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|Persons of interest|
Love jihad (also known as Romeo jihad) is a moral panic conspiracy theory that is most prominent in India, in which Muslim men are coordinating to hoodwink Hindu women so as to convert them into Islam and eventually achieve a major demographic change.
“”Around us, right now, all around us, are Hindu women held captive by Muslim husbands… Islamic terrorists are using the sacred land of Hindustan, the wealth of Hindustan and Hindustan’s daughters to breed children who are sent to madrasas, trained in Pakistan and turned into more terrorists who want to destroy India. They want to make us into a Muslim-majority nation.
|—Vijaykant Chauhan, RSS member|
What’s interesting about this theory is how it deviates from the usual Islamophobic stereotypes of how Muslims are hateful savages who destroy while the strong Hindus protect their trillion year old culture. Meanwhile here, Muslims are portrayed as some handsome and strong Chads who are instantly able to seduce any hot Hindu women in a 10 mile area by offering them a ride on their bikes.
“”These Muslim boys make good bodies, wear good clothes, and stand outside coaching centres with their motorcycles to attract Hindu girls… They initiate conversation on the pretext of dropping them home on their bikes. Then, after two or three such trips, they take the girl’s number and start texting her. This gradually changes into long conversations and finally into an affair in a few months… To hide their identities, the Muslim men wear tilaks and kalawas (referring to marks on foreheads and red bands around the wrist worn by Hindus)
|—Suresh Sharma, local VHP leader|
This rhetoric also enforces the misogynist views presenting women as innocent, helpless, naive victims who lack authority and agency, and hence should not be allowed to marry someone from another faith and must be viewed with suspicion if they do. The conversion of women is also punished more severely in Uttar Pradesh’s love jihad law (sponsored by Yogi Adityanath) to "give justice to women," taking the exact same presumption as described above.
Love jihad laws have ushered in all over India in several BJP states. They have all come after Narendra Modi took office. First, it was Uttrakhand in 2018, then Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in 2020, and Gujrat in 2021.
On 7th November 2020, Uttar Pradesh under BJP passed an ordinance named Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020.
“”Any marriage, which was solemnised for the sole purpose of conversion by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion, may be declared null and void by the family court
How the state would determine that conversion was the 'sole purpose' of the marriage is left unclear.
It also reads:
“”The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through … marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion.
Basically, even if the woman said she is changing her faith willingly, it is up to the husband to prove his innocence.
The love jihad laws in Uttar Pradesh have been compared to anti-miscegenation laws in other countries; such as the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany, which banned marriages between Jews and those of “German blood,” and the laws in Apartheid-era South Africa which prevented marriages between its four racial classifications (White, Coloured, Indian, and Black). While the Uttar Pradesh love jihad law does not outright ban interfaith marriages, forcible conversion is already outlawed by the Indian Constitution, and the right to privacy, right to marriage, and the right to practice a religion or faith of one’s choice preclude any interference by the state, the courts, the police, Hindu far-right goons and even the families of the couple.
Catalyst for harassment
The laws also make it frighteningly easy and efficient for Hindutva goons to harass and intimidate interfaith couples. The Special Marriage Act requires a couple to give a 30-days notice before the marriage is registered, which is then publicly displayed “conspicuously” on the notice boards of registration offices. These contain names, address, occupations and photos of the couple. This allows personal information to easily spread across social media, effectively a form of doxing.
“”Our activists keep an eye on such notices. Our sources also inform us about such posters. Our activists then visit the family. We ask whether the marriage is happening with their consent, which most of them deny. We then convince them to file an FIR under Section 376
|—Anonymous Hindu Jagran Manch leader|
“”In cases of affairs between Muslim boys and Hindu girls, we keep a close vigil on them and their movements… We find out their names, addresses, and the spots where they meet each other. Then we take the father or brother of the girl to that location and catch them red-handed. Then we get the family to file an FIR against the Muslim boy.
|—Suresh Sharma, local VHP leader|
Cobrapost, a non-profit news website known for its undercover investigative journalism, revealed the coercive tactics used by Hindutva groups to intimidate and harass interfaith couples, such as threatening, blackmailing, lynching and drugging.
