The major lacunae in the discourse over Love Jihad stem from its complete divorce from the social realities and history of Hindu-hatred
Several alleged cases of ‘Love Jihad’ made headlines this year.
Recently, in the case of a Chhattisgarh woman who married a Muslim man after he converted to Hinduism but allegedly converted back to Islam after marriage, the Supreme Court said that while inter-faith marriages are good for the society and need to be encouraged, the girl’s interests need to be protected as well.
The issue sparked a debate on Love Jihad. The predominant opinion in Indian academia is that Love Jihad is a "fake claim" cooked up by the ‘Hindu nationalists’ to demonise Muslims.
As we set out to trace the history and roots of the phenomena, it is important first to define Love Jihad. A stricter definition would limit the phenomena to cases where the man entices a non-Muslim woman, deceives her to win her trust and then marries her/ sexually exploits her with the intention of revenge against Hindus or to promote the cause of Islam by increasing the number of Muslims, or both.
Due to the intimate and complicated nature of such a relationship, such an exclusive motivation is hard to prove in a court of law, even if the case involves other crimes like beatings and harassment.
Many a lawyers compare this situation- where a man marries a woman just to convert her to Islam- similar to one where a man marries a woman with the malafide intention of, say, grabbing her money, and hence, they argue, it may be a ground for divorce, but not a criminal case.
Since a man marrying a woman with the intention to convert her is no worse a case than a man marrying a woman for her property, based on this reasoning, the matter is a non-issue and outrage about it is over-amplified.
There are two problems with this- one, when a woman is lured by a man for conversion purposes, not only it is a breach of trust, but necessarily involves psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse of the woman.
Second, there have been allegations that there are foreign-funded Islamist organisations that promise money and other rewards to youth who lure non-Muslim women into marriage and conversion. Therefore, the interfaith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man may not be just an expression of former’s individual choice, but a result of organised and systematic ‘grooming’.
In Shahan Sha A vs State Of Kerala, the High Court itself said that there was a “concerted effort” to convert girls of other religions to Islam and marry them off to Muslim men. The role of the organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) came out in the case.
The court noted that there had been 3,000-4,000 such conversions in the past four years, and it was clear there was a concerted effort to convert girls of a particular religion to another with the 'blessings of some outfits'.
In 2010, a Marxist leader of Kerala defied his own party line over ‘Love Jihad’. CPM member V S Achuthanandan, the then Chief Minister of Kerala, told the press in Delhi that the PFI was indulging in divisive activities with the aim of "turning Kerala into a Muslim majority state.
In 2017, a sting operation was carried out by India Today. In a report titled ‘Operation Conversion Mafia: Kerala’s Conversion Factories Unmasked’, the team reported what they caught on camera- the functionaries of PFI declaring their goal of converting India into an Islamic nation, and proudly boasting of converting thousands of women to Islam through institutions disguised as ‘educational’ or ‘charitable’.
The major lacunae in the discourse over Love Jihad is its complete divorce from the social realities and history of Hindu-hatred.
Just like the cow, the body of Hindu woman has long been the instrument of expressing the ‘might of Islam’ and subjugation of Hindus.
The Hindu men were derided as weak and effeminate, and their women taken away as the legitimate reward of conquest for the Muslim invaders.
Prof K S Lal notes in an essay, “..the largest number of slave girls was collected during raids, campaigns and wars throughout the medieval period.. from the time of Muhammad bin Qasim onwards, it was a consistent policy to kill all males, especially those capable of bearing arms, and enslave their hapless women.”
The captured women and children were forcibly converted to Islam. Those who resisted were tortured and killed.
Lal further notes that the enslaved women had two main functions to perform, domestic service and providing sex if and when required.
