‘Love Jihad’ has been the talk of the town since the past one month. It began after the Uttar Pradesh cabinet recently cleared a draft ordinance against forceful inter-faith conversions for marriages, or the so-called “love jihad”.
This means that inter-faith marriages with the sole intention of changing a girl’s religion is unlawful and will have a provision for a jail term of up to 10 years.
A term typically used by political and religious groups, ‘Love jihad’ caught the public attention for the first time in 2009 when a website hindujagruti.org claimed that an organisation called Muslim Youth Forum had put up a poster regarding ‘love jihad’, which entailed ‘trapping’ Hindu girls in love with the aim of converting them for marriage.
However, later the claim of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti of five Islamic websites having references to ‘love jihad’ was found to be false. Eventually, Justice M Sasidharan Nambiar of the Kerala High Court held that “inter-religion marriages were common in our society and it could not be seen as a crime,” and closed the investigation.
The unlawful act
The proposed law cleared by the Uttar Pradesh cabinet categorises crime and punishment in three different ways. Those found guilty of conversion done through “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means” in contravention of the law would face a jail term of one to five years, and a minimum fine of Rs 15,000.
According to it, if the conversion is of a minor, a woman from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, then those found guilty would have to face a jail term from three to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 25,000.
On the other hand, if such conversion is found at the mass level, then those guilty would face a jail term from three to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 50,000.
According to reports, as many as seven cases have been filed since November 29 when UP Governor approved the ordinance brought by the Yogi Adityanath government. Several marriages have been stopped on a suspected violation of the law. In some cases, the groom and some other members were arrested.
The law is drafted keeping in mind the concept of ‘love jihad’ which describes an alleged phenomenon where Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them and convert them to Islam.
In fact, it is reported that the UP government took the decision to draft the law after a group of parents from a locality in Kanpur met police officials with a complaint that their daughters were being allegedly trapped by Muslim men and who were seeking their help to free themselves.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in October 2020 had issued a “warning” to those who “played with the honour” of “sisters and daughters” by concealing their identities and operating secretly. He hinted that if they did not mend their ways, they would then face consequences.
Many had voiced their opinion on this. Justice (Retired) Aditya Nath Mittal, Chairperson of the State Law Commission said,
“If the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government brings a “limited scope legislation” restricting marriages between a Hindu and a Muslim in the garb of curbing “love jihad”, it would not stand in law.”
Many women in interfaith marriages have also come out against the law. A PTI report states that Delhi-based Sheena Shahulhameed, who is married to a Hindu man, called love jihad farce. “How can one bring jihad into a relationship? How can one be restricted on the grounds of religion in marital things? We hope the apex court looks into a law if passed, and strikes it down,” she says.
In India, the relationship between the Hindu and Muslim religious communities have been tested by friction and violence for centuries. And thus, it is no surprise to learn that the concept of ‘love jihad’ sparked even more tensions.
However, such laws based on communal ideologies often breed suspicion within communities, resulting in a sense of alienation — which eventually impacts societal peace and harmony.
For instance, the recent Akshay Kumar starrer Laxmii recently landed in controversy as many accused the film of promoting ‘love jihad’ as Akshay Kumar played the character of Asif and Kiara Advani played Priya.
The recent ad on a popular jewellery label, Tanishq, was banned for this very reason. The ad, which portrayed the relationship between a Hindu pregnant women and her Muslim mother-in-law, was called out by various sections of the society for 'promoting love jihad’. The ad had to be taken down after the uproar from the people with ‘#BoycottTanishq’ trending all over social media.
Interfering personal choices
The two things that matter here are the different faiths and the couple’s decision to get married. However, the idea of “love jihad” is rooted in the patriarchal mindset as women are often treated as property by their families, who think that a family’s honour hinges on safeguarding them against attackers.
‘Love jihad’ also questions the personal choices and decisions of women that are a part of individual freedoms. It directly strikes at the core of the ‘right to privacy’, which is constitutionally protected and impairs democratic values of personal liberty and freedom of religion.
That explains why matters relating to marriage, divorce, succession, and inheritance spark debates and counter-debates. Women often get to exercise only limited freedom of choice, especially for life-affirming decisions like marriage and their career.
These aspects boil down to the fact that at the end of the day, love remains difficult — and dangerous — in India where religion, caste, patriarchy, kinship, and family honour dominates.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)