Love Jehad

The myth of love jehad: A ploy by the BJP to polarise society for electoral gains

Print edition : December 18, 2020

Hadiya arriving at the Supreme Court to appear before the Chief Justice of India in the love jehad case, in November 2017. Hadiya stated that she had embraced Islam and married Shafin Jahan of her own free will. But her father challenged it saying she had been converted forcibly. The Supreme Court ruled that it was a marriage of two consenting adults and that the state had little business to enter into private law. It said: “The moment you allow public law (law of relations between individuals and the State) to encroach into marriage, you are letting the state interfere in individual choices of a citizen.” Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled States that plan to enact a law against “love jehad”: Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh (who has brought an ordinance). Photo: PTI

Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Photo: PTI

Sarbananda Sonowal of Chief Minister of Assam. Photo: PTI

B.S. Yediyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka. Photo: Sampath Kumar G P

Activists of Vishva Hindu Mahasangh protesting against “love jehad” and religious conversion at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on November 8. Photo: PTI

An advertisement for the saffron outfit Bhagwa Brigade recruiting Hindu youth to be trained to check religious conversion, ‘love jehad’ and other issues, in Bhopal on September 14, 2010. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

There is no conclusive evidence of ‘love jehad’ in the country as claimed by Hindutva groups and the BJP governments in some States that are making laws to deter interfaith marriages; it is only a bogey raised to bring about communal polarisation.

THE DECISION BY AT LEAST FIVE BHARATIYA Janata Party (BJP)-governed States to enact a law making religious conversion for marriage, or “love jehad” in their world view, illegal is a frontal attack on one of the most fundamental rights: the right to marry a person of one’s choice. Uttar Pradesh has already passed an ordinance with regard to it while Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka are planning to pass similar laws based on the premise that Muslim men are out to lure unsuspecting Hindu women into marriage and convert them into Islam in order to alter the demography of the country by reducing Hindus to a minority. At present eight States already have Freedom of Religion Acts or anti-conversion laws. The “love jehad” lobby assumes that women clearly lack agency, autonomy and the right to select their partner or religion. Even though the law runs counter to the constitutional guarantees and rights upheld by the Supreme Court several times, the upper echelons of the government have maintained radio silence. Rather, Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, has hailed it as a move in the right direction of “protecting women and their rights”.

Apart from being conservative, paternalistic and patriarchal in approach and content, the laws are meant to target the minorities, more specifically Muslims. The chilling effect of such laws is that they would deter not only interfaith marriages in a multifaith country like India but also inter-caste marriages as one of the fundamental presumptions is to discourage marrying out of one’s community, which means both religion and caste.

On November 24, Uttar Pradesh became the first State to promulgate an ordinance, the Unlawful Religious Conversion (Prohibition) Ordinance, 2020, making “forced conversions for marriage” punishable with a jail term of up to ten years and a fine. The law provides for declaring interfaith marriages null and void in cases where conversion takes place for the sake of marriage.

Also read: COVER STORY | U.P. ordinance on “love jehad” criminalises conversion

The ordinance comes close on the heels of an Allahabad High Court judgment on November 11 in the case of a Muslim man and his wife who had converted to Islam. The judgment said that “interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals”. The court quashed a first information report of kidnapping and forcible conversion and the case, registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, observing that the previous orders of the same court which had made negative observations on “conversions for the sake of marriage” were not good in law. In fact, the Uttar Pradesh government’s zeal to come out with an ordinance was ostensibly based on an earlier Allahabad High Court judgment declining to entertain the plea of an interfaith couple that had approached the court seeking protection.

