A Muslim man recently converted his religion to marry a Hindu woman in Haryana, one of the states where considerations over the ‘love jihad law’ have gained solid ground. Despite pushback from the woman’s family and amidst a growing atmosphere of fear surrounding religious conversions for marriage in Haryana, the 21-year-old man has even changed his name to marry the 19-year-old woman. The couple has reportedly been given police protection, even as Haryana drafts a law against ‘love jihad’ following neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, which has already stamped conversion for marriage as a punishable offence.
This news of a man converting for his wife comes as a beacon of hope in bleak times where consenting love in the country has been devalued to the point of criminalisation under the guise of the draconian ‘love jihad law.’ With the state pursuing an intrusion on the privacy of adults, with the controversial claim that their action is meant to curb forceful conversions and resultant crimes of passion, this young couple has challenged authorities on the back of true love it seems. And why shouldn’t they? They have only reclaimed the personal liberties warranted to them by the highest powers in the land: the Indian Constitution.
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Women As Key Players In ‘Love Jihad’ Law?
What’s doubly uplifting about this young couple staking rightful claims to their love is the unique dynamics of their marriage. Usually, in cases of interfaith unions, it is witnessed that the woman is expected to convert – which is loosely the belief upon which these states introducing the ‘love jihad’ law have also pegged their decision, since the law is essentially meant to “protect” Hindu women from the alleged ploy of widespread Islamic conversion.
A glaring exhibit of this was apparent in UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s speech from October 31 at a rally, where he said, “I warn those who conceal identity & play with our sisters’ respect, if you don’t mend your ways your ‘Ram naam satya‘ journey will begin.” Nothing less than a death knell.
#WATCH Allahabad HC said religious conversion isn't necessary for marriage. Govt will also work to curb 'Love-Jihad', we'll make a law. I warn those who conceal identity & play with our sisters' respect, if you don't mend your ways your 'Ram naam satya' journey will begin: UP CM pic.twitter.com/7Ddhz15inS
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) October 31, 2020
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It clearly indicates that women are smack in the middle of the ‘love jihad’ issue since they are central to the entire discussion of furthering the progeny of any religion. For instance, recently, Kamalrukh Khan, wife of late music composer Wajid Khan, opened up about the pressure from her husband and her in-law family to convert to Islam. Then in Faridabad, a woman was shot in broad daylight by a stalker who wanted her to convert to his religion.
So is one to understand that the inter-religious battle of ‘love jihad’ is being waged upon our uteruses? That religious conversion is actually a women’s issue that is being given a political colour? Is the ‘love jihad’ law truly committed to the cause of women’s safety or is it inspired by pure religious hostility?
Are Women Being Scapegoated In The ‘Love Jihad’ Conversation?
However, it is also worth noting that in more ways than one, the ‘love jihad’ law stems from the perception that a woman’s “honour” is the responsibility of the men around her – in this case, the state authorities. That a woman isn’t capable of having agency enough to decide on a life partner for herself is what underlines the argument that they need to be “protected” from violence, which in this case, may well be a law that overrides a woman’s agency in case she chooses to convert for marriage. It must then be asked: Will the ‘love jihad’ law not create a disbalance in gender justice?
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Arun Sri Kumar, a partner at Delhi-based law firm Keystone, was quoted in TIME as saying, “They seem to suggest that this law will only make it an offence if a woman were to convert for the purposes of marriage, which attracts a challenge on the grounds of gender discrimination.”
Therefore, is ‘love jihad,’ as a conflict being fanned religiously, actually robbing women of independent decision-making liberties? On the larger scale, is it also aimed at disadvantaging men of a certain religious community by impinging upon their rights afforded to them by Article 21 of the Constitution? Will true love be able to emerge victorious through the noise of forceful conversions? These questions, pressing to the issue of the ‘love jihad’ law, that authorities must take cognisance of are just the tip of the iceberg.
What is Love Jihad?
Love Jihad’ is understood by right-wing groups as the idea of conversion into Islam under the wrongful guise of love or marriage. It is being offered as a reason of alleged crimes against Hindu women, who fall prey to Muslim men forcing them to convert their religion. While this idea is not yet quantified by experts, various BJP politicians have taken steps against it already. Until now, four BJP-ruled states, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka, are considering the ‘love jihad’ law. UP has already passed an ordinance against religious conversion for marriage.
Views expressed are the author’s own.