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Muslims sometimes misrepresent themselves as victims, says BJP’s Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi

The former chief of National Commission for Minorities backs unverified claims of ‘love jihad’, says laws against 'forced' conversion help prevent communal tension

National Commission for Minorities Chairperson Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi (L) and Vice Chairman of National Commission for Minorities George Kurian (R) at a press conference in 2019 in New Delhi. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times)
National Commission for Minorities Chairperson Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi (L) and Vice Chairman of National Commission for Minorities George Kurian (R) at a press conference in 2019 in New Delhi. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times)

Amid talk of so-called “love jihad”, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet approved the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion ordinance on 24 November. "Love jihad", say Hindu fundamentalists, is rampant, though there is no data to suggest this. On 31 October, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath too had warned those practising "love jihad" to mend their ways or "prepare for their final journey" –“Ram naam satya hai ki yatra nikalne waali hai”. Other states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, are also considering curbs.

The UP law criminalises religious conversion by “misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage”. It effectively allows the state to determine the validity of marriages and shifts the burden of proof to the accused rather than the complainant in what has been made a cognisable offence. Several legal experts say the law encroaches on civil and fundamental rights. Last month, the Allahabad high court dismissed an FIR against a Muslim man for "kidnapping" and "forcefully converting" a Muslim girl, ruling that the right to choose partners is a fundamental right. On 3 December, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the UP law. 

On Wednesday, Mint spoke to Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi, a BJP member and former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities. Rizvi’s three-year term ended in June—no chairperson has been appointed since. Rizvi said he supported the UP law on grounds that it would help prevent communal tension triggered by forceful conversion. Such instances, he claimed, often took place, but couldn’t come up with any evidence to back it up. He also made several inflammatory statements, like religious polarization in the recent years went "both ways", that some Muslims were responsible for it too because of "the way they write, the way they talk about the PM."

Edited excerpts from a phone interview: 

What’s your take on the law against forcible conversion in UP? 

These laws are made because it’s wrong to use force or allurement to marry or convert someone. Islam says you can’t become a Muslim simply by reading 'La ilaha illallah'. There’s no scope for force in Islam. If there’s a law against this, it’s good. 

How many cases are there of forcible conversion? 

We often hear of such cases. Only the other day, in Bareilly, an FIR was registered on such grounds. A Muslim man pretended to be a Hindu to marry a Hindu girl. 

The case was registered after this law was made. How many such offences had been registered earlier? 

In (the Kanpur district of) UP, the Special Investigation Team had investigated 14 cases recently. They found that the accused had used force, changed names, and fraudulently married someone. I think that’s why the government thought it was necessary. 

Mohit Agarwal, inspector general of Kanpur and a part of the SIT, has said (according to a report in The Hindu) that they did not find “solid proof that the accused worked in an organised manner as part of a conspiracy”. How can this be termed "love jihad"? 

There’s no love with jihad. Jihad is a pure word. It doesn’t allow for assault or terrorism or marriage.

In the case of Hadiya (a woman from Kerala whose father challenged her marriage to a Muslim man and conversion to Islam), the Supreme court had said (according to an Economic Times report in 2018) that until a woman complains, they cannot examine whether an adult woman’s marriage is valid or invalid, whether she was brainwashed into it or not. According to this law, the woman need not complain. Even if her family members do it, it’s enough to arrest (her husband). Given such provisions, can’t this law be misused? 

Any law can be misused. It has been used in British times also.... If the family comes to know of such instances, they can complain. 

Even if the woman has no objections? 

I know there are plenty of people where Hindus and Muslims marry and prosper. But if there’s any allurement or force, there should be a law. 

In many cases, families object only in inter-caste or inter-faith marriages. In this law, a family has the right to file a criminal complaint against their child’s free will. 

Any guardian fears that their daughter has been taken away fraudulently. There’s a case, the person is taken to the magistrate. But if the girl says to the magistrate that she has done it out of her own free will, this won’t be a problem. 

But until then, there is a possibility of harassment, custodial torture…. 

You are right. But ekka dukka koi cases aaye hai (just a few cases here and there), you do hear of these. There’s a need to stop this beforehand. A rioting situation is prevented because of this. 

Are you saying communal tension can be reduced by investigating Hindu-Muslim marital unions? 

If your love is pure, I don’t think any party, government or person will have any problems. But there are suspicions that this happens. This (law) is so that such cases don’t increase. 

The strongest criticism against "love jihad" is there’s no proof it happens. Former Kerala police chief Jacob Punnoose has said (in an interview with Economic Times) that he investigated nearly 100 cases of inter-faith marriages and didn’t find any cases of conspiracy. 

With any law, those who want to misuse it, they will. There are so many innocents killed, encountered. There’s no guarantee that laws can’t be misused. But this law is so that communal tensions and enmity isn’t fostered. 

You were chairman at a time when Muslims begun feeling increasingly marginalised. From Mohammed Akhlaq to Pehlu Khan, Muslims have been lynched on religious grounds. What was your role in community outreach at the time? 

Whatever cases I had during my time, I took it seriously. When the Jharkhand case happened with Tabrez Ansari, I had sent my people, they met his family. But let me give you an example. In Unnao, there was a cricket match that was reported to have turned into a riot. When I asked the authorities, they said that it wasn’t communal, it was only a disagreement between two teams. Another example: In Jharkhand, a maulana was saying he was beaten up due to him being a Muslim. I enquired with the authorities. They said, when he was going home, he found a couple of Adivasi kids on the road who had blocked the road. He started beating them up. Other Adivasis saw it and beat him up. Such cases also happen. Somewhere, galat angle diya gaya hai (such cases are misrepresented) 

You are saying that some Muslims claim they have been victimised on the basis of their religion when that isn’t the case? 

Yes, exactly. I don't mean for all. But sometimes, people say, I am a Muslim, I keep a beard, people beat me up because of it, and the news starts reporting it as that.  

Do you think that the insecurity among Muslims has increased under BJP rule? 

Not at all. If they did, the commission’s doors were always open. I would have meetings twice a week. Anyone could walk in without taking an appointment. I swear, people did feel that they were being protected. We also succeeded in addressing misconceptions about the government. 

There are instances of BJP MPs like Jayant Sinha garlanding those accused of lynching a Muslim man in Jharkhand. On Twitter, the trending hashtag today (on 2 December) was "MiyaKaBachchaKabhiNaSachcha". Don’t you think religious polarisation has increased in recent years? 

(laughs at the hashtag) I agree. But I think it’s both ways. Even Muslims, the way they write, the way they talk about the PM... It’s both ways. 

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