Love Jihad, Conversion: Five Asymmetries That Hindus Must Come To Terms With

Love Jihad, Conversion: Five Asymmetries That Hindus Must Come To Terms WithWomen at a rally against love jihad
Snapshot
  • Laws cannot rectify this asymmetry beyond a point. It is for society to recognise the problem and deal with it.

Two news reports, one relating to a draft Uttar Pradesh law to prevent ‘love jihad and another about an Allahabad High Court decision to affirm a woman’s right to choose whom she wants to marry or live with, should bring all Hindus down to earth about a simple truth: courts and the law cannot do what a society itself refuses to do even when it has serious concerns on issues like conversions and demographic loss.

No law can prevent conversions during marriage unless society vaccinates itself against this outcome, just as anti-conversion laws cannot work unless society arms itself to both defend its numbers and gain converts from rival religions. Hindus have done neither.

Hindus face five asymmetries of power when it comes to Christianity and Islam, and if they do not adopt counter-measures, these asymmetries will ultimately overwhelm them demographically in India – the only place on earth where Hindus are in a majority.

The first asymmetry to address is the attitude to conversion, and weak institutional mechanisms in Hinduism to remedy this. You cannot expect to stem the outflow of Hindus to other religions if you do not have a conversion/reconversion strategy that can be scaled up to meet the challenges posed by two predatory, expansionist and imperialist religions.

In the battle for numbers, the two Abrahamic religions come with money and resources and institutional strengths to advance their causes, while Hindus are left to defend themselves unarmed. This is a losing strategy. You cannot fight guns with bare hands, or with a law that merely outlaws guns but cannot be enforced. But this is essentially what Hindus are trying to do.

If two religions are primed to seek converts, and the target religion is not equipped even to defend itself, what other outcome can there be but defeat?

The second asymmetry to address is patriarchy. All religions are patriarchal, and Islam more than any other. But Hinduism alone is driven by sheer naivete, where we are increasingly wise enough to educate our girls (when they are not terminated in the womb) to get jobs, but not hard-headed enough to educate them about their rights if they enter into inter-faith marriages.

Worse, if a Hindu woman fights for her religious identity or gender rights in such a marriage, Hindu society will not even rush to help them, and our politicians and courts will steer clear of “communalism”.

The courts are equally naive in this matter. In the Allahabad High Court case we referred to earlier, the bench made the following motherhood statement: “We do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who out of their own free will and choice are living together peacefully and happily (for) over a year.

The courts and the Constitutional courts in particular are enjoined to uphold the life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them is intrinsic to right to life and personal liberty. Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals.”

The problem with this statement is not its constitutional intent, but what it ignores in terms of underlying social reality. A woman who defies her family to marry outside her caste or religion effectively has to make peace with her husband’s family, failing which she will be left neither here nor there. If she asserts her religious identity in an inter-faith marriage, she may face covert or overt pressures to abandon them, and her children may also face discrimination.

In a patriarchal society, women in general are forced to adjust to their spouses’ culture and practices; what is the probability that Priyanka will be able to retain her Hindu identity even if she had wanted to?

Even in cases where, say, a Muslim boy falsely represents himself as Hindu and then, after cohabitation, decides to reveal that he is not Anand but Ahmed, which woman will have the courage to turn away and fight for her rights against the cheat, given the amount of emotional investment she has made in this relationship?

Even rape victims sometimes agree to marry their tormentors in order to salvage something of her life, so it is highly unlikely that a Priyanka will have the courage to hold on to her identity, conversion or no conversion. In Indian society, it is easier for a man to hold on to his identity in an inter-faith marriage than a woman.

Patriarchy ensures that inter-faith marriages are loaded against the woman more than the man.

The third asymmetry relates to personal laws and social customs. For Hindus, marriage ceremonies are ceremonies and rituals followed; they do not imply any conversion. In a niqah or a church wedding officiated by a Christian priest, conversion is mandatory before such weddings take place.

The only way the law can help is if personal laws are reduced to mere social constructs with no legal sanctity; bigamy also needs to be outlawed, personal law or no personal law. This will protect both Muslim and Hindu women on their marital rights, whether the marriage is within the same faith or inter-faith. But clearly women, especially Hindu women, need to be explained what they lose by agreeing to a niqah or church wedding.

Hindu society has to empower them to make the right choices with open eyes, and not make them fall into a trap they did not see when they married someone from another religion who they liked.

The fourth asymmetry relates to Muslim women, and the community male’s attitudes to them. Many wear full-face burkhas, and others cover their heads. Both types of women are also culturally warned to stay away from men, especially men outside their faith.

Thus, while Muslim men can meet up with Hindu women and date them fairly easily, a burkha-clad Muslim woman or girl is – by definition – declaring herself out of bounds for men and boys from another community. Very few non-Muslims will feel emboldened enough to approach Muslim girls and young women for even a casual meeting, leave alone a date.

This asymmetry can be addressed only if Muslim society modernises and changes its own patriarchal attitudes towards women, but that is a far cry right now. In the foreseeable future, this asymmetry will remain.

The fifth asymmetry relates to who Muslim society considers to be a Muslim, and its harsh rules on apostasy. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his book, Skin in The Game, Muslim demographic growth is aided by following two asymmetric rules.

The two asymmetric rules are as follows. First, under Islamic law, if a non-Muslim marries a Muslim woman, he needs to convert to Islam – and if either parent of the child happens to be Muslim, the child will be Muslim. Second, becoming Muslim is irreversible, as apostasy is the heaviest crime in the religion, sanctioned by the death penalty…

If Hindus are to hold their own, leave alone win, the battle of demography, they have to understand these asymmetries and find answers to them. Islam and Christianity are like Hotel California: anyone can enter, but none can leave (easily). Hinduism is the exact opposite: anyone can leave, but few can enter easily.

Laws cannot rectify this asymmetry beyond a point. It is for society to recognise the problem and deal with it.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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