Despite court orders, including the Supreme Court’s rulings on several occasions with regard to upholding an adult woman’s right to choice and marriage as in the Hadiya case (where her parents alleged that she was deceived into marrying a Muslim and forcibly converted to Islam), the propaganda by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates has continued unabated (see “BJP-ruled States once again raise the bogey of love jehad”, Frontline, December 4, 2020). Protection of the cow and chastity of women, two seemingly incongruous elements, feature on top of their agenda. In both cases, the targets are the minorities. Constituting “love jehad help desks” as in Kerala (as revealed by the website Altnews) and vigilante groups such as “anti-Romeo squads” as in Uttar Pradesh is a blatant attempt to vilify the minority community, notwithstanding the fact that many leaders in the BJP themselves have had interfaith, inter-community and inter-regional marriages.

The vilification has reached absurd proportions. For instance, in October, a popular jewellery brand, Tanishq, from the stable of one of the oldest industrial houses in India, had to take down its advertisement portraying a Muslim woman organising a baby shower for her Hindu daughter-in-law after online protests for the boycott of the brand gained traction. Succumbing to pressure and bullying, it even issued a public apology. Referring to the controversy, an office-bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) claimed that there had been 170 love jehad cases in the last ten years and that some 20,000 women had fallen victim to love jehad. An international working president of the VHP described it as “demographic aggression”.

However, with the comparative decadal Census data disproving the Muslim overpopulation myth, the spectre of “love jehad” appears to have been deliberately created to fill the propaganda vacuum. There is also no official crime data to suggest that scores of Hindu women have been kidnapped or lured by Muslim men.

Census data and Muslim population

According to Census 2001, Hindus comprised 80.5 per cent (827 million), Muslims 13.4 per cent (138 million), Christians 2.3 per cent (24 million), Sikhs 1.9 per cent (19 million), Buddhists 0.8 per cent (8 million) and Jains 0.4 per cent (4 million) of the country’s population. Muslims obviously formed the largest group among the minorities, but their presence was largely confined to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam. Hindus had a pan-Indian presence excluding some of the north-eastern States, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab. The corresponding figures from Census 2011 were Hindus at 79.8 per cent (966.3 million), Muslims 14.2 per cent (172.2 million), Christians 2.3 per cent (27.8 million), and Sikhs 1.7 per cent (20.8 million). While all groups registered an increase in real numbers some, for instance Hindus and Christians, registered a minor decline in their proportion in the population.

Even though the decadal growth rate between 1991-2001 and 2001-2010 had declined for all religions and more so in the case of Muslims, the fact that their share in the population had gone up marginally (by less than 1 per cent) was selectively highlighted to indicate that their numbers were growing exponentially. This growth can be attributed to better survival of women and girl children, sex ratios or citizenship registration rates and population enumeration rather than claims of “indiscriminate infiltration”.

Also read: COVER STORY | Love jehad demonises Muslim men as the 'evil' other

According to Census 2011, in 21 States/Union Territories the population of Hindus ranged from 70 to 95 per cent; in four States, it ranged from 60-70 per cent. Only in Lakshwadeep and undivided Jammu and Kashmir were Muslims in a majority. In Punjab, Sikhs comprised the majority of the population while in four north-eastern States, Christianity was the dominant religion. But a section of the media played along with the hype with headlines such as “Hindu share dips below 80 per cent”, “Hindu population declined; Muslims increased”, “Islam is the fastest growing religion in India” and “Assam records highest share in Muslim population”.

Sex ratio better among Muslims

The barometers of the status of women in a society is the sex ratio, both adult and child, which have declined in the past two decades. But in terms of religion, the sex ratio in both categories were the worst among Hindus. The all-India sex ratio continues to be unfavourable to women and children (0-6 years). Among the minority groups, in 2001, Christians had the best child sex ratio (964 females per 1,000 males) followed by Muslims (950), Buddhists (942), Jains (870) and Sikhs (786). The corresponding figure for the Hindu population was 925, the all-India average being 927.

The adult sex ratio among Hindus (931) was lower than the all-India average of 933 whereas among Christians it was 1,009, Buddhists 953, Jains 940, Muslims 936, and Sikhs 893. The adverse sex ratio has been attributed by social scientists and demographers to sex selection and male preference. Clearly, compared with Hindus and Sikhs, women had a better chance of survival among minority groups other than Sikhs.

