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.
What Does Shraddha Walker’s Murder Mean for Love in India?
Earlier this month, India was shocked by the news of the murder of 28-year-old Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla. Aftab had killed Shraddha merely three days after they moved into their new home in Delhi in May this year. Aftab had cut the body of Shraddha into 35 pieces and stored them in a fridge. He was gradually disposing of the body parts in a nearby forest area.
Interfaith Couple and Sensational Murder Trial
After the news of Shraddha’s murder broke in mid-November following the arrest of Aftab Poonawalla, it became a sensational murder trial. The murder was debated on prime-time debates on TV.
While the murder was chilling and one could expect it to cause a sensation, it became a sensational murder trial for very wrong reasons in India. The fact that Shraddha and Aftab were an interfaith couple made it a sensational murder.
Even though Aftab has claimed that he killed Shraddha in a fit of rage while they were fighting, the police are yet to establish the motive for the murder. The media trial, however, has given a religious colour to the murder. Some people, including those on TV debates, have dressed the murder in the language of religion.
The religious colour given to the Shraddha murder and the transcending of the murder beyond its context is a result of the Love Jihad discourse adopted by the ruling right-wing party BJP. BJP used Loved Jihad as an electoral issue in many state elections.
At present, eleven states where BJP is in power have passed legislation against Love Jihad. The argument by the Hindu nationalists is that Muslim men intentionally fall in love with Hindu women and then these men force the women to convert from Hinduism to Islam.
There are also attempts to demonize Muslims after the murder of Shraddha. A man from the UP state recently went on TV to support the actions of Aftab. He claimed to be a Muslim, named Rashid Khan and justified the cutting of Shraddha into 35 pieces.
When the police arrested the said man, it was found that he is a Hindu, named Vikas Gupta.
Vikas Gupta’s statement went viral on social media and Muslims were called out and demonized for his statement.
A Setback to the Freedom to Love in India?
Shraddha’s sensational murder trial has raised questions about love in India. It will hurt the hard-won right of freedom to love.
There are two aspects to be considered. First is the freedom of young people to love or live in live-in relationships. Since the news of the murder reached almost every home in India, it will scare people from getting into live-in relationships. Further, society will also be suspicious of these relationships. Live-in couples already face difficulty in negotiating the conservative society in India and the case will only exacerbate it. For instance, live-in couples in India find it difficult to find a house or rented accommodation. Aftab and Shraddha also lived in rented accommodation. More people than ever before will now hesitate to rent their accommodations to live-in couples.
Second, as discussed above Shraddha’s murder will make it worse for interfaith couples to negotiate everyday life in India. Even though India was never a safe place for interfaith couples, the case is going to make society hostile to interfaith love. Those who were already against interfaith love will use this case to further cement their position on Love Jihad.
Further, society in general parents of young people in particular will turn hostile against love.
A Difficult Task Ahead
The sensational murder trial and the media trial of Shraddha’s murder by Aftab have raised questions about love in India. Further, the discourse of Love Jihad is also back. Hindu nationalists will make sure that the case is exploited to its full to make a case for Love Jihad.
For those in India, who want to preserve the hard-won right of freedom to love, the task ahead is very difficult. Even though the case has already become sensational, they must make sure that it is restricted to its immediate context. If the case transcends its immediate context, hate will win against love. Love must triumph!
Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives
A proscribed militant outfit in Kashmir recently made anonymous online threats to over a dozen journalists belonging to several media organizations. The outfit published the threat on a website and people circulated it on social media. The Kashmiri journalists were accused of being “collaborators”. Five of the journalists who were threatened have already resigned.
Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and launched an investigation. On November 19, police raids were underway at the residences of journalists Gowhar Geelani, Qazi Shibli, Rashid Maqbool, Khalid Gul, Waseem Raja, Sajad Kralyari & militant Momin Gulzar, Mukhtar Baba and advocate Abu Adil Pandit.
The police alleged that The Resistance Front (TRF), which is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was behind the threat to journalists. The security agencies further found that journalist Mukhtar Baba was the mastermind behind putting out the list of journos accusing them of being informers for security forces. Baba, who is currently based in Turkey, is has worked as a journalist in Kashmir. He is familiar with the media environment in Kashmir. The police also revealed that Baba is very close to Pakistani intelligence agencies.
The police requested media houses “not to fall for sensationalism in discussing names of victims in reporting and also to behave responsibly and not endanger the safety and security of their fellow journalists”.
Battle of Narratives
The ongoing battle of narratives in Kashmir between pro-India and anti-India has created a false and dangerous binary in Kashmir. Journalists, who work for various media houses and newspapers in Kashmir, increasingly face themselves choosing sides between anti-India and pro-India narratives. Choosing sides has led journalists into a trap. If they report and support the pro-India narrative, militant groups accuse them of being collaborators. If they report anti-India narrative, the Indian security agencies accuse them of supporting terrorism in the region. In this vicious cycle, many journalists have lost their lives, and many are languishing in jails.
Kashmiri Journalists Face Killings and Jail
The same Let killedpProminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 in Srinagar. The police alleged that Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul was responsible for his killing.
In February this year, the police booked and arrested Fahad Shah, the Editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, under anti-terrorism law and sedition for his reporting on Kashmir. He continues to be in jail. His online magazine faces several cases for reporting controversial news. The security agencies have alleged that Fahad was propagating fake news through his portal.
In August 2018, the police arrested Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor of the magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the anti-terror law. The police accused him of “harbouring known militants”.
There are several other stories of Kashmiri journalists being harassed by militants and police alike. While militants make death threats to journalists, the security agencies in Kashmir arrest and intimidate the journalists. There are several cases where chilling details of threat and intimidation of journalists by police have emerged.
In October this year, Indian authorities prevented Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to the US. Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. She was flying to the US to receive the award. Earlier in July this year, Indian authorities prevented Mattoo from travelling to Paris.
This was not the first time that Indian authorities prevented a Kashmiri journalist from flying abroad. Several other journalists were prohibited from flying.
Also Read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir
Journalists in Dilemma
The threats by the militants and the harassment by the Indian agencies have put Kashmiri journalists in dilemma. They do not know when their reporting will invoke the wrath of Indian agencies or the militants. It is a huge risk to invoke the wrath of any one of them.
As a result, political reporting in Kashmir has become very difficult. Various news agencies, in order to evade the binary, do not cover political issues. They just restrict their reporting highlighting societal issues.
Hence, in this battle of narratives, objective political reporting has become the real victim.
Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir
The Forgotten Jammu Massacre
In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.
An Orchestrated Massacre
Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.
Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.
The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.
On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”
After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.
According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.
Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.
According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”
Covering up of the Jammu Massacre
While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.
India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.
Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.
Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir
What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?
The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.
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