Several Hindi newspapers continue to support “Love-Jihad” law, carrying stories and opinion pieces in upholding it. “Love-Jihad” is an unproven conspiracy theory designed and propagated by the Hindutva forces to demonize the Muslim men for feigning love for the Hindu women. According to the Hindutva narrative, Muslim men marry Hindu women and later convert them into Islam for changing the religious demography of the country.
On November 28 (2020), “Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020” – an ordinance which was earlier cleared by the cabinet headed by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath – was given assent by the Governor Anandiben Patel. According to the media report, the ordinance, with the assent of the Governor, comes into force in the state. The law– popularly known as “Love-Jihad” law– outlaws conversion if the latter is done through “misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage”. A person found guilty in the law may be jailed for up to 10 years.
The Organiser (December 6, 2020, p. 16), an organ of the RSS, does not realize that its report had ended up calling Hindu women as “gullible”, while defending the new law: “The Yogi government has introduced a new law to curb rising cases of love jihad where gullible Hindu girls are trapped in fraudulent marriages for converting them into Islam. As per the new law, violators can get 10 years in jail. The UP government has said that this law aims to prohibit religious conversion done using dishonest means like false representation, through force, influence, torture, allurement or for the sake of marriage” (Emphasis added).
The report in The Organiser goes on to claim that such a law saves the Dalits and Adivasi women from the Muslims. As is evident elsewhere, the Hindu right-wingers do not try to justify any anti-Muslim law by calling it beneficial for SCs and STs. Even during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, the Hindutva forces claim that the CAA has been enacted to fulfill the dreams of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Again, the Hindutva forces are trying to sell the “Love-Jihad” law by invoking the names of SCs and STs. The report quotes Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Minister Sidharth Nath Singh as saying that “The Cabinet has taken a big decision… it was necessary for maintaining normal law and order in the state and to ensure justice for women, especially those from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”. Further, Siddhartha Nath Singh claimed that over 100 cases of “forcible conversions” have been traced.
The report also included the statement of Union Minister Giriraj Singh, who goes on to say that the ‘Love Jihad’ is “cancer for social harmony”, demanding the Bihar government to enact such a law. “I think love jihad has become a cancer for social harmony today. Now many states are enacting laws for it. Bihar too needs to work on this for social harmony without calling it communalism,”
According to the report, Kanpur SIT has traced 11 cases of Love Jihad. As the report says, “The Special Investigation Team formed by the U.P government to prove into the Love Jihad cases in the state has found Love Jihad angle in 11 out of 14 cases it probed. In three of these cases, Muslim men used fake names to hide their religion to lure girls. The accused in all these 11 cases are behind bars now. Four Muslim men who are accused in Love Jihad were found to be in touch with each other. These findings prove that there are systematic efforts from the part of Romeo-Jihadists to convert Hindu women in the name of love”.
Writing an opinion piece in Dainik Jagran (Dec 4), Shankar Saran upholds “Love-Jihad” conspiracy and supports the Yogi Government for enacting a law against it. For him “Love-Jihad” is a “danger” (Khatra) and this danger has an international dimension. “It is not only a problem in India. Like militant jihad (sashatra jihad) Love-Jihad is an international problem. The Sikh community in England has been facing this problem for three decades. The Muslim men, pretending to be Sikh, deceitfully convert Sikh girls (to Islam)”. Unfortunately, Shankar Saran is not ready to accept that the Sikh women might have had agency and she might have chosen a partner from another community freely.
The purported phenomenon of the Hindus being converted to Islam/Christianity has generated huge controversies in modern India. Even during the debates of the Constituent Assembly, Hindu right-wing members sought to ban conversion. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly on December 6, 1948, Lokanath Misra (Orissa: General) opposed recognizing the propagation of religion as a fundamental right: “Indeed in no constitution of the world right to propagate religion is a fundamental right and justiciable”.
Since freedom of religion is an inseparable part of secularism and liberal constitution, a ban on conversion could not be agreed upon. But the Hindu right-wingers never gave up their “agenda” and they have made several attempts to put impediments in the path of one’s freedom of religion. The new law against “Love-Jihad” should be seen within this context that gives the bureaucrats much power to decide what constitutes “lawful” conversion and what “unlawful” one.
No surprise that soon after the law was enforced in Uttar Pradesh, a witch-hunt against the Muslim (young) men began. The media reports that a 28-year old Muslim youth has been arrested in Bareilly under the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. He has been accused of trying to forcibly convert a Hindu girl.
As is evident here, the law against “Love-Jihad” has created a sense of fear among the Muslim minority. It is also being used to further polarize society and divert the attention of unemployment and destitution to imaginary religious conflict. The other BJP-ruled states, therefore, are likely to enact a similar law in their respective states.
It is not only against the Muslims but also the women. In the Hindu right discourse on “Love-Jihad”, it is often argued that the “gullible” Hindu women are being converted by the Muslim youth. The question is how one brands the women from the whole Hindu community as “gullible” and “naïve”. Is not such a discourse anti-women first because it does not recognize women’s agency and her choice to chose her partner?
Even in the matter of conversion, the Hindi right continues to take a doubt-standard approach. While it opposes conversion and never gets tired of accusing the followers of Islam and Christianity of “unlawfully” converting “gullible” Hindus, it does not accept that how many Hindutva organizations are active in converting Adivasis, Dalits, lower castes, and religious minorities to Hinduism. Even the basis of excluding Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians from the Scheduled Caste list by an “abrupt Presidential Order of 1950” is based on religion.
As opposed to the Hindu Right’s opposition to conversion from many platforms, Babasaheb Ambedkar has seen conversion as “emancipation” for Dalits. Speaking in Kalyan on May 17, 1936, Ambedkar questioned the orthodox who had questioned him about his conversion plan: “Some people often raise the question, ‘Why should we change our religion?’. Then I feel an impulse to ask a counter-question, ‘Why should we not change our religion?’”. After a while, he said, “To change this degraded and disgraceful existence into a golden life, conversion is absolutely necessary” (B.R. Ambedkar, “Conversion as Emancipation”, Critical Question, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 3&6).
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org).