According to Census 2001, Kerala, which had a 54.72 per cent Hindu population, boasted a positive sex ratio of 1,058 while Haryana, which is predominantly Hindu, had the lowest female sex ratio at 860. Between the two Censuses, 2001 and 2011, while the adult sex ratio improved from 933 to 943, the child sex ratio plunged to 919 from 927. All the “Hindu majority” States showed significant decline in the child sex ratio, indicating that the girl child continued to be discriminated at birth and after.

Conservative and capricious

The BJP harbours the illusion of being the champion of women’s rights. First it sought to liberate Muslim women by criminalising triple talaq (a form of divorce) among Muslim couples. Muslim women themselves objected to it, knowing full well that it was not for their welfare that the criminal provisions had been added.

In the wake of the gang rape and murder of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in 2012, a slew of legal interventions were made, including the amendment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2015, which provided for minors between 16 and 18 accused of rape to be tried as an adult. At the same time, the age of consent for sex was raised to 18 years, making consensual sexual relations below the age of 18 akin to rape. Women’s organisations protested against this on the grounds that there was ample field experience of pubescent youngsters entering into consensual sexual relations and that penalising young adolescents, especially men, for rape was an excessive measure.

If 16 was the agreed-upon age of sexual maturity (as a 16-year-old male could be tried as an adult for the crime of rape for having sexual relations with a 16-year-old girl), raising the age of consent to 18 defied logic. The age of consent for sex is 16 years in most countries. Women’s organisations suggested an alternative, to lower the age of consent to 15 where the age gap between the male and the female was not more than five years.

Women’s groups also demanded that the age of marriage should be the same as the age of voting, which was 18 for both sexes. But this was ignored. Recently the government declared its intention to raise the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21. While the ostensible reason for it was to prevent child marriages and delay the birth of the first child, the government has failed to grasp that the real reason why girls are married off early is poverty and the lack of educational opportunities. The correlation between early marriages and low educational attainments has been established in several studies.

Also read: COVER STORY | Mihir Srivastava: ‘Love jehad a propaganda for electoral dividends’

Asif Iqbal is the co-founder of Dhanak, a support group that counsels couples from interfaith and inter-caste backgrounds. He and wife, Ranu Kulshreshta, have until now helped 1,500 interfaith couples like them. Asif Iqbal said that with laws to control love jehad, families would allege forcible conversion, not elopement or kidnapping as was done until now, and the onus would be on the couple to prove otherwise. Given the atmosphere of intimidation, even getting witnesses for marrying under the Special Marriage Act would be difficult, he said. Interfaith couples would also find it difficult to get accommodation on rent, he noted.

Dhanak petitioned the Delhi High Court this year to set up special cells, dedicated helplines and safe houses in each district as mandated by a 2018 Supreme Court order. A State like Delhi with a population of nearly three crore has one safe house for couples fleeing persecution. Some special cells were set up under the Delhi Police apart from a dedicated help line for “victim” couples too. Asif Iqbal said it was grossly inadequate given the number of distress calls his organisation received. “We receive three or four mails each day and a couple of phone calls. We tell them to follow the process under law,” he said.

Asif Iqbal said there was an increasing trend of inter-caste and interfaith relationships, but the presence of vigilante groups had made it difficult for such couples to come out in the open. He said that sometimes the parents from the girl’s side would approach these groups and get them to intimidate the couple. In order to prevent such relationships the family members of the couples, especially the girl’s family, filed kidnapping and theft charges. “The police then go about investigating and if the couple are found, the girl is handed over to the family. If the boy is found with the girl, he will end up spending a minimum of six months in jail,” he said.

Asif Iqbal told Frontline that the Special Marriage Act needed to be amended urgently as the 30 days of gestation period required under it inviting objections gave an opportunity for others to interfere and discourage interfaith or inter-caste marriages. The Law Commission had recommended that the procedure under the Special Marriage Act be the same as in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Muslim Personal Law where marriages can be registered the same day. If governments encouraged interfaith and inter-caste marriages, these issues would not arise, Asif Iqbal said.