He quotes Ibn Battuta, an Moroccan Muslim traveller who visited Mohammad bin Tughlaq’s court, describing celebrations such as Id:
“First of all, daughters of Kafir (Hindu) Rajas captured during the course of the year, come and sing and dance. Thereafter they are bestowed upon Amirs and important foreigners. After this daughters of other Kafirs dance and sing... The Sultan gives them to his brothers, relatives, sons of Maliks etc. On the second day the durbar is held in a similar fashion after Asr. Female singers are brought out... the Sultan distributes them among the Mameluke Amirs”
Lal says that under Aurangzeb, not only the women and children of the Rajputs and Marathas were regularly enslaved during raids and invasions, but even nobles of lesser note indulged in reckless enslavement throughout. This implies that the abduction of Hindu women and using them as sex-slaves was not an exceptional occurrence, but commonplace.
Lal puts the number of non-Muslim women distributed in the above manner in later years in thousands. He further notes that the number of such captured slave girls was so high that all of their names couldn’t be changed to Islamic ones (a common practice during conversion).
Manucchi notes about such captured women that they “...are Hindus by race, who had been carried off in infancy from various villages or the houses of different rebel Hindu princes. In spite of their Hindu names, they are however,-Mahomedans.”
Such abduction, enslavement and conversion was not just a case of the victorious party engaging in brutalising a defeated people, but a policy with clear and deliberate demographic goals.
Margoliouth observes, “Abu Bakr probably was aware that women are more amenable to conversion than men..” Women slaves turned concubines could increase Muslim population by leaps and bounds when captured in large numbers. Hence there was particular keenness on enslaving women from the very beginning of Islam, notes Lal.
It is important to note than targeting of non-Muslim women wasn’t only a war-time phenomena. Grounded in deeper ideological goals, it was promoted through art and literature as well.
A large corpus of Indo-Islamic texts including Persian, Urdu poems on the mystery of love, exclusively between a Muslim boy and Hindu girl, have underlying assumption of inferiority of polytheists and idol-worshippers, and their women, who need to saved by the glorious Muslim man.
Such poems, scholars point out, had a proselytising goal. The poems glorified the Muslim boy’s struggle against the Hindu society, which represented a degenerate structure to be destroyed by the heroic Muslim boy, while the Hindu girl symbolised the weak, desirable creature to be saved and savoured by the strong, masculine Muslim male. In many such poems, the culmination was subject’s conversion to Islam, transforming their previous deviant behaviour as infidel to a manifestation of “true love”
A lot of present-day scholars hold Hindu Right responsible for the "fake claim" of Love Jihad, arguing that the “the abducted and converted Hindu woman was metamorphosed into a symbol of both sacredness and humiliation, and hence of the victimisation of the whole Hindu community” by the Hindu Right.
It is quite surprising that our academicians inevitably start the story of ‘Love Jihad’ from the ‘virulent Hindutva’ of the 1920s instead of going back further in the search of truth. The assumption-cum-conclusion is that ‘Love Jihad’ it is a complete fiction pulled out of thin air, without any kernel of truth.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Islamist ideological goals behind targeting non-Muslim women is visible in their continuity to present times. The notions that motivated past Hindu persecution, largely unchallenged by scholars and activists, continue today as well as flourish.
The manifestation of Hindu hatred in targeting Hindu women is starkly visible in Islamic Republic of Pakistan where Hindu minor girls are routinely abducted, converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men. All this happens with clear support and encouragement of the Muslim clerics and the state apparatus, and without any international outrage.
The infamous Muslim grooming gangs in Britain also revealed the selective targeting of non-Muslim young girls. Last year, the Sikh Mediation and Rehabilitation Team Charity made public a report saying that the Muslim gang members have been systematically targeting Sikh girls of Indian background, for almost 50 years!
The report stated that the the girls would be lured by “fashionably dressed Pakistani men pretending a modern outlook. They would roam around in flamboyant vehicles in areas and schools with predominantly Sikh population”.
