On January 6, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Uttar Pradesh’s and Uttarakhand’s contentious new laws regulating religious conversions due to interfaith marriages. But it refused to stay the controversial provisions of the laws.
While the Uttar Pradesh government promulgated the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, on November 27, the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet approved the Dharma Swatantrata (Religious Freedom) Ordinance, 2020, on December 29, as part of its machinery against “love jihad”. The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, also prohibits the conversion of religion for marriage.
Similar legislations are reportedly on their way in other BJP-run states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Assam.
Love in the Time of Hate Politics
The anti-Muslim conspiracy theory of love jihad paints the Muslim man as virile and out on a conquest to win over unsuspecting and naïve Hindu women deploying charm, force or subterfuge. Their aim being converting the said women to Islam.
It would be a folly to see this growing agenda in isolation. The ruling regime’s populist political narrative of the Muslim as the other is not new. In fact, Islamophobia is tied to the ideological force of the Sangh Parivar—the umbrella term used for the collective of Hindutva outfits that are offshoots of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) including the religious outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the extremist one Bajrang Dal. Operating along the same dynamics, Bhartiya Janata Party’s affiliation to its parent organisation RSS in all its ideological tenets is well-known. If cow vigilantism, the recent discriminatory CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) passage (On December 12, 2019) and the February 2020 Delhi riots are anything to go by, its hate politics is notorious.
It is in this vortex of hate politics that one has to see the unfolding of the passage of love jihad. Uttar Pradesh with its feudal caste-system, skewered sex ratio and crimes against women already in place is the catalyst of religious bigotry. The Print reported how fringe Hindutva outfits like the Rashtriya Yuva Vahini and Hindu Vahini, in addition to the stronghold of RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, have stepped up to prevent interfaith marriages in the state. These fringe organisations that have mushroomed ever since the BJP was voted in power at the centre in 2014 and in the state in 2017 garner a massive pool of support base on their social media pages significantly on Facebook. From cow vigilantism to “population control” mission and now love jihad, their core agenda is to fuel Hindu-Muslim polarisation.
In India, marriages are formulated along the strict, watertight compartments of caste, gotra, class and religion not to forget sexuality.
So, it is neither new or uncommon that Hindus and Muslims on a majority do not intermarry; the trauma of the Partition has only ensured that even though Hindus and Muslims can co-share neighbourhoods but never the bedroom and the kitchen. However, it is the ethno-political colouring that comes with the love jihad narrative that renders “love” between lovers of these two communities as errant and therefore punishable by law, especially with grave consequences for the Muslim man, that leaves little unsaid. The fear of the Muslim as encroaching upon Hindu sovereignty, as historian Charu Gupta writes, dates back to the pre-colonial times. “As a historian, one is struck by the uncanny resemblance of the issue and its language to similar ‘abduction’ and conversion campaigns launched by Arya Samaj and other Hindu revivalist bodies in the 1920s in north India, to draw sharper lines between Hindus and Muslims,” writes Gupta, a professor of history at Delhi University. The article “A brief history of love jihad, from Jodhaa Akbar to the Meerut gang-rape” published in 2014, featuring lines from a 1928-poem entitled Chand Musalmanon Ki Harkaten draws attention to its striking resemblance to the intensifying love-jihad campaign in western Uttar Pradesh. Whether a “pamphlet from the 1920s or a blogpost from 2014”, #BringBackOurGirls is rooted in the same pre-colonial era sentiment that fears violation of Hindu women and their bodies—the symbolic repositor and representation of Hindu racial identity and pride.
On the cultural propaganda front, love jihad campaigners in Western UP have been rallying their way cry against the outsider/encroacher Muslim male seducer figure who is out on a conquest, and linking this narrative as them being instigators of the Muzaffarnagar riots (justified as a reaction against love jihad).
Meanwhile, not surprisingly the saints of Ayodhya have welcomed the new law and said that this should have come years ago. Mahant Paramhans Das of Tapasvi Chhavni thanked Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and said that “the new law would protect girls and women against exploitation”. If anything, the image of the UP CM as the saffron-clad Hindu monk further sanctions the wave of majoritarian populism and polarises minority sentiments.
How Love Jihad is Rooted in Patriarchy
The Uttar Pradesh ordinance spells out that any marriage done with the sole purpose of “unlawful conversion or vice-versa” by a man of one religion with a woman of another religion, “either by converting himself/herself before or after marriage, or by converting the woman before or after shall be declared void”. It, further, makes religious conversion a cognisable and non-bailable offence, inviting penalties of up to 10 years in prison “if found to be effected for marriage or through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement of other allegedly fraudulent means”.
