The first section of this article by Antara is a non-partisan take on the alleged insidious conversion campaigns while the second section by Malvika is a case study of a particular long-dragged incident which came into the limelight recently.
Though a rather recent development, the idea of ‘love jihad’ has had quite an amorphous discourse. In plain words, the basic idea behind love jihad is to use the means of love and sex to convert people to Islam, through force, indoctrination and persuasion, and its basic aim, to establish a religious superiority and proclamation. It probably started in India, its name being coined by far right political infringements, but various ramifications of the same idea are known around the world. The nuances within these have been designed and forged by the ideas of religious violence, intolerance and extremism. Over these years, love jihad has attained a dual identity as a concept, of course, both mostly politicized by the right and the left.
Love jihad does not involve consensual marriage between two people based on mutual attraction, but a political ploy by misguided youth to change the demographics of a non-Muslim country. Tracing the history of this idea, rumours about love Jihad initially appeared in the news a few years ago when a few incidents were reported from Kerala, involving radical Muslim men and non-Muslim women. People were sceptical about the idea behind these incidents and reports suggested the sinister intentions behind. However, as new cases kept coming, people assumed a pattern behind them and assigned it the purpose of a religious war. A report by the Chief Minister of Kerala in 2014 suggested that the number of women who had been converted from Hinduism to Islam since 2006 alone stood at 2667. Later, it was found that this scheme of love jihad had transgressed the boundaries of India and entered even the United Kingdom. There were several cases reported in London where non-Muslim (Hindu and Sikh) women were converted to Islam through the intention of marriage.
According to an opinion piece by Liberal Politics blogger Sunny Hundal, “In the 90s, an anonymous leaflet (suspected to be by Hizb ut-Tahrir followers) urged Muslim men to seduce Sikh girls to convert them to Islam.” With time, cases emerged from other Indian states. Recent cases that have gained huge media coverage involved national sportswomen like Tara Shahdeo and a Taekwondo player. It is a prevailing pattern that in all inter-faith marriage, it is the man who is a Muslim while the woman is not. While this is no direct reason to foreground the idea of love jihad, it does manifest the result of the overlapping of religious conspiracy and patriarchy. Cases have increased and region patterns have spread. Right wing theories say that the attempt is to convert the female victims into machines for pushing up Muslim numbers in the country, which by some, is regarded as an act of ‘jihad’. It also coincides with the regressive Islamic conspiracy of ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, which is an intended allusion to the recurrent Islamic invasion of the India subcontinent between the 12th and the 16th century.
As opposed to this entire argument, we have a complete paradoxical theory of the idea of love jihad being an intolerance driven sham against the minority. While, this argument doesn’t really hold fort in a universal sense, but it is arguably justified to say that it has been customized into a hoax and is being misused by Hindu families whose daughters intentionally wed Muslim men. The recent case in Kerala, when a woman named Akhila married a Muslim man and converted to Hadiya, has gained an audience and become a question for the whole country. Such cases may not only be the result of love jihad but instead be a juxtaposition of ill-framed conversion laws in the country, patriarchy and over-orthodox Hindu and Islamic cultures.
On the other hand, in the same state, we had another couple married in a legal union, where both retained their religions and culture (Sruthi Meledath and Anees Hameed). While this example does not nullify the entire concept of love jihad, it definitely gains a question mark over itself. While the Kerala CM claimed the 2667 number, nothing proves how many of them were results of forced conversions. The Hindutva groups have also been accused of forcibly breaking a consensual marriage in Meerut using the trope of gang rape and forced conversion. In cases of Muslim families taking back their daughters from Dalit husbands, right wing organizations have demanded the return of those women.
The intrinsic paradox and ambiguity in these arguments makes it difficult to foreground the spread and frequency of this concept. Over the years, instead of treating the idea as an evil to the society, it has been turned into a political trope of appeasement for the Muslims and Hindus by parties from the left and right ideologies respectively. Love jihad had emerged out of various multidimensional facets of religion. When two communities, such as Hinduism and Islam live together, which are as distinct in their cultures as they are similar, religious intolerance is bound to give shape to such evils and it is only for time and the laws of the nation to put an end to this propagandist tendencies.
MORE THAN JUST A SHUT AND CLOSE CASE
On 27th November, 2017, when an ordinary medical student appeared in front of the apex court, she had already become the face that had launched a thousand debates. The court dispatched a ruling in favour of the girl by allowing her to continue her studies and to stay with her husband but it did not deter the court from remarking that this case was truly one of a kind as it finally came down to a Hadiya to reflect the muddled nature of the oft compartmentalized issue of ‘love jihad.’ Although, by definition, this term seemingly includes only Islam, the whole country’s religious conversion scenario must be taken under consideration to get to the very pith of this ‘psychological kidnapping.’
