Love-Jihad, or Love?
Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has recently proposed a legislation that threatens Muslim men seeking to engage in alleged cases of ‘love-jihad’ with death penalty. The assumption beneath the horrifying dictum, mouthed by a leader that crosses all norms of civility, humanity and ethics of a democracy, is that women are innocent and gullible and inherently incapable of making a decision for themselves regarding whom they wish to marry. The clarion call aims to demonise minority men under the accusation that they ‘lure’ Hindu girls.
Adityanath has openly threatened boys who dare to flout the age-old prevalent social norm of marrying within one’s own community, with the slogan “Ram Naam Satya Hai”; a phrase chanted at Hindu funerals. The communally-tinged call that brazenly incites honour-killings, is rooted in the patriarchal norm that links a woman’s sexuality to an imagined concept of honour or ‘izzat’ of the community, and perceives a woman’s free choice to marry a man of another religion, caste or community as a threat to the traditional masculine sensibility of one’s own social group.
India being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1989) that vouches for free and full choice in decisions on when and whom to marry, should be alarmed at the absolute disrespect and disregard that a noted political leader like Yogi Adityanath has shown towards a commitment that India had made at an international forum. Such patriarchal attitudes further deny women and girls their right to social justice, and liberty of free speech, thought, belief and worship.
The hypocrisy is visible in the assumption that a woman is essentially duped or manipulated into a forced marriage, while the man always has an evil intention to convert girls of another religion to increase the population of their own. The fact that marriage continues to be viewed by the state as an alliance between two families, and not individuals; and young girls and women are still seen to be in need of patriarchal policing and utterly incapable of making a decision for themselves should be worrisome for any citizen.
Netflix recently released the first season of a series titled ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Mira Nair based on Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name, where the female protagonist Lata falls in love with a Muslim boy in college, but later chooses to settle with another man of her own faith. Amid the backdrop of Hindu-Muslim riots, Kabir’s alienation from Lata’s life is an act of systemic exclusion, justified by other unrelated reasons at the surface-level, but firmly rooted within an internalized fear of the majoritarian impulse against an ingrained conception of the ‘other’ (in this case the ‘other’ being Muslim).
Sadly, the prevailing ostracization of inter-faith couples by orthodox social forces in real life, magnify the precariousness within which women who choose to pursue their love find themselves in, due to the repressive instincts of the twin forces of state and court.
A Suitable Boy was set in the 1950s, but the social context of the tale is very fitting to today’s times and akin to the intolerant, repressive atmosphere of India in 2020. The false narrative around ‘love jihad’ being concocted by Yogi Adityanath, and the threat of death penalty for the man in inter-faith relationships is going to force many real-life Lata’s to leave their Kabir.
National Commission for Women, an organization entrusted with the responsibility to safeguard the choices and interests of women, has unfortunately given in to the chicanery and regressively fundamentalist attitude with which the state is attempting to break apart consensual inter-faith relationships.
Most people have a mistaken concept of what the term ‘jihad’ means.
As per Islamic teachings, ‘jihad’ is any form of a righteous struggle, that is accompanied with the recommended traits of patience and perseverance, in most Quranic verses. It is not equivalent to any holy war or fighting, and is different from the word ‘crusade’.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion” [Al-Qur’an 2:256]
While Quran does prohibit interfaith marriages, barring those with ahlul kitab or people of the book (Jews and Christians); there is actually no Islamic validity for the purported notion of ‘love-jihad’, as per which women are forcibly converted to Islam; for the teachings of Quran strongly condemn the use of force and compulsion when it comes to matters of faith and religion.
The most disturbing observation in the existing narrative of “love-jihad” being circulated by right-wing media is that the agency of women, or their ability to make their own decisions in life with conviction, has been completely undermined by the stance of the state and our political leaders today. It is a stark reflection of the internalization of this belief that women lack a voice or conscience of their own.
“The objectification of women is primarily a denial that women are end in themselves. It is because one has already made that denial, at some level of one’s awareness, that it becomes so easy to deny women autonomy, to deny that their subjective experience matters, and, even, to begin to ignore qualitative differences between one and another, as pornography so easily does.”- Martha Nussbaum
The patriarchal and aggressive Hindutva discourse on nationalism has objectified the body of the Hindu woman as an embodiment of Bharat Mata (a conceptualisation of nationhood in form of a goddess), employing the rhetoric of salvaging her honour. It is the Hindu male fear of emasculation, arising due to the possibility of a loss of control over the Hindu female body and sexuality, that is driving the coinage of the term ‘love-jihad’ to describe consensual interfaith marriages.
