By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Love Jihad rhetoric is back in action in almost all the BJP ruled states as they compete each other in proclaiming to bring a law against it to stop the ‘conspiracy’ to convert the Hindu girls into Islam in the guise of ‘love’. The fact is that as a political party, BJP has been active in creating issues and narrative which are woven around Muslim conspiracy theories so that it suits to their political interests. While ‘secular-liberal’ analysts continue to take our time ‘discussing’ the issues in the elections, they have rarely taken the Sangh Parivar head on these issues. So, the ‘secular’ columnists and parties respond to these diatribes through raising ‘non-political’ issues and leaving the field open for them. The result is that toxic campaigns and distorted narratives have taken roots inside our homes. Family members fight on these narratives as who is good and who is bad. Every issue has been converted with a counter narrative with high speed WhatsApp messaging to millions of people.
The Love Jihad theory is nothing but a very calculated effort to deny individuals their choice to marry. We all know that India lives in castes and millions of Indians have been infected by the ideas of caste supremacy. Every caste has been fed with the ideas of its ‘golden past’ and vilify the others. Hence, crossing the caste barrier is the biggest ‘dissent’ of our time. None of us would go for interfaith or inter-caste marriages except where the individual takes their own decision and they were called ‘love marriages’. Before the term Love Jihad, we had the term ‘love marriages’ as if marrying someone you love is wrong but perhaps that is true as we hate some body and take a decision of his or her own. Now, who am I to judge or comment about a decision taken by two individuals but then marriage is not merely a choice by families but they make social, political and cultural messages through it. Marriage is a huge industry in this country and the poor and rich all would like to invest a huge amount in it for the sake of their ‘ijjat’ or ‘prestige’. So crossing the caste barriers to marry someone you love is the biggest ‘dissent’ to Indian society which meets with ‘dire’ consequences.
Targeting Muslims and Islam therefore serves many purposes for the proponents of caste forces, proud of their ‘caste ancestry’. Look at the way Uttarakhand government officials shockingly referred to the document issued by a local district officer which speaks about government schemes of promoting interfaith and inter-caste marriages. Rather than feeling proud of such an initiative the officer in charge actually looked embarrassed and termed the order as an older one. This is among the few contributions of the right-wing political order that socialism, secularism, modernism, interfaith marriages etc have become dirty terms and these have been very carefully distorted and spread across the country through their fake news factories.
Most of the interfaith marriages happen through the Special Marriage Act of 1954 and it is here that the government and authorities harass the couples who opt for it to get married. Reports are now coming in newspapers that this act is being misused by the administration particularly its clauses which speak of ‘no objection’ certificates from the families of both the boy and the girl. A notice period of 30 days is given where the notice related to the proposed marriage is pasted in public places. Now, we all know that there is nothing special about the special marriage act. It does not provide safety and security to any one but can spoil it. It becomes the best for the lawyers to ‘arrange’ things for it and they manage it. The cost is then extracted from the marrying couples who are ready to shed any amount to get things done.
While we are getting worried about ‘Inter-faith’ couples, the fact is this narrative being spread by the BJP leaders in their states is bound to have disastrous impact on the ‘inter-caste’ couple which no politician will defend. Caste is the one point they will never want to cross the boundary. Whenever such couples are reported to ‘run away’ from their places, cases are filed against the ‘boys’ for ‘abducting’ the girl. Many times false certificates are produced to point that the girl was a ‘minor’ so that the ‘abduction’ cases are pushed strongly. If the things don’t improve then ‘rape’ charges are also pushed. An atmosphere is created and what will happen now in this age of ‘social media’ when false outrage would be created. One can only imagine when people just celebrate killings and mob lynching became a pattern. The Love Jehad law may not stand to constitutional scrutiny but these days we have seen how constitutional courts have just legitimised many of the disturbing acts of the government. Even if the Supreme Court strikes it down, the risk of couples getting lynched or harassed will remain there as over the years these extra state actors without any fears have been able to do things at their whims and fancies.
