In this 21st century, where inter-cultural/faith families are an integral part of modern society, and the mutual influence of different cultures shapes a person’s identity, a new law is coming into the picture in some states of India. Globalisation, education, and growing awareness make the modern Indian population break age-old family norms and marry outside caste and community.
These interfaith love and marriages are challenging various norms and customs, clearly causing a headache for religious fundamentalists. The “threat” of such occurrences have resulted in “constructed” campaigns by conservative forces. The Hindu fundamentalist groups have mastered the art of creating panics around expressions of love, be it Valentine’s Day, LGBTQ+ love, or inter-caste and inter-religious romance; the groups show them as a deterrent in having a cohesive community and perfect Indian family. They claim that the alleged “Love Jihad” is a conspiracy of Muslim fundamentalists to woo and convert Hindu women to Islam through trickery and false love expressions.
Now, among BJP-run states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Assam, Karnakata, and Madhya Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh is tabling the first bill making love-jihad a non-bailable and punishable offense with five years imprisonment. Moreover, the district collector has to be notified a month before an interfaith marriage is formalised. Indian constitution already recognises a Hindu-Muslim marriage through the Special Marriage Act. A survey by Statista in 2019 showed that more than half of the youth respondents across India were okay with inter-religious and inter-caste marriages. Only 33 percent were not so accepting of interfaith or inter-caste marriages.
The concept of love-jihad has its historical roots to a campaign launched by Arya Samaj and other Hindu revivalist bodies in the 1920s in north India to divide Hindus Muslims. This notion of ‘Love Jihad’ got rejuvenated in Hindu nationalism’s contemporary discourse after the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power with an outright majority in 2014.
Historian Charu Gupta described in her journal “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions” that, in the 1920s, Hindu awakening reached new heights, and movements like shuddhi (purification for the Hindus converted to other religions) and sangath (organisation bolstering Hindu interests) was launched by the Arya Samaj. The period witnessed an orchestrated propaganda campaign against Muslims and rumors, gossips, and fake news were flooding in various local newspapers, pamphlets, meetings, posters, etc.
Undoubtedly, the campaign hit the prejudiced, fast-thinking, and emotional Indian minds, and Hindu women’s bodies became an aggressive tool to draw communal margins. A lured, abducted, and converted Hindu woman’s identity was transformed into an iconographic site depicting both sacredness and humiliation, resulting in the whole Hindu community’s victimisation. Provocative pieces like “Hindu Auraton ki Loot” (Looting Hindu women), “Hindu Striyon ki Loot Ke Karan” (The causes behind the looting of Hindu women) were written to mobilise Hindu youths. A 1924 piece from Kanpur titled “Humara Bhishan Haas” blamed conversions for the gradual decline of the Hindu population and the rise of the cow killer. A poem written in 1928 called Chand Musalmanon ki Harkaten (behavior of the Moon Muslims) claimed that conversions are schemes of Islamic fundamentalists to increase their population.
These campaigns have an uncanny resemblance to modern-day campaigns by various fundamentalist groups, which similarly claim that forced conversions and love jihad are a ploy to increase the Muslim population. In 1908, UN Mukherji, in his book “Hindus: A Dying Race,” tried to paint a gloomy picture of Hindus in India. Although it was full of inaccuracies and in the next 111 years, the book has been proved to be a fabrication of the author’s wild imagination. The idea of population loss then was not only to spread Islamophobia but also to lament the potential loss of Hindu wombs. The campaigns attempted to exercise greater control over women’s reproductive agency to enhance the Hindu number.
We live in a time when it is expected that inter-caste, and interfaith marriages increase with the degree of modernisation and socio-economic development. Not only are they beneficial for a progressive society, but they also promote socio-economic development. But there’s one thing to look into; apart from being a divisive and potent campaigning slogan, the whole propaganda is only focusing on controlling women along with their mobility and choices.
Needless to say, the bodies of women have always been a site for claiming community homogeneity and honor, irrespective of religion, sect, or caste. In this love-jihad issue, they are being re-inforced as essential subjects of the imagined “Hindu Rashtra”. The elopement and conversion of Hindu women are associated with Hindu female purity. This purity is directly linked to Hindu male virility that would reaffirm itself in a public-political domain. It is astonishing that in 2020, a woman is being identified as an exclusive property of the man, and preserving her virtue is becoming a legal prerogative.
In 2017, the High Court in Kerala directed the NIA to investigate the marriage of a 24-year old, urban-educated woman Hadiya, to a man she met on an Islamic matrimonial website. Hadiya, born as a Hindu, converted to Islam of her own free will after moving to college. After the court order, there were nationwide public debates, and the battle over the legal custody of an adult woman was fought between her husband and her father. A report by Aastha Tyagi and Atreyi Sen suggested that ‘Love Jihad’ not only about dominating women’s bodies, but it also offered insights into protecting identity in nationalist discourse by otherising the Muslim community. This way, a stable and identifiable electoral base is created by the production of more Hindu children.
Also read: Not Jihad, It’s Love Actually
The social customs and age-old traditions are made by men and for men. Even the notion of love is patriarchal in the subcontinent’s popular culture. Here the idea of true love is a woman doing emotional and physical labor for her husband and his family. The idea of a happy marriage is intertwined with the custom of leaving their maternal family and names. In Hindu marriages, traditionally, a woman is expected to change her “gotra” (a category of the family inside caste), her surname. Women are taught the idea of “beti paraya dhan” (women are someone else’s property) and are conditioned to perceive this as love. Hence, quite obviously, in most of the cases, conversions are the expressions of transgressive love that has been fed for ages by patriarchy itself.