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Maharashtra interfaith marriage panel not about love jihad, but helping women: Minister Lodha

Maharashtra’s women & child development minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha says panel was formed in reaction to Shraddha murder case, to facilitate communication between woman & her family.

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Mumbai: The Maharashtra government’s newly-formed committee to track interfaith marriages is not about tracing “love jihad” but about helping women who have gone against their parents’ wishes and married outside their religion to communicate with their original parents, the chairman of the panel, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, said.

In an interview with ThePrint, the minister of women and child development and tourism, skill development & entrepreneurship, government of Maharashtra, said the committee has been formed especially to focus on interfaith marriages because the problems in such cases are more acute.

“There is no involvement of any ‘love jihad’ concept in this. It’s only to help those girls who have gone against the wishes of their original family. We want to protect them, we want them to communicate with their original family. That’s all,” said Lodha, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Mumbai’s upscale Malabar Hill constituency.

‘Love jihad’ is a term some use to refer to interfaith marriages or relationships allegedly done with the intent to convert Hindu girls to other religions. 

“Normally there are problems everywhere, but in inter-religion marriages, we all know that this is more acute,” he said, adding that in such cases parents often break ties with their children who are left feeling they have no one to fall back on.

Called the ‘Inter-religion marriage-family coordination committee’, the Maharashtra government’s 13-member committee was constituted Tuesday to track not just interfaith, but also inter-caste marriages. 

However, the Lodha-led women and child development department Thursday issued a fresh government resolution to limit the scope of the panel to interfaith marriages and even included a Muslim representative.

A copy of the resolution is with ThePrint.

The development came less than a week after Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the home portfolio, said that the Maharashtra government will study laws related to “love jihad” in other states and would accordingly decide on having one.

In his interview with ThePrint, though, Lodha said he did not want to comment on whether Maharashtra needs a law to track inter-religious marriages. 

Also Read: ‘Hindu hate, love jihad, nepotism’ — in Indore college, Muslim profs face hostility from ABVP

‘Committee formed to avoid another Shraddha Walkar’

Lodha said his department decided to form the committee as the Shraddha Walkar case was an “eye opener.”

“She was murdered and there was no one to trace whether she was alive or dead for six long months. The main reason is that when she entered into an inter-religion relationship, she was completely disconnected from her original family, friends, relatives, everyone. And the boy knew that she didn’t have anyone except him,” said Lodha.

Walkar, who’s from Mumbai, was living with her 28-year-old partner Aftab Amin Poonawalla, who strangled her in May and stored her body in a refrigerator. The murder came to light only in November this year.

Earlier this month, Walkar’s father Vikas had met Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis who assured him that he will get justice.

“There was a Nirbhaya case in Delhi (2012 gang grape and murder case), so we formed the Nirbhaya fund, we got extra alert. Now we have the Shraddha Walkar case, so we got extra alert and are doing this.

The committee has drawn flak from the Opposition in Maharashtra with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Jitendra Awhad saying that the government is interfering in people’s private lives.

Lodha, however, said he did not wish to comment on the Opposition’s response. “If nobody wants (another) Shraddha Walkar case…it is an eye-opener. We are doing the work that we are supposed to do as the women and child development department”.

‘Anyone in distress can call a helpline’

According to the government resolution, the committee will coordinate with officials at the district and divisional offices to monitor registered and unregistered inter-religious marriages, inter-religious weddings at places of worship, and interfaith marriages where the bride and groom have eloped. 

The committee members, who will work in an honorary capacity, are expected to get in touch with the newlyweds as well as their families to determine if they are in touch with each other.

The government resolution further says that in case the newlyweds aren’t in touch with their families, the committee will determine the addresses of the families and give them information about their children.

“If the families are not willing to speak to their children or vice-versa, the committee will also arrange for counselling through experts,” said Lodha. “In the next 15 days, we will launch a helpline on which anyone in distress can call and we will respond.”

Other than Lodha himself, the committee comprises the principal secretary of the woman and child development department, the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the women and child welfare, and eight non-government persons who are involved in social work, Lodha said.

The department has also tasked the committee with studying the questions, policies, laws, and welfare schemes connected with inter-religious marriages in the state and the central government, and making suggestions for any changes.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: India’s live-in couples battle stigma daily. Shraddha Walker murder makes it worse


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