Love doesn't conquer all
The new laws to fight ‘Love Jihad’ are more a nuisance to interfaith couples than a safeguard to unwitting victims of conversion
We should be rechristened 'Boycott Nation' since we simply love to boycott everything. Jewellery brand, Tanishq's advertisement shows Muslim mother-in-law organising a baby shower for Hindu daughter-in-law following Hindu rituals — #BoycottTanishq. Restaurant delivery and food delivery platform, Zomato, promises to look into sponsoring hateful content on television – #BoycottZomato. Netflix airs adaptation based on Vikram Seth's iconic novel 'A Suitable Boy' that shows a Muslim boy and Hindu girl kissing in temple precincts – #BoycottNetflix.
We are such an overtly sensitive nation that we take umbrage at everything — except issues that truly matter. It's easy to take digital offence sitting within the confines of air-conditioned, Covid-safe homes and protest non-issues. But we are not even slightly affronted when protesting farmers are quietened with water cannons in the cruel north Indian winter. Or when Delhi police seek permission to convert nine stadiums into temporary prisons to house hundreds of protesting farmers. We are militant about protecting our Hindu culture and traditions as if it's under siege even though inter-religious marriages are not a new phenomenon and even though the Khajuraho Temples famously display erotic sculptures.
The reason that certain sections of society are so easily peeved at inter-religious romance is because the normality of a Hindu-Muslim union is percolating into our pop culture, reaching a greater number of people through advertisements, and web series. Why? Because it is normal! Today, if 'Gadar: Ek Prem Katha' or 'Veer-Zaara' were released, we'd surely find trending boycott hashtags of the films and its stars. Even during a pandemic when the nation's economy is struggling to bounce back, some of our political leaders have found the time to devote to new laws that prevent 'Love Jihad'.
The Uttar Pradesh government has cleared an ordinance that is aimed at criminalising unlawful religious conversion — anything that is coercive and impinges on the rights of another individual should be an offence; therefore, there was no need really for a new law. We agree on the fact that there must not be a forceful conversion for the sake of marriage, but the prickly point here is who decides if it's forceful or not? Police cases can be registered based on complaints by affected parties as well as by a relative. Therefore, if parents, family, or worse, 'khap panchayats' complain,
then does it also not provide artillery to harass inter-religious couples where the conversion may have been voluntary. Even if there is no conversion, if a police complaint can be registered, it's enough to ruin the couple's life. Inter-religious couples who dare to marry without familial approval face enough problems already.
If a woman converts then the punishment is graver for the man, he can get a jail term of up to 10 years if the purpose of the conversion is marriage or if there is the use of force or fraudulent means. The state also has the power to nullify such a marriage. The law is unclear on several other factors — what if men convert, what if the conversion is from Islam or any other religion to Hinduism? The most populous Indian state follows in the footsteps of Madhya Pradesh and Haryana in the amount of free time that they have to concentrate on matters of state – scratch that – religious importance. Karnataka and Assam are likely to join the skirmish against 'Love Jihad'.
The more I type the words, 'Love Jihad', the more I realise how deeply I loathe them and the regressive thinking that assumes that all women (especially Hindu ones) are so gullible and impressionable that they are lured to cast aside their religion. The uncomfortable truth for fundamentalists is that people in love do inscrutable things and I have known stories of both women and men willingly converting for love. My grandfather, born to a Hindu Tamil family, converted to marry a Christian Tamil. My father, who was never baptised, followed Hinduism of his own volition and ended up marrying a Bengali Hindu girl. 'Ghar Wapsi'? My late father would have scoffed at the suggestion. A pious man he respected all religions, visited temples, dargahs, and gurudwaras, but ultimately found his heart's calling in Hinduism. Therefore, while I clinically write about a lot of topics every week — this one, filled me with a deep sense of anguish to think how we have come to lace acts of 'love' with pejorative terms.
I am firmly against forceful conversion and with the Special Marriages Act being alive and functioning, it's enough to allow for inter-religious marriage. But to bring forth laws that leave ample scope for misuse is draconian and mischievous. I chanced upon the Instagram project started by journalists Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar, and Niloufer Venkatraman aptly titled 'India Love Project' that chronicles love traversing religion, caste, gender etc. When you feel cut up about love the way I did, just browse through the varied accounts of people and their loves that have flouted social, religious, and gender diktats. Trust me, it will warm your heart.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal