By Flavia Agnes
Nov 08, 2014
Saif Ali Khan, in the context of the recent “love jihad” controversy, wrote in a newspaper: “When Kareena and I married, there were similar death threats, with people on the Net saying ridiculous things about ‘love jihad’”. A child of inter-faith marriage himself, he goes on to remind us that similar death threats were also issued when his parents, the Nawab of Pataudi and the then reigning Bollywood queen, Sharmila Tagore, a Brahmin, got married. In a candid account he states that rather than hatred towards any religion, this has made him more Hindu and more Muslim, and has taught him to respect all religions.
This self-proclamation set me thinking. Most of the other Khans of Bollywood have also married Hindu women… Shah Rukh, Aamir, Imran, Irrfan, Arbaaz… the list goes on. Each of them, as the charge by cultural/political outfits such as the Hindu Jagran Manch, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, etc. goes, plan to produce Muslim children to augment the Muslim population in the country. According to these Right-wing outfits, a Muslim man’s love for a Hindu woman is always politically motivated and, hence, is not love at all.
According to Prof. Tanika Sarkar, a historian, communal stereotypes abound in all communities, but those of the majority community enjoying state power carry far greater import. The “love jihad” campaign diligently perpetuates the myth of the insatiably lustful Muslim man. Hindu women, in contrast, are made out to be helpless and innocent, women who cannot understand their own feelings and are prone to seduction. This venomous propaganda has been wreaking havoc in the lives of young couples.
In the recent case which came to light of a 22-year-old in Meerut, who retracted her earlier complaint to the police about gang rape and forced conversion, the political motive is clearly visible. The police had to later file a case of threat to murder against her own parents. She alleged that a BJP functionary had offered her family `25,000, and assured them more financial help in future. But once the money stopped coming, and the security cover was removed, the family planned to kill her. So the girl ran away in the early hours of the morning, and reached the police station and sought state protection.
She revealed that she had gone away with the boy out of her own volition, but her parents had pressured her to file a case of gang rape against the boy and his friends. Eight Muslim boys had been arrested and the charge sheet filed in the court. Since there is no possibility of withdrawing the complaint or settling the case between the parties, as the rape law does not permit it, the trial must proceed. Under the recently amended IPC, the minimum punishment for gang rape is 20 years which can extend to life, which means the remainder of their lives!
Many such cases have been reported in the press, which would be farcical if they weren’t so tragic. For instance, the elopement of a 14-year-old Dalit girl a year ago in Jalandhar was, at the instigation of local BJP members, reported as a case of “love jihad”. It later came to light that the boy was a Brahmin.
In another recent case from Jobat, a small town in a tribal-dominated district in Madhya Pradesh, a girl who had eloped with a Christian boy was tracked down and brought back and the superintendent of police declared their Arya Samaj wedding performed in haste as void. The girl was sent to a Nari Niketan as she refused to return to her parents. The members of the Hindu Jagran Manch wanted the boy booked for luring the girl into marriage but the police declined as the girl was a major, and had given a statement that she loved the boy. Since the boy’s life was in danger, he was escorted to Indore under police protection. When questioned, the superintendent of police told the media that he did what appeared to be the best solution under the circumstances since around 300-400 activists had gheraoed his office and the threat of arson and damage to government property was looming large.
There is an ironic twist here. The entire trend of so-called “love jihad” originates from down south in Kerala where the Christian church had first protested that gullible Christian girls are loved, converted, married and then discarded by Muslim men. Right-wing Hindu organisations picked it up and turned into a political strategy.
In Karnataka, where the term was first used publicly to denounce a love marriage in 2009, also turned into a fiasco. An 18-year-old from a small town near Bengaluru had eloped with a 24-year-old Muslim boy. The efforts of the father to bring her back failed as she had married and settled down in her husband’s family. The BJP-ruled state ordered an inquiry, but when the politics of the state turned, the case fizzled out. The new Congress government’s advocate told the court that there are no cases of “love jihad” in the state.
Five years later, the bogey of “love jihad” has spread across the country, with inter-religious marriages being seen as part of a political conspiracy. This brings me back to Saif Ali Khan’s article where he states: “The good news is that no one needs to convert from their religion to get married. The Special Marriage Act, when applicable, is the paramount law of the land... It is truly secular.”
Indeed. Why don’t couples wishing to contract inter-faith marriages take recourse to this truly secular law of the country? Because it is not a viable option in a communally-vitiated atmosphere where the couple faces a threat to their lives. The notice period of one month and the display of notice outside the Marriage Registrar’s office is a major hitch. There is regular surveillance by Right-wing political activists of these offices and when a case of inter-faith marriage is noticed, the parents are informed and the girl kept hostage until she succumbs to pressure. So a quickie Arya Samaji wedding is the only option for a couple on the run, which has the danger of being invalidated.
Within this communally vitiated atmosphere, where every interfaith marriage is viewed as a political conspiracy and every effort is made to keep Hindu girls “pure” from contamination of Muslim boys, how can the same political party also spearhead another campaign which is steadily gaining ground, that of enforcing a Uniform Civil Code?
Beyond the superficiality of the stated agenda of “national integration”, both the campaigns are tied together in their anti-Muslim ideology. There’s fear of Muslims increasing their population, either through marrying Hindu women or through the practice of polygamy. But how can the enforcement of a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all Indians help the campaigners opposing “love jihad” if the code is meant to erase religious identities and merge them into a composite national identity? How will the BJP solve this riddle? Perhaps to tide over this tricky situation, the UCC may have a proviso that no Muslim (or men from other minority communities) will be allowed to marry a Hindu woman under the proposed Uniform Civil Code.
Flavia Agnes is a women’s rights lawyer and consultant to RAHAT, a collaboration between department of women and child development, Maharashtra, and Majlis Legal Centre.