How India's 'Love Jihad' law demonises Muslims

India's 'Love Jihad' law: The BJP's latest weapon against Muslims
5 min read
In-depth: 'Love Jihad' is a conspiracy theory propagated by right-wing Hindu extremists, who accuse Muslim men of luring Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam.
Indian states want to pass laws to prevent interfaith marriages. [Getty]
"My life is at ground zero. I have suffered for so long," laments 30-year-old Muhammed Reyaz, a Muslim from the south Indian state of Kerala.

On 8 November 2017, a news report on Asianet News, one of the most popular television channels in Kerala, reported a case filed in the southern state's High Court accusing Reyaz of forcefully converting a Hindu woman to Islam and conspiring to traffic her to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

He was charged under India's stringent anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Reyaz and Akshara Bose - a Hindu - had fallen in love in 2014 while they were studying in the southern city of Bangalore in India. 

Their relationship flourished and they married in 2016. But a year later, Reyaz was accused of 'Love Jihad' for marrying Bose. 'Love Jihad' is a conspiracy theory propagated by right-wing Hindu extremists in India which accuses Muslim men of trying to lure non-Muslim women into marriage to convert them to Islam. 

In February 2019, India's National Investigative Agency dropped the charges against Reyaz, saying there was no evidence against him. By that time, he had spent 76 days in jail for no reason at all. "I don't have energy to look back to that phase of my life," Reyaz told The New Arab. 

India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, passed a new anti-conversion law in November to target 'Love Jihad'

Allegations of 'Love Jihad' are largely deemed baseless by most judicial and investigative bodies. But India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed a new anti-conversion law in November to target 'Love Jihad', which carries a jail term of up to 10 years. At least four other states, including BJP-ruled Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, are drafting similar legislation. 

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Critics of the government say the new law is an attack on the country's secularism. "An individual has the fundamental right to adopt a religion of their choice, and to love and marry of their own choice," Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) told The New Arab.

"The 'Love Jihad' law is an attack on women's autonomy. The anti-conversion law in UP and in other states is an assault on the freedom of religious faith," she added.

"The so-called 'Love Jihad' law is an honour crime committed by the Uttar Pradesh government and ruling Hindu supremacist BJP party against interfaith love and marriage".

Ever since coming to power in 2014, winning a landslide victory in 2019 elections, critics have accused India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP of passing several laws targeting the country's 190 million Muslims, who constitute more than 14 percent of the country's population.

Hindu right-wing groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a powerful paramilitary organisation that exerts influence in virtually all levels of Indian society, have long accused Muslims of forcibly converting Hindu women into Islam through marriage, leading to violent reprisals.

Ever since coming to power in 2014, critics have accused India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP of passing several laws targeting the country's 190 million Muslims

In December 2017, a Muslim was hacked to death and set alight in India's western Rajasthan state. During the attack, which was captured on video, the suspect Shambu Lal issued a warning against all Muslims, saying: "This is what will happen to you if you do 'Love Jihad' in our country." 

"Numerous hate crimes are committed by right-wing vigilantes because of rumours of Love Jihad," said Suhail K.K, founder of the Delhi-based research and advocacy group Quill foundation. Quill foundation maintains a database of hate crimes on minorities called DOTO (Documentation of The Oppressed) that has recorded 37 cases of violence related to 'Love Jihad' since 2014. 

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"In none of the Love Jihad cases have police or accusing parties proved their allegations. There have been more than 10 judicial or police enquiries on Love Jihad and each one negated the existence of it," Suhail said.

Even though India's Special Marriage Act grants legal validity to marriages between people of different religions or castes, interfaith marriages are very rare in India. In many cases, even when interfaith couples marry, one of the spouses changes his or her religion to circumvent various legal challenges.

Hindu right-wing groups, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have long accused Muslims of forcibly converting Hindu women into Islam through marriage, leading to violent reprisals

Under the Special Marriage Act, interfaith couples can marry but they are required to give a month's public notice. "That month-long waiting period after publishing a notice of their intention to marry is the reason they are attacked by Hindu supremacist groups and forcibly separated. So instead they prefer for one of the partners to convert. If the month-long waiting period were removed, people would not convert to marry," Krishnan from the All India Progressive Women's Association said.

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In April 2018, India's Apex Court in a landmark judgement also upheld the right of citizens to choose their spouse and convert to another religion. However, many experts feel societal and politically polarised conditions in the country render such judgements ineffective. 

"Conversion is a personal choice, but in India, a person has to prove they are not radicalised. Through these new laws, social scrutiny becomes part of state surveillance," said Shaheen K Moidunni, a Research Scholar at the University of Leeds. The ruling BJP, however, says the law is not targeting any particular religious community.

"Those who engage in such types of unlawful activities (Love Jihad) and play with the emotions of the people and cheat them, the law is against those people and not anyone in particular," Chandra Mohan, spokesperson of BJP in Uttar Pradesh state, told The New Arab. "The idea is to prevent forceful religious conversion".

Hanan Zaffar is a journalist based in New Delhi and has written extensively on South Asian politics and minority issues. Follow him on Twitter: @HananZaffar

Shaheen Abdulla is a journalist based in New Delhi. His work has appeared in Vice, Caravan Magazine, and The Quint, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @shaheenjournal