The horrifying murder of Shraddha Walkar by her live-in partner Aaftab Poonawala has given an impetus to the so called ‘love jihad’ narrative in India and is being widely circulated on social media. Love jihad is a conspiracy theory, created by far-right with baseless assumptions that Muslim men lure non-Muslim women into marriages to convert them to Islam.
Rooted in Islamophobia and propounded by the Hindutva right-wing across India, this theory is used by politicians of the ruling BJP to reportedly protect ‘Hindu women‘, while completely disregarding women’s rights to decide on their life.
As per the national investigation agency of India, no evidence exists for love jihad and it is not even shown in India’s population data where Muslims make up 14% whereas Hindus are around 80%.
Maharashtra, ruled by a coalition government in which BJP is a partner, has set up a state level panel named “Inter-caste/Interfaith marriage-family coordination committee”. Headed by BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha, the 13-member committee will seek detailed information on the registered and unregistered inter-faith and inter-caste marriages, presumably to make it possible for women and their “estranged” families to get back together.
The committee’s head is the same minister who alleged that “Hindus face a threat in the Muslim-dominated Malvani area of Mumbai”. He has also previously stated that “There should be a capital punishment for killing cows and cattle. Cow slaughter should be punishable by death and beef export should be banned.” In 2019 during the assembly polls, he was served a notice by Election Commission.
In another BJP-ruling state Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath led state government had passed a law, Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, aimed at reducing interfaith relationships. The law requires approval from district authorities for anyone wishing to convert and it also holds a punishment of up to 10 years in prison for conversion through means of fraud, misrepresentation, coercion, or inducement.
Although the law is applicable for all religious conversions, it has largely been misused to target Muslim men in relationships with Hindu women. According to a report by the Guardian, 208 people have been arrested under this law between November 2020 and August 2021 and all of the arrested men are Muslim.
This law has been misused by Hindu nationalist groups including the ones associated with BJP, to violently attack Muslim men, dating or trying to marry consenting Hindu women. The law has created fear among the interfaith couples in UP. In over 125 interfaith couples in November 2020, sought protection from the Allahabad High Court and the court granted the protection.
One of the viral cases was when in December 2020 in UP, the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal forcibly took a pregnant 22-year-old Hindu woman married to a Muslim man. The man and his brother were arrested and the woman was taken to the government shelter where she suffered a miscarriage due to the poor medical facilities. She was reunited with her husband after she stated in court that she was an adult and married by choice.
Following the anti-communal paths of Maharashtra and UP, Karnataka’s home minister Araga Jnanendra also indicated taking the matter into parliamentary discussion and forming a special force to prevent alleged ‘love jihad’. He also suggested following the ‘UP model of governance’.
This statement comes from the minister of the same state where Arbaz Mullah, a 24-year-old Muslim resident of Belagavi, was murdered in September 2021, for reportedly just falling in love with a Hindu girl.
These kinds of committees and statements by the politicians, in the name of protecting Hindu women not only violate domestic law but also human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion and require governments to provide for protection of the law to all residents equally.
If the worry of these politicians is violence against women, then there should be immediate actions taken against the growing number of rape cases in India. A 19.34% increase in rape cases in 2021 was reported as compared to 2020, according to the report by the National Crimes Records bureau.
Furthermore, there were 428,278 crimes against women reported in 2021. Rape, molestation, acid attacks, cruelty by a husband or his family, and domestic abuse comes under crimes against women. But the institutional response towards tackling violence against women and girls has been feeble.
By forming committees for love jihad, the government is not only trying to make it a political flash point. Still, it is also suggesting that women are a vulnerable group who can’t decide for themselves and should be governed by strong Hindu men.
This further promotes the anti-Muslim mindset that has grown since the Hindu-nationalists BJP government came into power in 2014. By forming these committees, they are just further instilling hate towards religious minorities and promoting their agenda of Hindu-Rashtra.
Interfaith marriages were always a stigma in our conservative society and encouraging punishment for marrying someone from another religion is extremely saddening and it’s the lowest that we as a society can go. It’s not only an absolute invasion of privacy but it also questions our right to decide whom we want to spend our lives with.
Choosing a partner is a personal choice but we are living in an India where politicians will decide what’s good for us. Marriages are arranged or loved, and can sometimes work out well and sometimes not. But, if they don’t work then it’s not a person’s religion or caste that needs to be blamed.
As seen in the case of Shraddha Walkar, victim blaming was at its peak and a dead girl was blamed for choosing to live with a Muslim guy. Additionally, there are so many similar gruesome murder cases that India witnessed but mostly ignored until it was a Muslim man-Hindu woman case.
Just a week after this incident , a similar incident happened in BJP Yogi Adityanath’s UP where Prince Yadav, a Hindu man, murdered his ex-girlfriend -22-year-old Aradhana Prajapati after she married someone else.
But, this case didn’t qualify for the outrage on social media or news channels, since the gruesome murder was done by a Hindu man.
Instead of taking stringent actions on the growing violence against women, the government has adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against minorities.
These speeches and anti-conversion laws by BJP leaders have time and again normalised violence and are supporting ultra-nationalist Hindu groups to threaten, harass, and violently attack members of minority religious communities, especially Muslims.