Bills in the name of ‘love jihad’ undermine India's constitutional liberties

‘Love jihad’ is a term of recent vintage, coined by the Hindu right-wing, for Muslims who they allege seduce Hindu women to convert to Islam on the pretext of love and marriage

Parvati Sasankan Nov 29, 2020
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‘Love jihad’ is a term of recent vintage, coined by the Hindu right-wing, for Muslims who they allege seduce Hindu women to convert to Islam on the pretext of love and marriage.  This week Uttar Pradesh (UP) - the country's most populous state that has about a 20 percent Muslim population -,promulgated by decree a law banning such marriages, calling for a stiff penalty, including imprisonment, for those who indulge in interfaith marriages without giving notice of two months in advance to legal authorities. 

The UP government, led by a Hindu priest turned politician, Yogi Adityanath, has announced that punishment under the new law is a jail term between one and five years, and a fine of Rs. 15,000. But if the woman involved is a minor or belongs to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe (outcaste or tribespersons), the jail term would range from three to 10 years and the fine would increase to Rs. 25,000.  

The state government also said that in the case of mass conversions, the punishment is from three years to 10 years and a fine of Rs. 50,000 on the organisations, which indulge in it. 

Taking a cue from Uttar Pradesh, other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Assam are planning similar laws in an apparent attempt to what they perceive as organised conspiracy of Muslim men to trick Hindu women into marriages and bring about a demographic change.

Does ‘love jihad’ exist?

One such instance, which is often quoted, is of Hadiya (earlier known as Akhila Ashokan), a 24-year-old homeopathic medical student from Vaikom, Kerala. She married a Muslim man and converted to Islam. But her parents forcibly took her home.  Her parents alleged that she was duped and forced to get married, which Hadiya denied. In 2017, her marriage was annulled by the High Court of Kerala on the grounds of a report submitted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to the Supreme Court of India (SC), saying that Hadiya was a victim of indoctrination and psychological kidnapping, and that their claims of their marriage being arranged through a matrimony website were "bogus".

The High Court of Kerala then handed over Hadiya's custody to her father. Her husband,  Shafin Jahan, then appealed the Kerala High Court order to the Supreme Court. In 2018, the apex court restored her marriage, annulling the lower court order. The case caught national attention and has been widely cited as one of the examples of ‘love jihad.’

Another case in Kerala that again was cited as ‘love jihad’ was of a Christian woman, who married a Muslim man in the Syro Malabar church in Kerala. The priest of the church solemnized the marriage, and it created a furor in the southern state among church authorities and people alike. The church came out with guidelines for such interfaith marriages.

What is interesting is that in February, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy told parliament 'love jihad' was not defined in law and "no such case has been reported by any central agencies."

A woman can decide whom to marry

'Love jihad' is being used as a bogey by certain sections of a patriarchal society where women are still treated as a commodity with no right to personal choices or independent say in her future. Such a male-dominated society - in certain parts of the country - is sustained by puerile fears that women will transgress social boundaries and get trapped into love and marriage by the wrong kind of people (read community).  So the State has arrogated itself that role with the mandate to decide which relationships are acceptable and permissible for a woman and which are not. 

India already has a law that governs interfaith marriages, which was passed by the parliament called the Special Marriage Act, 1954. It would have been better if the state had just performed its governance role and not transgressed into the family domain against constitutional principles of life and liberty. They should have allowed individuals to exercise their freedom, and not restrict it.

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at parvati663@gmail.com)

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