The draconian law passed in the most populous state of India at the beginning of the year is spreading its roots throughout the country. ‘Love Jihad’ is a term used to define interfaith marriages, especially between Muslim men and Hindu women, which have made the lives of hundreds of interfaith couples challenging.

But why is India criminalizing inter-faith marriages? Are the pro-Hindu parties and organizations solely responsible for such laws? And is love jihad really as big of an issue as often portrayed?

Why is India Criminalizing Inter-faith Marriages?

Indian culture is a triumph of the imagination: an enormous mixture of cultures, languages, and worldviews, often at odds with one another, unified by the constitution that defines equal rights and common values for an enormous number of people. The secularism of the Indian constitution has been upheld despite the recent conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, the two largest religious communities in the country.

However, recently these principles are being challenged by a stark rise in Islamophobia throughout the country. Rooted in the sociopolitical ideology, asserting India as a Hindu country has been marginalizing the Muslim communities through policymaking, on-ground activism, and online propaganda.

One of these disfranchising policies is the legislative criminalization of interfaith marriages, so-called “Love Jihad.” On 24th November 2020, the state of UP passed an ordinance against the religious conversion in marriages named Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, popularly known as love jihad-a fanciful and baseless conspiracy theory accusing Muslim men of forcefully converting Hindu women to Islam by luring them into marriage.

Who to Blame: Flip Side of the Coin

Though successive probes fail in finding concrete evidence of such conspiracies, the ordinances have been made laws, currently in action in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. The focus while talking about these states goes straight to the fact that all these states are ruled by the pro-Hindu, BJP leaders, but when dived deeper, the demand for such laws from the public also comes out to be a driving reason behind such bills and laws.

Pew Research Center conducted a study entitled, Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation that sheds light on the reality of forced religious conversions and interfaith marriages. Amongst all the Hindus with a keen belief that being a Hindu is vital for being a true Indian, 76% deem it important to restrain Hindu women from being married off into another religion.

On the contrary to the premise of numerous laws against anti-faith marriages, statistically, religious conversions and inter-faith marriages are not much prevalent in India. In the Pew study, only 0.7% of the entire sample opted for religious conversion from Hinduism to any other religion, while 0.8% of the participants raised in different religions now identify themselves as Hindus. In another study conducted by the Indian Human Development Survey, out of all the married women, only a mere 2.2% were married outside their religion.

But, opposite to these numbers, media and politicians portray the issue of religious conversion as extremely widespread in India. Though there are a few cases of forced religious conversions, it definitely does not exist at the scale highlighted in TV news and political speeches.

Love Jihad: Not a New Theory

The recent escalation on the issue might sound new, but the inception of love jihad can be linked back to the 1920s, in the Shuddhi (purification) era. The Shuddhi movement was embarked to reclaim those Hindus who had been forcefully converted to other religions. The movement aimed at orchestrating propaganda campaigns and popular demagogic and inflammatory appeals from the sections of the society against the conversion of women into another religion.

But, with the other independence movements in rage, the Shuddhi movement faded. The current spike in the popularity of the love jihad issue started in 2009 with the Karnataka government’s fake claims of love jihad.

Love Jihad: The Alternate Reality?

The book Art of Conjuring Alternate Reality by academicians Anand Venkatanarayanan and Shivam Shanka Singh highlights how political parties alter the fact to make people believe in an issue that is not as prevalent as framed. According to the book, the BJP government aims to consolidate the Hindu vote bank of the country (Hindus constitute 80% of India’s population) by such campaigns. Be it the love jihad issue or the Ram Mandir, the main focus of these movements is to win the votes of the major population by creating an alternate reality.

The campaigns popularizing the Hindu ideology and making one feel proud of their religious belief are all part of the party’s election narrative. By creating the context of how Muslim men are conjuring to convert Hindu women to make India a Muslim-dominant country, BJP establishes the fear of ‘endangered Hindus’ to radicalize the communities.

Finally, the book concludes how the BJP, along with other pro-Hindu parties and organizations, created the virtual reality of love jihad, not to tackle the forceful conversions but to increase their votes.

In final words, forceful conversions are not a hoax; they are a daylight reality. It is, however, not clear what the evidence is for the scale at which the political leaders and TV media talk about the issue. The conversion laws imposed in several states do not completely ban inter-religious marriages, but still, the consented interfaith marriages are bearing the brunt of this belief of love jihad.