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Hilal English

Love Jihad Laws: Yet Another Face of Fascist Agenda

February 2021

Muslims living in India suffered widespread discrimination and violence even during the so-called golden days of Indian secularism, but with the rise of Narendra Modi in power even this façade has evaporated. Now, it is the unapologetic rule of extremist Hindu bigotry and the state-sanctioned and state-sponsored terrorism directed against Muslims, who comprise around 14 percent of India’s 1.36 billion population.

The latest excuse – fabricated by the right-wing Hindu groups to target Muslims – is the phantom of “Love Jihad” by which they mean that Muslim men lure Hindu women for marriage with an aim to convert them to Islam. 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its far-right Hindu allies are whipping up emotions of Hindus in the name of “Love Jihad,” though interfaith marriages historically are rare in India. 
The December 2020 issue of U.S.-publication Foreign Affairs quoted a 2013 study, which found that “less than five percent of Indians marry outside their caste and just over two percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had married outside their religions.” 
India watchers say that these numbers have not changed much since 2013. But for the extremist Hindu nationalists the so-called “Love Jihad” is one of the central issues as they target Muslims on the back of an organized propaganda campaign and through vigilante groups.
Indian media reports admit that Hindu vigilante groups snoop around in cities, towns and villages and resort to unbridled violence against Muslim men on the slightest suspicion of their romantic involvement with Hindu women. And in doing this, they enjoy complete tactical and practical support of the local administration, police and judiciary. 
This stands in contrast to Pakistan, where if any person belonging to the minority faith is targeted by any fundamentalist group or an individual, the state institutions and the provincial and federal governments are there to provide relief, address the injustice and punish the culprit. As it recently happened in the case of an attack on a Hindu temple in Karak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where not only perpetrators of the crime were arrested, but several policemen were suspended for failing to protect the Hindu place of worship. In a nutshell, in Pakistan the cases of religious bigotry, hate and violence against people belonging to religious minorities are not part of any government agenda or the state policy. But in India, hate, discrimination, victimization and violence are promoted against the religious minorities, particularly Muslims, in an organized manner by the government and state institutions. 
The UK publication, The Sunday Telegraph, in its Decemeber 12, 2020 issue reported the case of the first woman detained under India's controversial new 'Love Jihad' laws passed by the Uttar Pradesh assembly. 

For the BJP leadership, there is a selfish political reason behind creating an issue out of a non-issue; the ruling party wants to galvanize Hindu vote through its hate mongering and by targeting Muslims. Yes, since the rise of the BJP, the Indian nationalism is being defined more and more as Hindu nationalism in which there is no equal space for any religious minority – from Muslims to Christians and Sikhs to Parsis. Religious minorities, at the best, can live as second and third class citizens – always in fear and at the mercy of Hindu zealots.

