The idea of “love jihad” — where Muslim men ostensibly entrap Hindu women (sometimes by masking their own religion) and lure them into marriage (and then force them to convert), with the objective of changing the demography — has been a part of the vocabulary of Hindutva politics. From the fringe, this idea has got increasing mainstream acceptance within the political system. Now, Uttar Pradesh chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath has threatened death for those supposedly engaged in it, while Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar has spoken of bringing a law against “love jihad”. This is surprising because as recently as February, the home ministry told Parliament that the term isn’t defined in law and that no such cases were reported by central agencies.
The use of such vocabulary to describe interfaith relationships is insidious. It is a reflection of bigotry and patriarchy and has tremendous inflammatory potential. Indian society must embrace relationships across class, caste, and yes, religion, for there is no more effective way to integrate communities, develop empathy and understanding, and deepen national unity. No relationship or marriage should of course be based on either coercion or deception — and if there are any such instances, irrespective of the gender or religion of the person, then there must be legal implications. But to bracket any relationship which may involve a Muslim man and Hindu woman as an instance of a conspiracy to undermine Hindus is outright false. It is based on treating women as the property of others and denies them their agency; it is also based on manufactured fears and false stereotypes about Muslims. If a couple wants to get married, it is the State’s duty to enable them to exercise their right. Instead, the political regime appears to be enabling a climate of fear, distrust and violence and reinforcing the paranoia around interfaith marriages.