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The Illusive Vigilante - Love Jihad: Reality or Rhetoric?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Samya Amir


When you’re 18 and an adult you have the autonomy to make your own decisions, right? But not so much in post-colonial democratic India.

In the days of heightened Islamophobia, a law to ‘curb’ “love jihad” doesn’t help the Muslim narrative and The Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 hides behind the veil of protecting women at the cost of their autonomy.


You may ask what is “Love Jihad?”

“Love jihad” is a term used by the political and religious right to describe an alleged phenomenon where Muslim men lure Hindu women, by hook or by crook, into marrying them and converting to Islam. Right-wing propagandists claim that this is an organised racket rooted in a widespread conspiracy. Something that must be pointed out is that Love Jihad as a conspiracy is not new. There have been claims against Muslim men from as early as the 19th century, accusing them of having predatory behaviour and converting Hindu women to Islam, only to change the demographics of the country in their favour.


The central premise of the proposed new legislation vilifies Muslim men in particular, and, by association, Muslims in general, as untrustworthy and malicious – entrenching suspicion in the psychology of the nation. It reduces them to their religious identity by implying that they are committed, foremost, to “religious warfare”, even when it comes to something as intimate as love. It also reduces them to second-class citizens who cannot take for granted the right to life and liberty guaranteed by the constitution.[1]


India’s governing Hindu nationalist party has approved legislation in the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh that lays out a prison term of up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religion. The marriage described by the party is love jihad. Under the decree –– a couple belonging to two different religions will have to give two months’ notice to a district magistrate before getting married. The couple will be allowed to marry only if the official finds no objections.[2] Despite the judgement given by the Supreme Court in the Hadiya case,[3] whereby a person’s right to choose a religion and marry is an intrinsic part of their meaningful existence, having to take permission of the district magistrate seems contrary to the rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.


What does the ordinance entail?

The Bharatiya Janata Party [henceforth BJP], the ruling party of India, known for its blatant Islamophobic views outdid themselves with this ordinance. The fault doesn’t only lie within this ordinance but also what this ordinance hides behind and the further implications of the same. The Uttar Pradesh government minister Siddharth Nath Singh said prison terms of up to 10 years would stop unlawful conversions and provide justice to women. The irony lies within the fact that justice to women is only an issue of focus when there is a vested interest of the party i.e., where a vote bank can be achieved through petty party politics. Women in India, whether in the pre- or post-colonial times have faced a plethora of obstacles to break free from the shackles of patriarchy. A law alleging their protection when in reality limits their independence only exacerbates their struggles.


Lawyer Vrinda Grover writes that “It's the unholy trinity of patriarchy, caste and dominant religion that has always wanted to control women's sexuality and freedom.”[4] The insistence that there is a conspiracy also insinuates women are gullible and therefore lack the agency to make sound decisions with respect to their own lives. In the recent past, “love jihad” has been used as an excuse to restrict women from using mobile phones and to encourage vigilantes who take to moral policing and harassment of couples. The idea also further endangers women’s right to privacy by creating a mechanism to question and probe their consent to marry and convert.[5] The BJP has shown its disapproval of a particular religion in a covert manner since 2002, if not earlier. Among the Citizenship Amendment Bill, Triple Talaq laws, the Ayodhya verdict, and rumours surrounding corona jihad, the Love Jihad law is an addition to their never-ending list. Constructing a common enemy furthers not only an ideological agenda but also a political one. The party attracts its voters by encouraging them to vote for their religious identity rather than other issues.


Aljazeera reports, every society struggles with dark instincts. By writing a lie into law, the BJP is appealing to these very instincts that can tear through the fragile constitutional bond that has held India together as a democracy, despite the odds, and further put in danger the lives of India’s Muslims and women. We live in times where Muslims are more often than not made to be villains. The case at hand is no different. The Hindu-Muslim struggle in the country dates back to 1947 when India gained independence. But I leave you with one question, did we ever gain independence from the exploiters? I believe not.


 

[1] Pragya Tiwari, ‘What is behind India’s “love jihad” legislation?’ Aljazeera <https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/11/30/what-is-behind-indias-love-jihad-legislation> accessed 11 June 2021. [2] Aljazeera, ‘Indian state criminalises religious conversions by marriage’ Aljazeera <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/25/indian-state-outlaws-religious-conversion-by-marriage> accessed 12 June 2021. [3] Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M & ORS [2018]. [4] Aljazeera, ‘Another BJP-governed Indian state plans anti-conversion law’ Aljazeera <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/26/another-bjp-governed-indian-state-plans-anti-conversion-law> accessed 13 June 2021. [5] Tiwari (n 1).

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