed to people at large to oppose the “regressive ideas” of the Maharashtra government. “Scientific temper is required for progress but presently, it is completely opposite (in policy). Policymaking is a very serious issue. It has many unintended consequences. These thoughts betray regressive ideas and thinking. Maharashtra has always been at the forefront of agitations against regressive thinking. Many of our progressive policies have been adopted by the central government. We will protest this decision also,” she said, according to Indian Express.
Sule also urged people not to be distracted by the “Hindu-Muslim binary” being created by the Hindutva groups but to continue to raise voices against “two main issues of unemployment and inflation” affecting people across the country.