While myriad cases of young couples escaping to Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State brooks no doubt about the seriousness and urgency of this reality, the political world seemed largely skewed towards battling it out whether Hadiya’s case was a human rights’ violation or religious radicalization while the issue was underway. This is where the State’s direction of penalizing or rehabilitating programmed victims of love jihad fails to produce any significant result in states like Kerala as it is followed without any understanding of the sociological factors weighing it down.
Firstly, it must be understood that cases of love jihad are at best amorphous in nature which makes it all the more harder in their identification. Throwing Hindu-Muslim marriages into this mire like the intensely Hindutva-flavoured list of love jihads that had been produced by The Hindu Mahasabha, simply deepens the schisms between communities rather than addressing genuine cases. Even in Hadiya’s case, technically, it can be argued otherwise. It could not have been a case of love jihad as she had converted of her own free will even before meeting her spouse and the allegations regarding his dubious character, having links with terrorist outfits, could not be proven before the Supreme Court by the NIA. Thus, the understanding of love jihad is very narrow, mostly incorporating people being lured into Islam through marriages in order to be used as pawns by militant outfits.
Any amount of moral policing limiting inter-religious interactions is definitely neither a feasible nor a democratic solution and besides, it greatly overlooks the dubious activities of fanatic religious centres in the guise of institutes with the purpose of disseminating knowledge about its religion. A case in point is Satya Sarani, a centre for Islamic studies, which shot to fame for its purported brainwashing methods on its inmates, allegedly with Hadiya as well who had joined shortly after converting to Islam. In spite of several controversies attached to this institute, the state government has still given a free run to these institutes. Whether to appease its vote banks or due to inaction, the government’s lethargy in this regard is one of the reasons for twisted interpretations and regressive religious discourses floating in the society.
Also alarming is the speed at which conversions take place nowadays. This area is very problematic as pointed out by critics like Laura Dudley Jenkins, since India has had a long history of religious conversions to Islam, Christianity and so on. As a democracy, India must uphold the freedom to profess one’s religious sentiments and to follow any religion one chooses to but some sort of State scrutiny must be employed on the sheer speed of conversions especially in places like Satya Sarani which have devolved into a sort of automatons minting faith.This also poses the question of genuineness in front of most such cases which is true for love jihad as well.
A minimum period of time must be allotted for the person to understand the contours of the religion and to arrive at a well-thought decision. It would also be more transparent to make conversions mandatory through state sponsored institutes with appropriate clauses to filter out dubious cases. India is a land with shining examples of inter-religious harmony like Ashoka’s messages of tolerance on stone and pillar inscriptions and Akbar’s founding of a new faith, Sulh-i-Kulh or Din-e-lahi based on equality and harmony, but in the present scenario religious freedom is being infected by incidents with the diabolic agenda of creating blind soldiers of faith. Instead of nipping it in the bud, the state and central leadership was engrossed in its own blame game when the PM and some other key members flew down to Kerala last year for what was to be called, Jan Raksha Yatra - a farce to prove the failures of the leftist government.
Justice DY Chandrachud’s description of Hadiya’s case as akin to Stockholm syndrome where the person falls in love with one’s captors is very telling of other, more conventional cases of love jihads where the victim loses his or her ability to question and puts complete faith in the views of the other party. This entrapment of the mind may not be a universal trait but several critics have pointed out to a pattern behind targeting a victim’s vulnerability. The incidence of love jihad as observed through various cases is most among people from socially, financially or mentally vulnerable conditions which makes them soft targets for the operatives of the love jihad network. It might be people from lower castes or persons from troubled families, all of these are watched by people on the lookout who might be just the lowest rungs of this complex chain.
Awareness can go a long way in ameliorating the circumstances. Something with so many psychological trappings cannot be simply resolved by the law. So, a close nexus between the public and the government is necessary but authorities like the Kerala government are trying to shove the issue under the carpet, instead of finding viable solutions, to save face and to appease parties like the Popular Front. Another factor to be noted is the ease with which a person can get married in the country compared to the relative difficulty of getting a divorce. Though empirically impossible to legally ensure that an individual is well aware of the other’s circumstances and background before marriage, some prerequisites can be set, at least, on a limited level, say, making it necessary to register the marriage within a stipulated time period. Love Jihad is no open and shut case and marriage and conversion are but narrow terms to define it. Instead of just peeling the outer layers, jihad can be taken out of the equation only when the politics behind conversion is reframed and reworked.