India is known as a country with numerous cultures, languages, and views, tied by a constitution having rights and values for a diverse population. One of the most centrally upheld values has been secularism, despite an unsettled relationship between the Hindus and Muslims with a history of violence.
Things like hate speech, fake news, and lynching have occupied daily life in India, widening hatred between the communities.
Recently, The Uttar Pradesh Government passed the ‘Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Bill 2020’. According to it, if an individual wants to marry after converting to any other religion, they will need to take permission from the district magistrate two months before the wedding. States like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka have also implemented similar laws. It requires every religious conversion to be examined and certified by the State. Though the law talks about every inter-faith marriage. But a communal angle has been given to it.
The bogey of Love Jihad was spread by the Indian Hindu right-wing.
Many have reportedly said in their speech that such laws will prevent instances of ‘Love Jihad’. The term loves jihad is a theory promoted by right-wing activists. It literally means that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them and then convert them into Islam so that women produce Muslim children and overtake the Hindu population. Love Jihad has been used to disrupt interfaith weddings and harass couples even though investigations by the state have found no evidence against love jihad.
Yogi Adityanath said, “I warn those who conceal identity and play with our sisters’ respect. If you don’t mend your ways your ‘Ram Naam Satya journey will begin.” It makes religious conversion a non-bailable offense, inviting penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
There have been mixed views about this law. One group says that this goes against secularism as the idea of ‘Love Jihad’ is being propagated. The other group holds that such laws are required to protect women, especially Hindu women. According to a report, marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men remains less. During 2009-12, 2,667 young women of other faiths were converted to Islam, against which only 81 Muslim women converted to other faiths. Whereas, Women groups have argued that such laws restrict women’s agency. In the name of continuing tradition, fundamentalist and right-wing ideologists want to restrict women’s right to lead independent lives and exercise freedom of choice.
Laws made to prevent interfaith marriages are in favor of Indian conservatives because they reinforce the social hierarchy. They are a way of preserving the patriarchy by controlling women’s sexuality and turning them into a political field. Marriage has always been used as a tool to maintain purity within society.
The idea of ‘love jihad’ portrays women as property of men, who shall be protected to safeguard the family and society’s honor. Even in the speech’s words like “the honor of our daughters and sisters” were used to indicate that the ‘women’s honor’ is at stake. This indicates that women are naïve and lack the agency to make sound decisions are about their own life. In the past, Love Jihad was used as a tool of moral policing and vigilance to restrict women from using phones. In late 2012, a khap panchayat in western UP banned women from using mobile phones.
Some argue that this promotes honor killings. “Honour killings” occur when a woman is murdered for marrying someone from a family, caste, or religion that is unacceptable to her family or village. Such murders are planned to punish women who dishonored their family and to restore its “izzat (respect)”. These laws give power to the families to press charges against women who elope with someone the family or community doesn’t approve of. “Love jihad” laws are bound to be misused in this context.
These laws deny women their constitutional rights to social justice, liberty of thought, belief, and equality of status. This law can be equated to the Wahabi policing in Saudi Arabia, where women are told how to dress, behave, or who to be accompanied within a public place. In India now, it’s the state that shall sanction who a woman should marry. Women are still struggling for basic rights in matters of education, work finance, etc, and such legislations further patriarchal norms.
The central government has admitted that the term has no credible definition. Forced conversion is already punishable under existing marriage laws. The Special Marriage Act (1954) allows women and men to marry irrespective of their religions and conversion is not a condition for it. Such laws go against the already existing laws. According to a 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court “Human dignity both recognizes and protects the autonomy of the individual in making sexual choices.” Love jihad then is an example of the implanting patriarchy, nationality, and violence against women.
Women are still seen as incapable of making decisions for themselves. They need constant policing from the men in the house and now the state. In 2015-’16, a state-wide survey by Population Council reports was conducted in Uttar Pradesh. It showed that 40% of women did not participate in their decision of marriage, while 51% simply accepted their parents’ wish.
A 2013 study, from the India Human Development Survey (2005), found that only 2.21 percent of married women between 15-49 years of age were in inter-religious marriages.
The panic ‘Love Jihad’ propagates, only leads to more restrictions on the social interaction of women.