“”We exert on her emotionally that her mother will die, her father will die, and brother might even commit suicide as he would not be able to face society.
|—Sangeet Singh Som, BJP MLA|
“”When she is adamant on Islam, we will send her to a religious counselling centre so that she can have a debate with our experts on the Quran. Even with that if she is not convinced, we send her to a medical hospital where she will be kept in a cell, she will be under some medication if she is aggressive… (If she doesn’t relent even then), we will send her somewhere [else] where she can be kept for some days.
|—Cijiith from the Hindu Helpline in Ernakulam, Kerala|
“”When the girl goes from the conversion centre to the court, we warn her that if she does not give a statement on her parents’ side and does not marry the guy prescribed by us then the moment she and her husband step out of the court, they will be killed by our people.
|—Ravish Tantri, chief of the Hindu Unity Forum in Kerala|
“”If a Muslim girl is married into a Muslim family, she will have to deliver 10 children and when these children grow up they will speak against Hindus. But if that girl is married to a Hindu family, she will not have to deliver that many children and she will be an addition to the Hindu population.
|—Ajju Chauhan, state chief of the Hindu Jagran Manch, an RSS affiliated organisation.|
“”For every Hindu converted, 100 Muslim girls will be converted as retaliation.
In many cases, the police were making arrests before investigation. In January 2021, Uttar Pradesh, three Muslim men had charges dropped against them and the FIR expunged because the complaint was found to be fake. In December 2020, UP police stopped a Muslim wedding, jailed the couple and assaulted the groom in custody on suspicion of love jihad. They were only released after the bride's family proved that she was a Muslim by birth, not by conversion.
In December 2020, in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, a Muslim man named Shahid Mian complained to the police that his daughter, Alisha, was kidnapped by a Hindu named Siddharth Saxena. After the investigation, it was found that the marriage took place before the law was put into effect and the girl testified that she married on her own will. Hence, the case was closed without any arrest and the woman was dropped at her husband’s house.
In almost all cases, it is the conservative household that files love jihad complaints, not the supposed victims. Arranged marriage is a prevalent culture in India, and most marriages occur within the same caste and religion. So love marriages, especially outside one’s caste or religion, are extremely uncommon and aret detested by many.
Also in December 2020, Uttar Pradesh, in a complete role reversal, a Hindu extremist group named Bajrang Dal, part of the youth-wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, forcibly dragged an interfaith couple of a Hindu bride named Muskan and a Muslim groom named Rashid on their way from the Moradabad district court after registering their marriage.
“”At the station, the Bajrang Dal men were doing all the talking. It was almost as if the police were merely acting as per their instructions.
|—Naseem Jahan, Muskan’s mother-in-law|
After pressure from Bajrang Dal, Muskan’s mother lodged an FIR (First information report) against Rashid under the new love jihad ordinance. In this case, too, the marriage had taken place before the law was put into effect and the girl clearly said she married on her own will. However, this time, Rashid and his brother were arrested and jailed and the bride was forcibly escorted to be dropped at a shelter home for destitute women. This became the first arrest made under the new Uttar Pradesh’s love jihad law.
“”It was not a shelter home. It was like jail. They made us work and the lady there would shout at us all the time. It all felt like torture.
Muskan suffered a miscarriage after 5 days at the shelter. “I held my baby for a few minutes before letting it go down the toilet” she stated “They killed my baby.”
“I gave my son and daughter names that could pass for generic (pan-Indian and pan-religious) ones: Aryan and Suhana. The Khan has been bequeathed by me so they can't really escape it. I pronounce it from my epiglottis when asked by Muslims and throw the Aryan as evidence of their race when non-Muslims enquire. I imagine this will prevent my offspring from receiving unwarranted eviction orders and random fatwas in the future. It will also keep my two children completely confused. Sometimes, they ask me what religion they belong to and, like a good Hindi movie hero, I roll my eyes up to the sky and declare philosophically, "You are an Indian first and your religion is humanity," or sing them an old Hindi film ditty, "Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega — insaan ki aulaad hai insaan banega" set to Gangnam Style. None of this informs them with any clarity, it just confounds them some more and makes them deeply wary of their father.
—Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Indian actor, on him being a Muslim and how he became an "inadvertent object of political leaders"
- Saif Ali Khan, who married Kareena Kapoor.
