NEW DELHI: Defending the anti-conversion law enacted by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh, a group of former judges, civil servants and veterans on Monday hit out at its critics, saying they seem to have "usurped" the constitutional power of judicial review to put every law of the land to the "test of their own whims".
In a statement signed by 224 persons, including those from academia, they claimed that the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, referred as 'love jihad' law by Hindutva groups, applies to everyone and safeguards the dignity of women.
Slamming the law's critics for terming it illegal and anti-Muslim, the statement alleged that it is a "shocking obsession of this biased group to stoke communal fire by instigating the religious minorities".
Former UP chief secretary Yogendra Narain, former Punjab chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal, former Haryana chief secretary Dharam Vir, former Delhi High Court chief justice Rajendra Menon, former ambassador Lakshmi Puri and former Maharashtra DGP Praveen Dixit are among the signatories to the statement.
Their support to the law came days after 104 retired civil servants alleged that Uttar Pradesh has become the "epicentre of politics of hate, division and bigotry" and the institutions of governance are "steeped in communal poison".
They had sought repeal of the law, saying it is being used to particulary victimise Muslim men.
Countering them, the Monday statement said 'Ganga-Jamuni' culture, a colloquial term for peaceful interfaith existence, does not stand for unlawful conversions with criminal intent, leading to murders, mutilation, torture and betrayal of women in particular.
"We strongly believe in a secular India with harmonious coexistence of people of all faiths, and consider unlawful conversions with wrongful intent and questionable means a threat to communal harmony.... We urge all state governments to discharge their functions in the best public interest in maintaining law and order, social harmony and dignity of women without succumbing to any pressures," it said.
The signatories said the former civil servants, who had issued a statement slamming the law, should have kept in mind that even prior to India's independence, princely states, including Kota, Patna, Surguja, Udaipur, and Kalahandi, had passed laws regarding religious conversions.
After independence, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand among others had legislated on matters relating to unlawful conversions, they noted, adding that new laws reflect the evolving needs of a dynamic society.
They said it is a hasty generalisation based on a solitary incident of alleged lapse in Moradabad that the law itself has been dubbed as illegal and, in particular, anti-Muslim.
The critics lost sight of a large number of incidents where hapless victim women have been "brutally murdered" in a ghastly manner in the course of inter-faith marriages and conversions, they said, citing several cases.
The group of 104 former civil servants is "visibly biased", they alleged, accusing them of working with an anti-establishment attitude and availing of every opportunity to "put the Indian democracy, its institutions, and persons legitimately holding high offices in poor light before the whole world by making ill-considered public statements".
Those defending the law said this "politically motivated pressure-group" does not represent thousands of former civil servants, judges, veterans and other "nationalist intellectuals" who believe in India emerging as the greatest democracy of the world, and "a global icon" bringing pride to every Indian.