In India, Weaponizing Marriage Laws To Subjugate Muslims

The forced abortiona of a Hindu woman married to a Muslim man should be treated like murder by the state. Yet, not much is being said about it, or other ways new laws are used to disenfranchise Muslims.

Inside a mosque in Downtown Srinaga, India
Inside a mosque in Downtown Srinaga, India


NEW DELHI — As 2020 comes to an end, two things can be said with certainty about India.

One, the state and nearly all its institutions have made it clear that the Muslims would be treated as subjects and not citizens with rights equal to Hindus.

Second, there is a growing realisation among the Muslims that the task of affirming their rights and rejecting the subjecthood imposed on them is something they cannot abdicate and leave for the future.

Yet as the state, through various legal instruments, wages a war against Muslim men, unfortunately there is no outrage in the wider Hindu society.

The agency of Muslims is being taken away from them and they are being robbed of their autonomy as citizens in multiple ways and they are seen as perpetually unlawful. The very existence of Muslims is now under serious threat in India but no political party thinks that it is as serious an issue as the anti-tiller farm laws. The most recent instance being the so called anti-conversion law of the Uttar Pradesh state.

The travesty of the law was laid bare in the case of Pinki and her husband Rashid Ali.

The miscarriage that a pregnant Pinki suffered while in the custody of the state should be seen as a clear and decisive change in the relationship between Muslims and the Indian state and its institutions. It is also changing the relationship between Muslims and Hindus. But most of us are not recognising the seriousness of the message from this incident.

We know that Pinki was forcibly moved to the Nari Niketan after the police arrested her Muslim husband and his brother under the newly enforced Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. She had married Rashid Ali In July this year, six months prior to the promulgation of the said ordinance.

The union of the couple was their choice. She converted to Islam.

The court came to their rescue but only after the police submitted that there was no evidence to prove the allegation of forcible conversion. The young woman was allowed to rejoin her husband after she declared that her marriage had her consent. Rashid and his brother spent 15 days in prison.

A Muslim man offering evening prayers — Photo: Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

The media reported that Rashid was happy that he was free, "We got married with mutual consent. I have already spent 15 days in jail. But today I am happy as I have been released," said Rashid after stepping out of the prison. When asked if he felt the police had misused the new law, he chose to keep mum.

That he chose to "keep mum" must worry us. A Muslim's inability to even express anguish when subjected to injustice has now become routine.

One must not forget that at least 11 Muslims have been arrested after the ordinance was announced. Hours after the new ordinance came into force, a most absurd arrest was made. Ahmed, a 22-year-old man was arrested as the father of a married woman alleged that he was threatening to kidnap his daughter and convert her. The woman is married and is living with her husband and yet the father was alleging that Ahmed wants to convert her after abducting her! The police promptly kicked into action, forming several search teams and "nabs' Ahmed.

Muslim men are being placed in an impossible situation. Those arrested Muslims are not as fortunate as Rashid and Muskan. The Himachal Pradesh state has also enacted a similar law. The leaders of the ruling BJP party are demanding it in other states as well.

But let us return to Muskan. She has alleged that the doctors and authorities should be held responsible for the miscarriage. First, they denied it, but now that it is confirmed there is no response to the charge made by Muskan.

The crime is serious. A forcible abortion should be treated like murder. Would the people responsible be held accountable and made to face the law? Again, an absurd question. It sounds distasteful but one cannot but remember that one of the main features of the propaganda of marriage between a Muslim man and Hindu woman, which allegedly makes this alliance more sinister, is that the wombs of Hindu women are used to produce Muslims. The reverse is not only allowed but desirable. So, the destruction of a yet-to-be-born Muslim becomes a duty.

At least 11 Muslims have been arrested after the ordinance was announced — Photo: Sajad Hameed/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

These laws have a provision that if one of the couple returns to the ‘parent religion" or mooldharm, it would not be treated as a crime. One need not guess which religion would get this exalted status of being the original or parent religion of this country. If a Hindu man marries a Muslim woman and she converts to his religion, it would not be a crime under these laws. Instead as we saw in case in Uttar Pradesh, they would get protection from the law.

These laws against marriage for the purpose of conversion are the most potent tool after the anti-cow slaughter laws to criminalise Muslims, primarily Muslim men. The Triple Talaq Act was a precursor in this respect.

It has been pointed out that these laws are against the right of choice, against love, against the agency of Hindu and Dalit women. All this is of course true.

The law will definitely impact them but we also need to remember that it would be only Muslim men who would face criminal charges. It is they who would be jailed. They will have to fight a long battle, ruin themselves and their families to prove their innocence.

The women in question would need to be extraordinarily courageous like Muskan to save their Muslim partners from the Indian state. Would all Hindu women be able to resist organised groups like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad? Would they not be forced to criminalise their "lovers' to save their honor or lives?

The anti-conversion law is based on a lie. It says that marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women are done for the purpose of conversion. To claim that Muslim men marry Hindu women with the aim to convert them is perverted logic. But the courts also accept it.

Muslims have been thus placed in an unequal situation in India with all agencies and laws arranged against them. Their rights as individuals and their rights as members of a religious community are being curtailed consistently.

Lies and deception are being used to do this. But most of us call them anti-constitutional, anti-human, and anti-Indian but cannot muster courage to say that they are anti-Muslim — and that alone should be sufficient grounds to fight against them.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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