‘Love jihad’ has become a political weapon of the right-wing groups to fuel a divisive narrative. When the Chief Ministers of the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Haryana recently spoke about their plan to bring an effective law against love jihad, they were only following a familiar pattern that seeks to demonise the Muslim community and deepen a sense of otherness. Love jihad has been turned into a political slur to target inter-faith marriages involving Muslim men and Hindu women. The move to introduce special laws betrays regressive thinking and an obsession with a political bogey that is being kept alive for the purpose of communal polarisation. Both the Chief Ministers — Yogi Adityanath and Manohar Lal Khattar—cited the recent murder of a student in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh to justify the need for such a legal provision. Some Hindu outfits have alleged that the murder of Nikita Tomar by a Muslim stalker was a case of love jihad while the victim’s family members claimed that she was being pressurised to convert to Islam. While the perpetrator of this heinous crime must be punished, any attempt to peddle a larger conspiracy theory and spread hatred against a community will be counterproductive and damage the social fabric. It must be pointed out that the Union Home Ministry told the Lok Sabha earlier this year that no ‘love jihad’ cases were reported by Central agencies in the country and, in fact, it was not defined under existing laws.
The Ballabhgarh tragedy has roots in the culture of stalking, male entitlement and gender violence. Viewing such horrific crimes only through a communal prism would mean ignoring the real issues that lead to violence against women. And, the notion of love jihad assumes that women are gullible, passive and defenceless participants in a relationship. A law for regulating interfaith marriages is a preposterous idea that violates the fundamental right of people to choose their partners. It puts the state in the role of an arbiter between consenting adults, a position that is incongruous with modernity. Such laws will give scope for widespread misuse and will be at odds with the Constitution’s guarantee of civil liberties and prohibition of discrimination by the state on grounds of religion and gender. More alarmingly, Yogi Adityanath has even threatened physical violence against those who lure Hindu girls using fake religious identity and later resort to forcible conversion. The recent outrage over an advertisement for Tanishq jewellery, showing a Hindu daughter-in-law in a Muslim household, reflects the level of toxicity that has crept into the social discourse. Along with khap panchayats and honour killings, such reactions only confirm that antediluvian notions of marriage being viewed as a form of conquest are still alive.
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