Love jihad”: India’s crusade against Muslim “Romeos”

Love jihad”: India’s crusade against Muslim “Romeos”

India’s leaders have strange priorities, said Sadanand Dhume in The Wall Street Journal. At a time when the country is facing a raging pandemic, an economic slump and border tensions with China, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is taking up arms against... “love jihad”. This is the term used by radical Hindu groups to describe the alleged phenomenon of Muslim men luring Hindu women into marrying them as a means of converting them to Islam. 

The Indian Right has been waging a noisy campaign against these “Romeos”, calling for, among other things, a boycott of Netflix for showing an interfaith kissing scene in its dramatisation of the Vikram Seth novel A Suitable Boy. Five BJP-ruled states, including India’s most populous, Uttar Pradesh, have drawn up laws against “love jihad”. The Uttar Pradesh authorities last week made arrests under such laws for the first time – detaining several Muslim men and even halting a wedding in Lucknow. This crackdown “reeks of prejudice”, said The Tribune (Chandigarh). Successive inquiries have failed to turn up any evidence of such a Muslim conspiracy. It’s a “figment of paranoid imagination”. That BJP-ruled states have nevertheless jumped on this bandwagon, when laws already exist to prevent people being tricked or forced into marriage, shows their real intention is just to demonise India’s 200-million strong Muslim minority. The Uttar Pradesh law reverses the burden of proof, obliging any interfaith couple to show that their union isn’t illegal. It’s an attack on personal liberty and an insidious move towards criminalising conversion, even by choice. The war on “love jihad” is clearly designed to whip up anti-Muslim hatred, in order to consolidate the Hindu vote, said Pragya Tiwari on Al Jazeera (Doha). But it will also have the unwelcome effect of entrenching India’s patriarchal norms. 

The idea is “rooted in the mindset that women are chattels”; that they are gullible, innocent creatures without any agency, who must be protected against marauders. There is a strong element of sexism at work here, agreed Mohan Rao in the Indian Express (Noida). “Choice marriages” (as opposed to arranged ones) comprise less than 4% of all unions in India, but conservatives, who fear female empowerment, would much rather that share were smaller still. India’s young women want the freedom to study, to reclaim public spaces from sexual violence, and to marry whom they want, or not marry at all. This is “the stuff of nightmares” for hidebound Hindu nationalists.

 

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