17:23 GMT23 July 2021
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    The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Universal Hindu Council), founded in 1964 with the aim to organise, consolidate, and protect Hindu society, includes several right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations in its fold. They have been pressing demands to check missionaries and Islamic outfits engaged in "religious conversions".

    A day after two men were arrested for running a "mass religious conversion" racket in Uttar Pradesh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demanded federal regulations against such acts. 

    In a video message, VHP General Secretary Surendra Jain said, "It is now clear how disgusting and anti-national their conspiracy is. Earlier they used to target vulnerable people, but they crossed all limits when they targeted deaf children. Some of these children have also disappeared. This suggests that they can be brainwashed into terrorism".  

    Jain made these remarks in the wake of the arrest of two men who had allegedly converted at least "1,000 non-Muslims to Islam by marrying them to Muslim men". The Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police Prashant Kumar claimed the outfit "Islamic Dawah Centre' under which the duo operated had access to funds from Pakistan's spy agency ISI and other foreign organisations.

    Hindu groups have rebuked what they call "Love Jihad" - a practice of converting non-Muslim women to Islam after they marry Muslim men. The row has been grabbing headlines over the past few years.

    Jain asserted that while the country reels under the COVID-19 pandemic, "Jihadis" and "Missionaries" are busy in religious conversions, adding that it is imperative to create a uniform law and set up a commission to probe the matter.

    Three BJP-governed states - Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh implemented anti-conversion "Freedom to Religion" laws between 2020-2021. The laws allow the declaration of inter-religious marriages as "null and void" and penalises conversions done without the prior approval of the state. Conversions also draw a punishment of 1-10 years in jail, depending on the state. 

    However, in states like Uttar Pradesh fringe Hindu groups have been accused of using "love jihad" to disrupt mixed religious weddings and harass and intimidate interfaith couples. In January of this year, the Allahabad High Court issued orders to provide protection to interfaith couples. The court observed that "nobody can interfere in the life of two adults residing together".

    President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been trying to expand his party base in Uttar Pradesh had earlier criticised the anti-conversion laws. "The Ordinance defines mass conversion as 'two or more people converting', which means if spouses convert together it is a crime. This law creates the concept of a 'convertor' which is an absurd idea. It would make Babasaheb Ambedkar (known as the father of the Indian Constitution) a criminal", he said.

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    Tags:
    Civic Solidarity Party (VHP), conversion, Islam, Hindus, religion
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