“Yesterday a distraught Muskan Jahan, 22, called her mother-in-law, from a government shelter where she is being held in the city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, saying she had bled profusely and then lost her baby,” The Sunday Telegraph reported. Muskan's husband Rashid, 27, was being held in an unknown prison… at that time for allegedly coercing her into converting from Hinduism to Islam through marriage.
Only a month before this incident, the Uttar Pradesh assembly passed this controversial legislation of love jihad aimed at preventing Hindu women’s marriages with Muslims. However, this stringent law is not applied when a Muslim woman marries outside her faith. 
Indian and foreign media have been reporting that the saffron-clad Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, himself spearheaded the love jihad campaign, threatening Muslims of taking out their “funeral processions” if they “played with the honor of [their Hindu] sisters and daughters.” 
For the BJP leadership, there is a selfish political reason behind creating an issue out of a non-issue; the ruling party wants to galvanize Hindu vote through its hate mongering and by targeting Muslims. Yes, since the rise of the BJP, the Indian nationalism is being defined more and more as Hindu nationalism in which there is no equal space for any religious minority – from Muslims to Christians and Sikhs to Parsis. Religious minorities, at the best, can live as second and third class citizens – always in fear and at the mercy of Hindu zealots.  
India watchers say that the prime target of the BJP and its allies remains Muslims for now, whom they accuse of trying to bring a demographic change by marrying and converting Hindu women, but there are growing fears among other communities as well that the hounds of hate and violence would also be unleashed on them sooner than later.   
While a small section of Indian civil society protests against the string of the new discriminatory laws, targeting minorities, especially Muslims – even denying them the freedom to choose partners – there is a wide support for such extremist steps in the Indian society.  
In Uttar Pradesh, where the Love Jihad Law is being strictly implemented since its passage in November 2020, police arrested more than a dozen Muslim men for marrying or trying to marry Hindu women. In some cases, these allegations were totally fabricated, according to the local media. Interestingly, no Hindu man has been arrested on such charge.
The Uttar Pradesh love jihad law not only prohibits conversion by force, coercion, or financial inducement, but also “conversion by marriage.” According to this controversial law, if a person wants to convert to a different religion – whether for the purpose of marriage – he/she would have to give a 60-day notice to local authorities, which would ask the police to conduct an inquiry into the “real intention, purpose, and cause of the proposed religious conversion.”
Uttar Pradesh, home to India’s largest Muslim population, was the first to have slapped stringent punishments against religious conversions through marriage, followed by Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and other BJP-run states are also considering following the same route.
There are anti-conversion laws in at least eight out of the 29 Indian states, but they mostly aim at stopping forced conversions. However, the northern states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have made voluntary conversion through marriage also an offense since 2019. Those who remain committed to conversion now have to go through a complex new set of procedures before they could get themselves out of the pail of Hinduism. 
These love jihad laws have introduced a legal dichotomy in India as its constitution permits interfaith marriages and freedom of choice, but under new legislation this act is now a crime.  
Muslim leaders in India say that there is a growing fear among Muslim men that they can be arrested, tortured and even killed on any flimsy charge. The case of Haider Ali from Kushinagar town is an eye-opener. 
Indian media reported that the police arrested and tortured Haider Ali and threatened that he would be “skinned alive” for allegedly marrying a Hindu woman. But later it was found out that the bride was a Muslim by birth and Haider Ali was released.
A number of similar cases are being reported across India. Human rights groups say that the number of unreported cases of victimization of Muslim men in India surpass the reported ones.  
There appears no Muslim living in India who has not experienced discrimination. Now many Muslims fear for their lives as intolerance has become a new normal in this world’s so-called largest democracy. 
The backward and hostile laws like love jihad signify that whatever little political, legal and social rights and protections Muslims and other religious minorities enjoyed are eroding fast. Individuals now do not even have the right to choose whom to marry or to worship.   
The BJP’s aim is to officially transform India into an ethnic democracy – just like Israel where interfaith marriages are practically impossible.  
Along with the specter of love jihad, Muslims are regularly being hounded, attacked and in some cases even killed on the charges of cow slaughter, which also remains banned in India. According to Indian media, over the last three years more than 50 people, a majority of them Muslims, have been killed by Hindu vigilante groups, while scores of others were injured. 
In other oppressive legislations against Muslims, the BJP government in 2018 made triple talaaq (divorce) as per Muslim sharia law a criminal and punishable offence. This meddling in the sharia law is a clear signal that Muslims in India cannot live freely according to the tenets of Islam.
State terrorism in the occupied Kashmir – the only Muslim majority region under the illegal occupation of India – has also intensified since Modi came to power in 2014. On August 5, 2019, the Modi government scrapped the nominal autonomy given to Jammu and Kashmir under the Indian constitution as its status was reduced from a state to a union territory – placed directly under New Delhi’s thumb.
Other rash anti-Muslim steps include the November 2019 ruling of the Supreme Court under which it gave a green signal to build a Hindu temple on the site of the 16th century Babri Mosque, which was demolished by a frenzied Hindu mob in 1992. Modi inaugurated the construction of the temple on August 5, 2020 – the same day when Kashmiris lost their nominal autonomy and the process of making them strangers in their own land had started.   
As if these steps were not enough, in December 2019, the BJP government slapped the discriminatory citizenship law i.e., Citizenship (Amendment) Act that aims to strip tens of thousands of Muslims of their citizenship.
With the BJP pressing ahead with its anti-Muslim and anti-Islam agenda, there is a growing alienation and anger among Muslims not just living in India, but across the world. This anger can fan militancy and further broaden chasms in this artificially created and unnatural state, where nearly a dozen secessionist movements have all the potential to swing out of control. By trying to suppress, subjugate and victimize Muslims and interfere in the matters of their faith, Indian leadership is only speeding up the process of the slide of India into anarchy and its eventual fall. 

The writer is an eminent journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media.
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @AmirZia1