The complicity of judiciary with the state in attempting to dismantle an inter-faith marriage among two consenting adults was clearly visible in the infamous verdict of Kerala High Court when it sought to delegitimise the marriage of Hadiya (converted to Islam) by describing her as ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’ and ordering her to be sent back to her parent’s custody.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad had attacked and assaulted a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in September 2018, alleging it to be a case of love-jihad, and had later handed them over to the police. A video had surfaced later on social media where the Hindu woman was being sexually harassed by a male police officer who taunted her saying, “You prefer Muslims, when so many Hindus are around”. Although the police officers were suspended, none of the goons had been arrested.
On 28th January 2018, a Facebook page titled “Hindutva Varta” posted a list of 102 Hindu-Muslim couples with the caption saying “This is a list of Hindu girls who are either victims of love-jihad or are in the process of becoming one. Every Hindu lion is urged to track and hunt the boys from this list”. The list was taken down a few days later, but sadly these are not isolated incidents of threatening, torture and harassment.
By treating legally married couples as criminals and enforcing the custody of parents over adult women through legal means of coercion, the courts of several states in India are failing the idea of female autonomy and individual liberty.
The Special Marriage Act (1954) with its operational constraints, lacks the political will to protect interfaith marriages. Most interfaith couples choose to opt out of the act due to the 30-day notice period required to solemnise a marriage under the act.
If people decide to convert to either religion for the purpose of marriage, it is well within their rights and prerogatives as enshrined by the Constitution to do so. Any attempt by the state or court to scrutinize the depth of knowledge of a person about the faith converted to, is not only an infringement upon the fundamental and human right of a citizen, but such a patronizing attitude by institutions that are supposed to uphold democracy and liberty also strengthens the resolve of regressive forces in society and family members in certain cases, to resort to killings in the name of honour.
The fact that women are seen more as a prized possession and repository of honour for their community, than a living, breathing person in their own right, propels traditional Hindu right-wing groups to formulate legal and vigilante mechanisms to monitor and control their freedom and inhibit their autonomy, under the name of upholding tradition and morality, for a woman’s desire and ability to live life as per her own choices is always deemed of lesser significance and brutally quashed, under the garb of protecting an imagined idea of ‘honour’.
Women exercising their autonomy in the realm of marriage, sexuality and reproduction poses the greatest threat to the psyche of right-wing ideologues, for it tramples with their agenda of preserving the ‘purity’ of religion, caste or race.
The Madhya Pradesh government is planning to introduce a love-jihad bill in the state assembly, that would impose a rigorous imprisonment of five years for the alleged “violators”. As per its provisions, the district collector has to be notified a month in advance before formalizing an inter-faith marriage. The proposed law would be cognizable and non-bailable.
Bharatiya Janata Party has a long history of using ‘love-jihad’ as a tactic for instigating communal polarization and indulging in vote-bank politics at the cost of the lives and security of the masses; the Muzzafarnagar riots of 2013 being the prime example.
Their primary tactic has always been to target the most orthodox elements within semi-urban and rural areas, and raise panic and alarm by circulating the belief that Muslim men are being trained to dress in modern ways and ‘lure’ Hindu women. Such beliefs, that have never been backed by any actual data on conversion, reinforce orthodoxy and a call to put a greater clamp upon women’s autonomy and freedoms by the authoritarian patriarchal social forces.
This systematic communal, polarized and hypermasculine style of politics adopted by BJP enables them to retain their vote-bank and derail public attention from their massive failures in dealing with actual troubles plaguing the nation, such as the widespread and steeply increasing unemployment, economic distress and the raging pandemic.
The intent of the BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to frame laws of rigorous imprisonment on love-jihad are indeed a cause of frightening worry, as it not only impinges upon the privacy of consenting adults, but also threatens the core ideas of individual liberty, freedom of speech, belief, thought, faith and worship; and the right to live with and marry a partner of one’s own choice, that is enshrined within Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document in whose formulation at the UN India had played a key role.
Politics Of 'Love Jihad': Why Consent And Agency Need A Voice Today (feminisminindia.com)
Why 'Love Jihad' Is An Attack On Women’s Rights | Feminism In India
Not Jihad, It's Love Actually | Feminism In India
'Love Jihad Is a Word Manufactured by BJP to Divide the Nation': Ashok Gehlot (thewire.in)
The History of 'Love Jihad': How Sangh Parivar Spread a Dangerous, Imaginary Idea (thewire.in)
Remembering India’s Contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (thewire.in)