ANTI-LOVE JIHAD: A LAW CUM TOOL FOR HINDU EXTREMISTS
The state of West Bengal was in the throes of an ugly election battle, and with Ram Mandir being a bygone issue, the ruling party had yet again raked up their age-old favorite: Love Jihad, in hopes of winning the majority vote. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath said that Bengal is seeing a lawless situation since ‘incidents of love jihad’ are increasing in the state. (The Quint, 2021) Again, no data was cited to back this claim but simply Hindutva accusations of love jihad and cow smuggling were resorted to polarize the election race. The anti-love jihad laws criminalize religious conversion for the purpose of marriage. In this article, I argue that these laws passed by several BJP states in the country not only infantilize women and target a minority community but are also unnecessary as the current IPC provides ample protection against the unlawful conversion of religion.
(Credits: Manisha Yadav)
The fake claim of Love Jihad is not a new poll pitch but an agenda being peddled since the 1920s. Hindu extremists and organizations like the Arya Samaj in the past have often orchestrated propaganda campaigns portraying Muslim men as lustful demons taking advantage of naive and powerless Hindu women. Newspapers, handbills, posters, novels etc. were all drawn on to attract attention to make this a mainstream belief. Hindu Auraton ki Loot and Hindu Striyon ki Loot ke Karan are some of the tracts that eminent historian Charu Gupta had cited, which exclusively spoke about Hindu female victims and their Muslim male abductor. (Gupta, 2009) The underlying reasoning for these claims, all these years, have been the same—that Love Jihad is a secret Islamic movement to increase the Muslim population in the world by forcefully converting Hindu women and impregnating them for Muslim children. These claims have never found any statistical backing, yet continue to be a reason to formulate criminal laws for.
Denying Agency to Women
Anti-love jihad laws are currently in place in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Other BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Karnataka are also mulling framing similar laws. Written in a similar language, all these laws aim to prohibit ‘unlawful conversion’ from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion and marriage. According to the UP ordinance, whoever forcefully converts a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the SC, ST community will be imprisoned for 2-10 years along with a fine not less than Rs 25,000. With this, the law clearly equates the mental capacity of a woman with that of a minor.
It refuses to believe that women can have inter-faith marriages of their own volition. As a matter of fact, a case study of Hindu-Muslim couples revealed that out of seven women interviewed, only three had converted either out of willingness or simply for the sake of formality. Nowhere could the women be described as love-struck, giddy-headed girls who elope, as told by love-jihad campaigners. (Punwani, 2014) Additionally, as per the ordinance, any woman wishing to convert for marriage will have to provide a declaration of the same, sixty days in advance to the District Magistrate (DM). Post this, the DM will conduct a policy enquiry with regards to the ‘real intention’ of the conversion. Such tedious laws pose a huge barrier to inter-faith couples who wish anyways to keep their union a secret for the fear of societal backlash.
Love-jihad is invoked in the name of protecting the dignity of ‘our women’. The socio-cultural norms we have, have bestowed the responsibility of honour on women. Honour is not gender-neutral and exudes power dynamics seen in society. Any sexual transgression or violation of acceptable behaviour by women is perceived as a reason for outrage. (Gupte, 2013) Hence, the reality that a woman can go against patriarchal rules to marry someone of her own choice is unacceptable to Hindu extremists.
Protection Under Current IPC
The love-jihad campaign also falls flat when it comes to material evidence. First, the Centre itself has admitted that Love-Jihad is not defined under the extant laws and that no such case has been reported by the central agencies. Second, the National Commission for Women said in an RTI reply that no specific cases related to this category are maintained by them. (Nandy, 2020) Third, an SIT team set up in September 2020 ruled out any love-jihad conspiracy angle owing to a lack of evidence. (Sahu, 2020)
However, if we were to believe in the existence of such criminal activity, even then we don’t need anti-conversion laws as the IPC and other personal laws provide ample protection against forceful religious conversions for marriage.
The case of Asfaq Qureshi vs Aysha Qureshi fought in the Chhattisgarh High Court in 2010 is a good example of how a woman can get relief if she is converted to another religion by force, misrepresentation or marriage. Here, Asfaq claimed that they were legally married under the Muslim Personal Law and that Aysha converted to Islam, but she denied this. She said she became unconscious after Asfaq gave her a Dairy Milk chocolate while they were travelling by a minibus. However, she continued to travel and three months later Asfaq told her he had married her in a madrassa and showed her their nikah certificate.
The Chhattisgarh High Court referred to the Muslim Personal Law and the Indian Contract Act, 1872 to establish that a marriage under coercion or fraud will be considered null or void since marriage under the Muslim law is a civil contract and so all incidents of a contract apply to this. Secondly, under the Mohammedan law, a Muslim cannot marry an idol-worshipper till he or she converts. A conversion, in such a case, should be voluntary and doesn’t need any ritual or ceremony. Hence, the court ruled that since Aysha was intoxicated during the nikah, she never voluntarily consented to conversion. With this, the court granted judgement in her favour by saying Aysha and Asfaq are not legally wedded. (Indian Kanoon, 2010)
Furthermore, legal experts have cited recourse to various other provisions under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Section 415 and 417 of IPC, and law of damages to protect against a forceful conversion and marriage. This clearly shows that a separate law solely for the purpose of unlawful religious conversion is not needed, especially because of its anti-feminist overtures and Muslim-targeting capabilities.
Love-Jihad laws are nothing but a tool in the hands of Hindu extremists to force their domination upon others. Several cases booked under this law recently have proven to be false, but they have nevertheless effectively traumatized young couples and Muslim men who are simply in love. Fortunately, the Supreme Court is soon going to hear petitions fighting against these controversial laws in several Indian states. One can only hope that now, judicial fairness will precede over sectarian politics slowly spreading across the whole country.
Gupta, C. (2009). Hindu women, Muslim men: Love Jihad and conversions. Economic and Political Weekly, 44(51), 13–15.
Gupte, M. (2013). The Concept of Honour Caste Ideology and Patriarchy in Rural Maharashtra . Economic & Political Weekly, 58(18). https://jguelibrary.informaticsglobal.com:2123/system/files/pdf/2013_48/18/The_Concept_of_Honour.pdf
Indian Kanoon. (2010, March 19). Asfaq Qureshi vs Aysha Qureshi on 19 March, 2010. Indian Kanoon. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1426063/
Nandy, A. (2020, November 19). Laws on ‘Love Jihad’? But Modi Govt, NCW Have No Data or Definition. The Quint. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/laws-on-love-jihad-but-modi-govt-ncw-have-no-data-or-definition#read-more#read-more
Punwani, J. (2014). Myths and Prejudices about “Love Jihad” . Economic and Political Weekly, 49(42). https://jguelibrary.informaticsglobal.com:2123/journal/2014/42/commentary/myths-and-prejudices-about-love-jihad.html
Sahu, M. (2020). SIT probe into ‘love jihad’ rules out conspiracy angle, outside funding. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sit-probe-into-love-jihad-rules-out-conspiracy-angle-outside-funding-7063046/
The Quint. (2021, March 2). Failed to Stop Love Jihad: UP CM Attacks TMC Govt at Malda.
The Quint. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/tmc-govt-failed-to-stop-love-jihad-up-cm-adityanath-at-malda#read-more
Cover Image: Manjunath Kiran
About the author: Shivangani Misra is a first-year student of master's in public policy. She is a former journalist, and her interest lies in technology, media, education, and gender policy.