Long back in 2007, reports emerged that Islamic extremists had gained ground in different universities of UK, and were targeting and forcibly converting Hindu women. They were reportedly paid £5,000 ‘commission’. Their aggressive conversion tactics included stalking, beating up those who protest, and forcing women to drop out of college.
It is also noteworthy that most of the convicted 'grooming gang’ members were married and well-respected within their community. One gang member convicted of sex trafficking was a religious studies teacher at a mosque and a married father of five.
The hatred for polytheists and idol-worshippers, aspirations of demographic ascendance, and the targeting of non-Muslim women are deeply connected issues, and the Islamist rhetoric filled with the above is remarkably similar even when separated in space and time.
It is important to note here that all of the above- including the demographic goal- are stated by the Muslim leaders themselves, and not just a ‘fake claim’ by ‘Hindu nationalists’.
Victims of Love Jihad
Several courageous women victims of Love Jihad have come forward with their stories.
Their horrifying experiences include being deceived into a relationship/marriage by a boy disguised under a Hindu name, who only revealed later that he is a Muslim and forced the woman to convert.
The pressurising tactics include threatening to make viral their intimate photographs and videos, isolating the woman from her family by snatching away her phone, force-feeding beef, boy’s family members ganging up against the woman, beatings, snatching away her belongings, throwing away things of her pooja, threatening physical assault over usage of any Hindu symbols like Sindoor, insulting Hinduism and Hindus, telling her that god’s wrath will fall on her if she continued worshipping false gods of other religions and she will burn in hell.
The Islamic marriage involves a necessary conversion to Islam which is accompanied by a name-change. So, the woman not only has to leave her previous belief system, but also the name she has been known by all her life!
The nikah is a one-way street because the woman cannot convert out of Islam, as apostasy is punishable by death under Shariah, and the woman would invite serious danger to herself and her children if she gives any such indication. In fact, she has to try harder to prove otherwise.
Unfortunately, we only hear of the victims of Love Jihad when a woman can muster up enough courage, resources and support from family members that she chooses to speak up.
On the other hand, most women victims of such cases silently suffer for lack of options. They hold themselves responsible for their fate and are ashamed to speak up. Even if the nikah/conversion is voluntary and the women receive applause from their in-laws for for leaving the way of false faiths and coming to Islam, it slowly dawns on them that they have been a pawn in a larger scheme of things.
Their pain of losing their identities is occasionally expressed on social media under anonymity. They encounter hatred for the religion they were born in, are not allowed to express themselves in the ways they could before, they are not allowed to meet their parents and mingle with them as they may pollute their minds with Hinduism. They are not allowed to remember and cherish their past life as a ‘polytheist’. Special care is taken that the children don’t learn anything about Hinduism and the mother is forbidden to do so. Often, despite conversion, they are ill-treated and behind the veneer of affection, it is made quite clear that any deviance will resulting punishments as harsh as being turned into a sex-slave of the family.
In the light of above observations, the real questions that need to be asked are, one, isn’t using a romantic/marital/sexual relationship with a woman for proselytising goals a breach of her autonomy? Does this process constitute, if not physical and verbal, serious psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse of a woman? Does conversion in such cases works as an instrument to control the woman by erasing her identity?
Despite the issue being deeply embedded in the history of Hindu persecution and continuing Hinduphobia, to try and hide the reality of such cases in the garb of patriarchal-in-general is utterly dishonest.
The approach fails to differentiate between the social practices and the practices that are motivated by religious beliefs. Former are based on the threat of social sanctions while latter are motivated by manipulating the deeply personal relationship of a person with God. Former operate on a community level, while latter operate on an individual level- a person considers it his personal duty to convert the woman into Islam to gain spiritual merit.
To conclude, whatever perspective one takes on ‘Love Jihad’, it can be safely said that it is not a conspiracy cooked out of thin air by Hindu nationalists. The phenomena has deeper historical roots and ideological motivations that need to be uncovered and understood. Intellectual dishonesty over such issues can only worsen the polarisation.