The recent shooting of a 21-year-old college student in Ballabgarh, Haryana has revived the outrage against “love jihad”. Due to the religion of the assailant and the deceased woman, and accusations from her family that she was being pressured to convert to Islam by her stalker, the past week has seen widespread outrage, both social and political on love jihad.

At the crux of this issue is the suffering of numerous women, forced or influenced to convert their religion so that they can marry their lovers and integrate into their matrimonial household, that has been invisibilised by the political din. Love jihad is not a religious or political issue, it is a woman-centric issue, says Supreme Court advocate Farah Faiz. President of Rashtriya Muslim Mahila Sangh, Faiz has been fighting for the rehabilitation of triple talaq and love jihad survivors for many years.

Indeed the political activism around love jihad has seen a rise in the last week. Following the Faridabad shooting, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar said on November 1 that his government is considering to bring in legal provisions to deal with cases of “love jihad” in the state. A day before that, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too had announced that his government is in the process of deciding tough measures to end love jihad.

Also Read: Why the Triple Talaq law divides feminists in India

Recently, the Allahabad High Court had observed that conversion “just for the purpose of marriage” was not acceptable. While she hailed the HC’s observation, Faiz raised concerns over the issue of women’s well-being being sidelined for political gain. She told SheThePeople that issues like love jihad are used as political stunts when in reality they are very sensitive and related to the dignity, identity and fundamental rights of women.

Faiz draws her stance from her experience as an advocate and as someone who had an inter-religious marriage, and fully knows the consequences women have to face in such alliances. “Just because the girl and the boy are ready, everything else doesn’t fall into place smoothly. Their families have to endure a lot of problems and it becomes a struggle to be accepted by society. It took me 16-17 years to find acceptance. While today people welcome me with open arms, initially there were incidents when I was not allowed into the kitchen while visiting someone’s house”.

On Conversion of Religion

Faiz isn’t against conversion of religion per se, but she believes that such a decision should be taken maturely by any person. “If you are reading about a religion and trying to understand it and are willing to follow it, only then should you opt for conversion. But if you are opting for conversion just so that you can marry a boy, then it is wrong. We live in a country where there are laws in place to protect inter-faith couples, such as the Special Marriage Act. You can marry under that act without having to change your religion. If your life-partner is willing to accept you as it is, with your moral values, character and religion then your life will be smooth in future. But if he is trying to suppress you since the beginning of your relationship, by insisting that you need to change your religion, and only then can you both get married, then frankly it is akin to death. What is left of you then?

Also Read: Tanishq Controversy Prompts Women To Share Personal Stories Of Successful Interfaith Marriages

While Faiz says that in most of the cases where conversion occurs for the sake of marriage, it is the man who is Muslim, while the woman is Hindu, it is not as if the opposite of it isn’t true. She opines that such cases usually don’t come forward because whenever a Muslim girl marries out of her religious, she is boycotted by her community. She has this clarity, that she can never come back, even before she takes such a step.

“However in Muslim communities, there are some fundamentalists who insist on conversion in any way possible, to spread Islam. So any girl who converts for the sake of marriage is welcomed by them and they even fund the family in which she has married. They ensure that she doesn’t face any convenience of regret the step that she has taken,” Faiz says, adding that such incidences only come to light when there is a misunderstanding between the couple.

On What Happens When an Inter-faith Marriage Fails

Not every marriage can be a success, no matter the religion, caste or status of a couple. However, when an inter-faith marriage fails and the matter reaches court, religion takes the centre-stage. “As soon as you contact an advocate and reveal that you have had an inter-religion marriage, they give it a different colour. They allege that the woman is being suppressed because she is from a different religion. Women often have very little knowledge of the law, their rights or even what kind of legal relief do they seek. All they want to do is to take action against their husband for mistreating them.

Faiz says that it is at this stage that communal leaders and activists come forward to help women stuck in such situations, and further highlight the religion angle, thus leading to the entire “love-jihad” discourse. When in reality the issue isn’t that of inter-religion marriage, but that of domestic mistreatment.

Faiz advises women to stay clear of conversion simply for the sake of formulating a marriage. “Shadi gudde-gudia ka khel nahi hota,” says Faiz, adding, “If you are taking this decision simply to get closer to a boy, or under his influence, or for better prospects, then it is a foolish thing to do. If you like someone, then try and convince your parents and marry him after convincing them. Marry a boy only when you feel that his mature and willing to accept you as you are, and won’t interfere with your lifestyle afterwards.

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