Young boys and girls are being killed by the parents and relatives in the name of ‘threat to social order’ but ultimately it is an all out effort to ‘protect’ the social order of caste privileges that we all love whether we have those privileges or not. It is a strange order where everyone feels proud of being ‘above’ someone. Even the lowest of the low feel proud of being someone else. Past has been valorised and glorified and it is the woman whose side looks betrayed most of the time as she is the ‘prized trophy’. That is why when Hindu woman marry to a Muslim man, the Hindus are at loss of word while Muslims will speak about love but when a Muslim girl marry to Hindu boy, we see the similar reactions of loss of ijjat.
Many people feel that marrying a girl of the outside community denies the right of the girl of their own community to marry her own community person. In all, the efforts are basically to deny the individual a right to think about her. This will continue to happen as long as religious dogmas and values dominate our cultural and political discourse. Religious laws and religious morality can not and should not be made applicable everywhere and on every condition and that is why if we wish a interfaith marriages or inter caste marriages happen, the aim of these should be not to preserve our faiths and castes but to annihilate them and be part of a new social cultural world where individual have faith in human values and humanity, where I can cry with those who do not necessarily belong to my world or community or faith.
Look at the reactions of the people when some interfaith marriages happen. When Kareena Kapoor married Saif Ali Khan then it was ‘love jehad’ but when Sanjay Dutt married Manyata then nothing happened. Sanjay followed the tradition of the family where his mother Nargis happened to be a Muslim while father Sunil Dutt happened to be a Hindu but definitely that was one of the most celebrated interfaith marriages. This campaign of vilifying Muslims as a conspiracy of Islam for the interfaith marriages is dangerous and have pure political motive. In February 2019, RSS leader Ram Lal’s niece got married to a Muslim man, and it was blessed by all the top party leaders. BJP already has a number of leaders such as Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaj Hussain who are married to Hindu women. There are many celebrities and it is not that more Muslim men marrying Hindu women or vice versa. These things don’t happen in a planned way. It is love and we need to give respect to two individuals for taking a decision good for them. Ofcourse, ‘conversion’ for the sake of marriage was only done by Dharmendra and Hema Malini, both are BJP MPs and none can tell them that they were wrong.
I have seen many ‘interfaith’ couples enjoying their lives and living peacefully though I can say most of the time girls have to make adjustments in terms of cultural practices. It is better that this interfaith or inter caste matter remain dedicated to modern laws and secular values but unfortunately that does not happen. Most of the time, the interfaith or inter caste couples actually try to ‘follow’ both the ‘cultural’ practices such as ‘celebrations’ of festivals but then how do you follow the marriage and death ceremony. Often the name of the children is decided on the basis of religion of the male counterpart. Actually, these love marriages are then converted into the ‘mainstream’ of the men’s partners as they suffer from the ‘acceptance’ crisis. The fact is after some time these couples too convert into simple ‘family’ very much like others where women suffer silently just to protect the family.
When Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Periyar and other leaders of our freedom movement wanted inter caste marriages to break the barriers of caste their aim was to build a new society. One must be proud of being a humanist or secular humanist in delinking ourselves from the past which confine us to our caste-regional-religious identities. Our birth is an accident as we do not decide but we are given a caste or a religious identity to define us. This religious identity then creates artificial barriers and vilifies others who are not ‘like us. It is important to strengthen secular laws for this. The BJP and Hindutva people are speaking about Uniform Civil Code only to push their anti-Muslim propaganda about Love Jehad.
It is true that dominant Muslim practices where they are a powerful community have been very much like the Sangh Parivar. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hindu and Christian girls actually suffer and are forcibly married by the Islamic zealots. Fact of the matter is that religious bigotry feeds each other. In the Indian subcontinent the Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists have decided to carry their own propaganda against plurality and made other look like a threat to their basic existence. It is nothing but purely political. When Hindus and Muslims will get rid from the clutches of the religious fanatics these forces will automatically die but then they feed each others so that no saner voice come and societies remained caged in isolation and bigotry so that the thugs can take control of their mind and body to mint maximum political benefit.