“Allurement, influence, coercion” (reversed order) are the telling words here. Why will the law premise its punishable ground posturing girls and women as naïve and gullible who are not familiar with the ways of the world, so much that they can be so brainwashed? At the heart of it lies the Hindu Brahminical/upper-caste constructs of purity-pollution that in its patriarchal convention fear the daughter/girl/woman being “defiled” by the other, the Muslim man in this regard. It is closely premised on the woman as the vehicle of cultural oppression in the hands of Muslim men who try to use them to further their cause of populating the Hindu land with Muslim babies and eventually wipe out Hindus. This view projects the Hindu woman as vulnerable, helpless, innocent and, therefore, in need of protection. Somewhere amid this, is the collective cultural phobia of the Muslim man as seen as the libidinous progenitor. This phobia is akin to miscegenation—the fear of interbreeding among people of different races—and the white supremacist racial fear of intermixing with blacks. This phobia of the racial other was dramatised by William Shakespeare in his tragedy Othello, and later adapted by Vishal Bhardwaj in his Hindi badlands-based film Omkara (2006).
The intersectionality of nationalism, in this case Hindu nationalism, with patriarchy and honour calling is a critical factor. Rooted in the male, Brahminical metaphorical painting/writing of the Hindu woman’s body as the sanctum sanctorum of Hindu pride, and as the embodiment of the mother as the nation, the love jihad campaign is anti-women to begin with. In the 21st century when feminism is informed by nuances of alternate sexuality and integrates divergent choices in marriage and motherhood, the love jihad campaign denies any ownership of their bodies, loves and lives to Hindu women in theory, law and its symbolic representation.
In an interview, Rishi Trivedi, the president of the Hindutva group’s Uttar Pradesh chapter, told Newslaundry “By marrying into another religion, they shouldn’t (women) try to tarnish or bring a bad name to Hindu religion,”.
The Toxic Anti-Love Campaign: What Does it Mean for the New India?
The term “love jihad” targets interfaith marriages—that has the premise of “love” at its foundation—accusing Muslim men of engaging in a “mass conspiracy” to turn Hindu women away from their religion by luring them. SheThePeople reported that the Allahabad High Court had struck down its previous judgement in which it had held that religious conversion “just for the purpose of marriage” was unacceptable. The court said that essentially it does not matter whether a conversion is valid. The right of two adults to live together cannot be encroached upon by the state or others: “To disregard the choice of a person who is of the age of majority would not only be antithetic to the freedom of choice of a grown-up individual but would also be a threat to the concept of unity in diversity,” the court said. The right to choose a partner irrespective of caste, creed or religion is intrinsic to the constitutional right to life and personal liberty, the Allahabad High Court held.
Throughout in history and literature, romantic love has stood out as the antithesis to state control and repressive patriarchal authority.
Caste, race, religion and class-dictated authority claims control over the bodies, minds and hearts of the young. In any culture, the young/youth represents the force of today; ready to upstage authority, ready to interrogate, challenge and, finally, overthrow any authority that claims its submission. It is the very allure of romantic love that fascist regimes have fought hard to control and subdue. As romantic love is imbued with the currency of choice and colour of sexual energy, it doesn’t suit a totalitarian outfit’s agenda to posit primordial kinship ties and racial identity as central; collective identity over and above individual identity.
In 2020, India had nearly 700 million Internet users across the country; this figure is projected to grow to over 974 million users by 2025. The latest report by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen showed rural India had 227 million active Internet users, 10 per cent more than urban India’s about 205 million, as of November 2019. Today, young girls and boys have access to alternate career choices from being a dancer to a social media poet; there are campaigns and advocacy plans to empower girls via careers in STEM that have been gender-disproportionate. Today, when any school curriculum is incomplete without sexuality education, censuring romantic love and upholding obsolete concepts like honour are at loggerheads with the promise of progress.
In this rapidly shifting psycho-social paradigm, do archaic modes of blood and kin that dictate marriage bonds matter to the young generation? How will the state hold itself accountable as it is found to be putting Muslim boys/men behind bars, meting out violence or stigmatising them riding on a populist propagandist wave? Above all, do we want to say that in current-day India where the young generation is striving towards a more gender-equal and socio-economically empowered future, a girl/woman will not have the autonomy to choose her lover/boyfriend/husband? A healthy marriage is one that is built upon individual choice, consent and love, and not upon collective will, state control and physical/psychological abuse.
Sanhati Banerjee is an Independent Journalist. The views expressed are the author’s own and not of the channel.