Significantly, many States have schemes to encourage inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, especially if the girl is a Dalit. Interfaith couples are entitled to get Rs.50,000 in both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, both of which have mooted laws against love jehad. Recently, the Uttarakhand government ordered an inquiry into a press release issued by a social welfare officer in Tehri Garhwal announcing the incentive for inter-caste and interfaith marriages. In Haryana, inter-caste couples are given Rs 1.01 lakh; in Rajasthan the incentive is Rs.5 lakh and in Bihar, it is Rs. 2.5 lakh.

Honour-related crimes

In 2018, while disposing a petition by Shakti Vahini, a non-government organisation (NGO) which approached the court seeking directions to the Central and State governments to take preventive measures against honour-related crimes, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud held that the “consent of the family, or the community or the clan is not necessary once the two individual adults agree to enter into wedlock”. The bench recommended that the government bring a law to curb honour killings. But nothing has been done on that count until now. It directed State governments to set up a safe house in every district headquarters for couples who have had inter-caste or inter-religious marriages and a special cell comprising the police, welfare officers and Adi Dravidar welfare officers to receive petitions and complaints relating to such marriages.

In 2013, the 242nd Law Commission Report recommended the drafting of a Bill for the “Prohibition of Interference with Matrimonial Alliances” in order to tackle honour-related crimes, but it never saw the light of day. The underlying idea of the draft Bill was that there should be a “threshold bar against the congregation or assembly for the purpose of objecting to and condemning the conduct of young persons of marriageable age marrying according to their choice, the ground of objection being that they belong to the same gotra or different castes or communities”. It further said that “panchayatdars or caste elders have no right to interfere with the life and liberty of such young couples whose marriages are permitted by law and they cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment in the village/locality concerned and exposed to the risk of safety”.

Also read: Bollywood: ‘Othering’ the Muslim on screen

The then United Progressive Alliance government took the position that State governments needed to be consulted on the proposed legislation as the matter fell under the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. On January 16, 2014, the Central government informed the court (in the Shakti Vahini case) that 21 States and Union Territories had sent positive responses regarding the proposed Bill. The National Capital Territory government in Delhi stated in its affidavit that there was no separate record of “honour crimes” though by the time the affidavit was filed, 11 cases had been registered. The Delhi Police, which comes under the Union Home Ministry, averred that there was no need for separate special cells in each district as there was already a special cell within the Delhi Police for serious crimes relating to internal security. There were special efforts, the court was told, to sensitise police officers and measures were taken by the Women and Child Department to rehabilitate honour victims facing threats. The Uttar Pradesh government submitted two affidavits saying it was taking all measures to prevent honour crimes and that directions had been given to police stations to keep a close watch on the functioning of khaps (caste panchayats).

The Law Commission observed that honour killings were prevalent in the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Delhi “as a result of people marrying without their family’s acceptance and for marrying outside their caste or religion”. Alluding to this report, the Supreme Court, in Shakti Vahini vs Union of India, noted it “showed the devastating effect of the crime and the destructive impact on the right of choice of an individual and the control of the collective over the said freedom”.

In Lata Singh vs State of U.P., in which an inter-caste couple petitioned the court under Article 32 of the Constitution, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that “this is a free and democratic country and once a person becomes a major, he or she can marry whosoever he or she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of, the maximum they can do is to cut off social relations with the son or the daughter but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.”

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 288 cases of honour killings between 2014 and 2016. It can be said that they were carried out by regressive sections of society and anti-social elements. But when the state itself becomes an active participant in decreeing who will marry whom based on sectarian biases, it would a free-for-all for the custodians of conservatism. For the BJP, love jehad is just such an opportunity for communal polarisation, the voice against which gets shriller when elections are near.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor