A new law criminalizing inter-religious marriages in India’s Uttar Pradesh state on grounds of “unlawful religious conversions” is discriminatory and impacts religious freedom, an official with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said.
“It often results in violence and [abets] efforts to prohibit interfaith marriages using the false narrative of false conversions,” Niala Mohammad, Senior Policy Analyst, USCIRF, said at a Congressional Briefing at Washington, D.C., this week.
Mohammad said that the law was “particularly concerning not just for its discriminatory purpose but also because of its vague and… potentially wide-reaching impacts on religious freedoms in the state.”
Hindu nationalists had launched “inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagement, including calling for boycotts and censorship’s of media depictions of interfaith relationships. These efforts targeting and de-legitimizing interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrest of non-Hindus and violence towards any interfaith interaction,” she said.
Ms. Mohammad said the demolition of two mosques in Uttar Pradesh last month, one by officials defying a court order, was “particularly alarming for USCIRF.” Indian Supreme Court’s verdict last year handing the site of a mosque, demolished in 1992 by Hindu extremists, for building a Hindu temple in its place, was also alarming, she added. USCIRF was “concerned about religious freedom conditions in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.”
The Briefing, titled “State Repression on Civil Liberties in Uttar Pradesh,” was attended by policy staff of Members of US Congress and officials from the US Department of State, among others. It was organized by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), India Civil Watch International (ICWI), Dalit Solidarity Forum (DSF), International Christian Concern (ICC), Justice for All (JFA), and Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA).
Mohammad said disinformation and “intolerant content” about Muslims, Christians, Dalits had “emboldened intimidation, harassment and created incidents of mob violence.” She cited “hateful rhetoric” from government officials and images circulated on social media at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year for spreading such hate.