In the Indian society, women are still seen as ‘prized possessions’ or ‘property’ of men who need to be protected at all costs, so as to not sabotage the community’s ‘honour’. ‘Love jihad’ is one such phenomenon. ‘Love jihad’ was a term coined by Hindu right-wing groups. The claim here is that Muslim men deliberately target and lure women from non-Muslim communities in the name of love and convert them into Islam. This idea has gained momentum with the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in the country, as Hindu right-wing groups are anxious that Muslims will ‘steal’ their women and turn India into a Muslim-majority nation by converting their women to Islam and forcing them to produce Muslim children.
Hindu right wing groups are anxious that Muslims will ‘steal’ their women and turn India into a Muslim-majority nation by converting their women to Islam and forcing them to produce Muslim children
But, a closer look will show that this idea is not just limited to Hindu right-wing groups today. It’s much more widespread. The judiciary, police and other institutions have also bought into this idea. Many men and women believe that it’s the ‘sacred’ duty of men to protect women of their community as women left on their own are ‘naive, gullible creatures’. They cannot think and make decisions for themselves. They have no agency, and it’s only men who can make decisions for them.
In recent times, this belief has manifested in many ways whether it’s the case of Hadiya or the case of the Meerut police beating up a Hindu woman for her alleged relationship with a Muslim man or the Facebook hit list of Hindu-Muslim couples.
In 2017, the Kerala High Court annulled Hadiya and Shafin Jahan’s, a Muslim couple, marriage saying that Hadiya, a 24- year- old adult woman, was a victim of love jihad as she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. The Kerala High Court declared that the girl was “weak, vulnerable and capable of being exploited in many ways’’. It also stated, “Her marriage being the most important decision in her life can be only taken with the active involvement of her parents.” Furthermore, the court gave her custody to her father, Ashokan. The case then was then transferred to the Supreme Court of India, the highest judicial authority in India.
The Supreme Court took 6 long months to give the verdict on the case. During those 6 months, in the custody of her father, Hadiya was mentally tortured and physically abused. In a video released by a right-wing activist, Rahul Easwar, Hadiya is seen pleading to be freed from the custody of her father as her father is physically abusing her, and she thinks she may be murdered. Eventually, the SC overturned the Kerala High Court’s verdict and reluctantly restored the couple’s marriage. But with it, it also ordered The NIA (National Investigation Agency) to conduct a probe into their marriage. The NIA is still probing whether it is a case of love jihad or not.
Meerut Police Case
In September 2018, a Hindu woman and a Muslim man were attacked by Vishwa Hindu Parishad goons, as they believed it was a case of love jihad. After attacking them, the goons handed them over to the police. But the assault didn’t stop here. A video surfaced on social media which showed the Hindu woman in a car being beaten up by a woman police constable, while a male police officer verbally sexually harasses her and taunts her “You prefer Muslims when so many Hindus are around.” The police officers have been suspended, but none of the goons has been arrested.
Facebook Hit List Case
On 28th January, 2018, a Facebook page called Hindutva Varta posted a list of 102 Hindu-Muslim couples with the caption saying, “This is a list of those 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 the boys from this list”. Thankfully, the list got taken down some days later.
These cases are just some examples. There are many cases like that. For example, Dhanyashree, a Hindu woman committed suicide after facing severe bullying from Hindu right-wing groups due to her friendship with a Muslim man.
There have been repeated attacks on women’s autonomy and their right to choose. Women generally face discrimination and torture, sometimes they are killed by their family members and community or caste-based panchayats when they dare to exercise their right to choose. Feminist analysis has convincingly how the rise of religious fundamentalism and right-wing ideologies impacts upon women’s rights and freedoms.
Women symbolise the community’s ‘honour’ and ‘purity’. They have no independent identity of their own.
Women symbolise the community’s ‘honour’ and ‘purity’. They have no independent identity of their own. In the name of defending tradition, faith, nation or community honour, fundamentalist and right-wing ideologues want to monitor, control and police women’s right to lead independent lives and exercise freedom of choice in every aspect of life – from what they should ideally wear (“no jeans, no skirts, no western clothes”) to how they should conduct themselves (“with womanly modesty”). But their greatest fear and anxiety is triggered by the idea of women exercising agency and autonomy in matters of marriage, sexuality and reproduction.
Historically, marriage has been used as a tool to control women, ensure the existence of the community and maintain the ‘purity’ of the community. Marriage was a means of furthering the caste lineage, where women were seen as a resource to be exchanged. A woman can only marry a man from her community. Any ‘violation’ of these norms was likely to lead to horrific consequences, from (violent) forced separation of the couple to honour killings at worst.
Over 70 years of liberal democracy doesn’t seem to have changed that. In many ways, we seem to backwards in time. Women are being stripped of their right to and being constantly . What’s worse, today it is not merely the right-wing forces who are at the forefront of this conservative backlash but state institutions like the police and judiciary. The unfortunate result of which is the creation of an illiberal, authoritarian state and an intolerant society.
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