The Gender Security Project
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
On November 28, Uwais Ahmed, a resident of Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, was booked by the UP police for allegedly forcibly converting his neighbour’s daughter into Islam.  On December 5, another man and his brother in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, were apprehended by members of the Bajrang Dal, a political party, and arrested for forcibly converting his wife to Islam through marriage, even though his wife asserted that their marriage was consensual.  The common factor in both these and perhaps several more cases, is that they have been booked under a new controversial anti-conversion law, called the ‘Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020’ or the ‘Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadhesh 2020’, which stops what it calls ‘love jihad’.
What is ‘Love Jihad’?
Love Jihad is a term coined by right-wing Hindu nationalists to describe a “conspiracy to convert gullible Hindu women to Islam by misleading them with promises of love”.  The idea underlying the concept can be traced back to the 1920s, when Hindu revivalist bodies in North India such as Arya Samaj, launched campaigns to orchestrate targeted propaganda against Muslims, using print media, flyers, local newspapers etc. Since then, the Sangh Parivar has converted Hindu women’s bodies into battlegrounds for communal fights and even a Hindu woman who has consented to love or marry a Muslim man was depicted as “an iconographic site depicting both sacredness and humiliation, resulting in the whole Hindu community’s victimisation”.  The very idea of Love Jihad others the Muslim community, and converts the bodies of Hindu women as sites of “purity” and honor – their preservation essential to preserve the “Hindu Rashtra”. This “purity” is also inherently political in religious and patriarchal ways, in that a woman’s body and sexual agency is seen as the preserve of the Hindu man.  Love Jihad is effectively, therefore and by extension, a tool used to promote the Hindu nationalist agenda.
In historian Charu Gupta’s words, the ramifications of such campaigns are long-term, due to fostering of hate, intolerance and the rise in misogyny due to the inherent anti-women undertones, constituting them as ‘property’ of men and wombs to further the population of the religion.  The Hindu woman is reduced to a victim of manipulation and a person whose marriage to a religious outsider is seen as outrage of her family and community’s honour. Gupta also wrote that portraying Muslim men as aggressive and predatory is harmful and dangerous not only because they are stereotyped but also because it presents them as the enemy of the Hindus. Moreover, Muslim men are seen as “sexually charged” and “lustful” of the ‘pure’ bodies of Hindu women.  According to human rights activist Vrinda Grover, “it is yet another means to control women’s sexuality, agency and right to choose. It also infantilizes women and portrays them as gullible fools, incapable of making decisions about their life.” 
Legislating on Love Jihad
In contemporary discourse on Hindu nationalism, the idea of Love Jihad has seen a revival, especially since the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) came into power in 2014. Long an election campaign promise of BJP, Love Jihad has now been tackled by the new ordinance passed in Uttar Pradesh. According to the new law, a marriage between a Muslim man and Hindu woman will be declared null and void if the women converts to Islam for marriage. If any woman wishes to change her religion after getting married, she would need to apply to the district magistrate a month in advance. Those who convert without adhering to the provisions of the law can face a jail term of up to 10 years and the offence may be non-bailable if the conversion is done forcibly. Since the ordinance went into force, other BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have also expressed strong interest in bringing laws to keep Love Jihad in check. 
Even at the national level, India’s existing law, the Special Marriages Act, allows interfaith marriages without the need for conversion but with the caveat that a public declaration must be posted a month prior to the wedding. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court of India set aside the Kerala High Court’s 2017 order which annulled the marriage of Hadiya, who converted to Islam, and Shefin Jahan. Among the three-judge bench, Justice Chandrachaud affirmed that “choices of faith and belief as indeed choices in matters of marriage lie within an area where individual autonomy is supreme…Neither the state nor the law can dictate a choice of partners or limit the free ability of every person to decide on these matters. They form the essence of personal liberty under the Constitution”. 
As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, India is supposed to honour this very commitment that allows every person “free and full choice in decisions on when and whom to marry”. India is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the head of the Commission on the Status of Women this year, India is obliged to not discriminate against women. Yet, this new ordinance shows both disrespect and disregard to these same commitments that were made on an international level, violating both the conventions. It’s a huge push-back women and girls’ rights to liberty of choice and religious belief.
None of the State’s Business
Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India, Menaka Guruswamy made remarks on the law saying “all men and women should question this idea of their adulthood being questioned and their free will being second guessed by the state.”  Indeed, the State and judiciary, in this case, have been complicit in delegitimising interfaith love and took on a patriarchal role, becoming intolerant to the choices made by a woman. The ordinance brings in both love and faith within the purview of the state and dictates who can and cannot marry whom and who can and cannot practice which religion – the state will take the final call, not the individual in question. As historian and professor Tanika Sarkar rightly wrote, “the ordinance prohibits and punishes, it closes doors and segregates religious communities as if they are different species.” 
Ultimately, the ordinance has raised alarms about BJP further promoting its Hindu rashtra agenda, as the ordinance is the latest in a long line of discriminatory policies against Muslims, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Registry of Citizens. Now that anti-love jihad vigilantism has received official state-approved sanction in an ordinance that exempts conversions to Hinduism from its scope, the fundamental human rights to love, marriage and religion are made conditional and have been communalised. With more states set to regulate aspects of private life of a select group of citizens, it’s only a slippery slope downhill from here.
1. R. Krishnan, (2020, December 5), Hindu families seek ‘justice’, Muslims bereft – UP ‘love jihad’ law has Bareilly in frenzy, The Print, https://theprint.in/india/hindu-families-seek-justice-muslims-bereft-up-love-jihad-law-has-bareilly-in-frenzy/557820/
2. The Wire Staff, (2020, December 7), UP: Despite Consensual Marriage, Muslim Man Arrested Under New 'Love Jihad' Law, The Wire, https://thewire.in/rights/uttar-pradesh-love-jihad-arrest-muslim-man-consensual-marriage-bajrang-dal
3. T. Bakshi, (2020, November 25), ‘Love Jihad’: Tracing The Portrayal Of Women As ‘Wombs’ In Hindu Nationalist Politics, Feminism in India, https://feminisminindia.com/2020/11/25/love-jihad-hindu-nationalism/
4. C. Gupta, (2009, December), Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions, Economic and Political Weekly, accessed at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25663907
5. U. Trivedi, (2020, November 25), India’s Most Populous State Brings Law to Fight ‘Love Jihad’, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-25/india-s-most-populous-state-brings-law-to-fight-love-jihad
6. M. Seth, (2020, November 26), UP clears ‘love jihad’ law: 10-year jail, cancelling marriage if for conversion, The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/up-clears-love-jihad-law-10-year-jail-cancelling-marriage-if-for-conversion-7064474/
7. G. Ananthakrishna, (2018, April 10), Right to marry person of one’s choice is integral to right to life & liberty: SC on Hadiya case, The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/right-to-marry-supreme-court-hadiya-case-5131055/
8. T. Sarkar, (2020, December 6), Love, Faith and Consent in a Hindu Rashtra, The Wire, https://thewire.in/communalism/hindu-rashtra-love-faith-consent