- Shah Rukh Khan, who married Gauri Chibber in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony.
- Amir Khan, who divorced Reena Dutta after 20 years of marriage and two children and then later divorced Kiran Rao after 15 years of marriage and another child.
This ignores the many instances where the opposite has happened; where a Hindu man marries a Muslim woman. Such as Saif Ali Khan's sister Soha Ali Khan's husband is a Hindu, Hrithik Roshan is a Hindu and his wife was a Muslim, Suneel Shetty's wife is also Muslim, and so is Manoj Bajpayee's wife is a Muslim while he is a Hindu.
Investigations and statistics
About all of the evidence for the urban legend of love jihad rests only on isolated incidents with a stroke of communal colour to allege a grand conspiracy against non-Muslims. However, it does not stand up to statistical scrutiny.
Interfaith marriages in India are just about 2.2% of all marriages. And even among those interfaith couples, the highest percentage was among Christians and Sikhs, not Hindus. A number of studies conducted by research scholars have found that interfaith marriages have limited impact on society at large. According to the Pew Research Center, religious conversion has had very little impact on the demographics of religious groups; in fact, more people have converted into Hinduism than left it.
Despite little statistical justification of love jihad being a noteworthy issue, multiple investigations by multiple investigative agencies all across India have been conducted; all of which failed to provide any evidence for the existence of love jihad.
In October 2018, the National Investigation Agency (India’s counter-terrorist force) found no evidence of a larger criminal design of forceful conversion and closed the Supreme Court-ordered investigation. Even the central government has denied love jihad in the parliament.
Numerous other Indian states repeatedly probed alleged cases of love jihad from several different agencies and have found the exact same results each time; such as Karnataka's CID in late 2009 and reaching the conclusion in early 2010, Kerala's police in late 2009 and reaching the conclusion in early 2012, and Uttar Pradesh's police in September 2014 and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in Kanpur in September 2020.
In fact, the BJP themselves admitted that they had no data or any proper definition available on love jihad.
“”The term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of ‘Love Jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.
|—G Kishan Reddy, BJP leader and Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs|
And yet, the myth persists, even when the concerns are directly dismissed by the supposed victims.
It is abundantly clear that the fear mongering over love jihad was not to raise awareness against forced marriages, or to protect Hindus either; but simply a manufactroversy to capitalise on the disdain of the largely conservative and Hindu population of Uttar Pradesh and other states for interfaith marriages and to further stoke already strong communal tensions.
- See the Wikipedia article on Love jihad.
- ‘Love jihad’ in India and one man’s quest to prevent it by Aman Sethi (29 Jan 2015 06.00 GMT) The Guardian
- How Hindutva vigilantes are battling ‘love jihad’ in Madhya Pradesh by Prateek Goyal (28 Dec 2020) Newslaundry
- Love Taboos: Controlling Hindu-Muslim Romances by Charu Gupta (Feb 5 2021) The India Forum
- Uttar Pradesh’s ‘Love Jihad’ Law Is Sexist, Unconstitutional by Surbhi Karwa & Prannv Dhawan (03 Dec 2020) article 14.
- ‘Love Jihad’: A Homage to Nuremberg & Anti-Miscegenation Laws by Vakasha Sachdev (22 Nov 2020, 6:00 AM IST) The Quint.
- THE SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT, 1954
- To Harass Hindu-Muslim Couples, Rightwing Activists Are Now Using Their Marriage Documents
- Investigation uncovers coercive tactics Hindutva groups use to battle 'love jihad' by Scroll (6 Oct 2015) Scroll
- Operation Juliet: Busting the Bogey of Love Jihad by Cobrapost (4 Oct 2015) Cobrapost
- RSS affiliate plans to marry 2,100 Muslim women to Hindu men from next week by Scroll (1 Dec 2007) Scroll
- Adityanath set to rake up Hindutva issues in bypolls by Rajesh Kumar Singh (30 Aug 2014) Hindustan Times
- See the Wikipedia article on Love Jihad § Official investigations.
- 'Love jihad' undefined, yet states rushing with anti-conversion laws by Prabhash K Dutta (November 18, 2020; Updated: November 18, 2020 17:35 IST) India Today.