Therefore only secular laws will help. I have said this many times that once you are into an affair beyond your religion or caste or even nationality please feel proud of your humanity and do not succumb to the pressure of getting ‘legitimised’ by the ‘religious’ elite of your communities. A secular couple should look at secular narratives for their children and not preach that ‘religion’ never ‘preach’ violence. Most of the violence that we have witnessed in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar are basically religious based as the majoritarian religious identity want to take political control of their state and for that they continue to weave stories and find a villain. Indian Hindutva campaigners find it through narrative around Pakistan, 370, Ayodhya, Common Civil Code or Love Jihad, in our neighbouring countries they have similar narratives about us, Kashmir, Muslims and now France has become the most ‘rallying’ point for all these fanatics.
We need to seek an amendment in the Constitution seeking Humanism as our identity and not necessarily pushing for a religious identity. Let this tribe grow which feel proud of Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s constitution and its human values as interfaith or inter-caste couples can and will only survive through constitutional morality and not really through their religious values where ‘girl’ religious identity will always be considered as loser or occupied like a trophy. In multicultural societies we need to explore and build up new socio-cultural values so that it does not become a hunting ground for competing religious fundamentalists.
Marriages are a matter of two individuals but it not only becomes a point to spread disinformation campaigns against people but putting them at greater risk. Even when I respect individual choices, I would request all those in such marriages not to compel your male or female partner to convert to any religion. That is why I am suggesting that we must suggest a new narrative for them ‘humanist marriages’ or ‘constitutional marriages’ or ‘civil marriages’ for civilised people. Don’t bring religious practices into these marriages and remain dedicated to secular laws and principles.
Inter-caste or interfaith can only survive through faith in constitution and modern humanist values of equality of partners and it is this theme of equality of women and other human beings which hurt those who want to dominate us through their regressive ideas and value system as they know their religion and customs will face extinction threat more from such marriages where two individuals can take their own decisions to live together without giving a thought to where they were born or what is their caste identity. The real threat to dominant religious values can actually emerge once we challenge the narrative that these marriages are not merely marriages but ‘self-respect’ marriages as Periyar said where a woman is an equal partner and does not lose her identity.
Important that marriages are between two individuals who are mature enough to know about their rights and when it is not possible to live together then any of the partners or both have right to legally dissociate amicably unlike thousands of those cases under the personal laws where a woman is left without legal framework and suffer in humiliation. That way modern laws have helped women and their individuality which has been denied by the ‘cultural’ practices or ‘religious laws’. Whether it is love Jihad or Prem Yuddh, these fake narratives are only meant to keep people confined to their ‘castes’ and religious identities so that status quo is maintained in the name of ‘social harmony’.
That way, it is extremely relieving news that a two judge bench of Allahabad High Court Justice Vivek Aggarwal and Justice Pankaj Naqvi have upheld the rights of two individuals to marry as per their choice. It has actually overturned a single bench judgement in 2014 which was becoming the basis for the law against ‘love jehad’. That judgement had suggested that conversion for the sake of ‘marriage’ is not acceptable. Now the two judges have overturned that judgement and called it a bad law. They said,” To disregard the choice of a person who is of the age of majority would not only be antithetic to the freedom of choice of a grown-up individual but would also be a threat to the concept of unity in diversity”, a bench of Justices Pankaj Naqvi and Vivek Agarwal said. The Right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them, is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty.
One is hopeful that given the nature that politicians will not strengthen the Special Marriage Act, it is time they frame some guidelines so that the law is not misused and young couples get ample protection from this law. If things are not made easier, the couples will find their own way and that is ‘religious marriages’ which is easier for them. Most of the time conversion happens for these purposes. Arya Samaj marriages have become popular these days as young couples who do not want to be harassed through Special marriage act opt for that.
Rule of law and constitutionalism alone will protect life and liberty of individuals and we must build better narrative for common people and ensure that they understand that many of these conspiracy theories which are being floated against the decision of two individuals who happen from different communities is nothing but maintain India’s divisive caste system and gain ‘strength’ from it. All Indians who believe that unity and integrity of India is important and that we should encourage our young to have faith in the constitution and make their outreach beyond the narrow confines of caste, religion and regions. A strong India will be possible when our youth make their life decisions based on their choice, respect the individuality of their partners and respect her or his right to be religious or non-religious so that there is no conflict in their lives based on their birth-based identity. Meanwhile, the politicians are better advised to focus on other important issues and protect the citizens who seek protection and not encourage lumpen crowed to go for mob lynching in the name of ‘religion is endangered’.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist