The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has banned religious conversions for the purpose of marriage, setting a 10-year prison term as the maximum penalty. The state government claims that the new law is designed to curb forced marriages. Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have already introduced similar laws. While we would generally give a government credit for addressing forced marriages, we know that this law has little to do with that. This is because of the widespread pushing of a baseless conspiracy theory called “Love Jihad”. The theory goes that Muslim men are secretly trying to shift India’s demographic balance by converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage.
The Love Jihad angle has been pushed by fringe and mainstream Hindu supremacist groups alike, including the ruling BJP, which controls the Centre. The theory has even been pushed by top government officials, including UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and those closest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is unsurprising then that reports suggest that at least four more BJP-controlled state governments plan to introduce legislation similar to UP. Even the head of India’s National Commission for Women, a Modi crony named Rekha Sharma, has claimed that the country is suffering from “rising cases of love jihad”. However, when pushed for information, the NCW claimed it had no information to prove this. Even Sharma herself refused to provide information to back up her claim when journalists approached her for details. Even where cases of alleged ‘Love Jihad’ have been probed, investigators have only found consensual relationships between adults that were falsely reported by disapproving family members.
The facts show that almost every supposed Love Jihad case is made up to punish people for marrying of their own free will, even though this is perfectly legal under Indian law. What is illegal though, is honour killing. Love Jihad laws give bigoted relatives and local fanatics a legal way to punish people who might otherwise end up as victims of honour killings. This is amplified by recent protests against TV shows and ads showing similar cross-religious marriages. Hindutva bigots can’t even stand fictional representations of such relationships.
Karachi Transformation Plan
Not too long ago, in September 2020 to be exact, the PTI-led federal government and the PPP’s Sindh government had pledged to collaborate with each other for the sake of the development of Karachi. The furious monsoon rains in July-August, which killed at least 47 people in the city, besides devastating the civic infrastructure, led to the two political rivals – and quite bitter at that – to join hands to rid Karachi of its perennial problems. Thus came the “historic” Rs1.1 trillion Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) aimed at ridding the country’s financial capital of six major municipal and infrastructure issues it has been suffering from for years and years. Unveiling the plan at a press conference in Karachi, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the two governments had decided to deal with Karachi’s problems “together”, adding that the plan would be implemented through a Provincial Coordination Implementation Committee to be led by the Sindh Chief Minister.
However, less than three months down the line, the “togetherness” that the two sides had pledged and the “coordination” that they had planned for the sake of what is now rightly called an “orphan city” appear to have taken over by political expediencies. At the ground-breaking of the Rs2.26 billion BRT Common Corridor in Karachi last week, Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said the provincial government should utilise Rs700 billion that had been allocated in its budget for the projects in Karachi. The statement appears to cater to any demand for funds by the provincial government concerning any KTP project. In a counter-statement, Sindh CM’s spokesperson Murtaza Wahab mentioned certain projects “being carried out from provincial resources”, trying to convey that the credits for these projects goes to nobody else than the ruling party in Sindh.
And while it is good to know that more than 100 projects have been planned under the KTP – about which the PM was informed at a recent meeting – it is extremely important for the Sindh government and the Centre to jointly focus on about half a dozen projects in Karachi that had been launched between four and ten years ago, thereby keeping the promise of collaboration and coordination they made to the people of Karachi in the wake the past monsoon fury. First and foremost of these is the Green Line bus project which had to complete before the general election in 2018 and which is now scheduled to be inaugurated in “the middle of 2021”. Then comes the K-IV water supply project that was envisaged in 2007 and approved for construction in 2011. However, this important project is yet to see the light of the day. Work on Karachi Circular Railways still continues – to the annoyance of the Supreme Court which wants the project to complete within two months. While the cleaning of stormwater drains has begun, there is no news on any concrete plans for the relocation of those who would be displaced in the wake of the removal of encroachments around the drains. And the disposal of waste remains an issue, with the city dotted with mounds of filth and dirt.
The importance of Karachi for the country cannot be over-emphasised. The two parties will have to rise above their political interests and complement each other’s efforts, rather than going their separate ways, to rid Karachiites of their long persisting woes. If Karachi is to be prevented from a total collapse, a strong PPP-PTI partnership is a must.