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‘Love Jihad’ and the Problem and Politics of Identity

‘Love Jihad’ and the Problem and Politics of Identity

By Sohini Chatterjee

Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

Since 2009 the conspiracy theory named ‘Love Jihad’ has been a contentious issue between religious hardliners, right-wingers on the one hand and secular intellectuals on the other in different parts of India. It has been claimed by the former that to increase Muslim population in the country (who form the largest religious minority), men of the Islamic faith are seducing young and “vulnerable” women from other religions to convert them into Islam using the appeal of love, the promise of marriage or both. It has also been insinuated that Muslim men have hidden their religious affiliation, on purpose, on numerous occasions to marry women of non-Islamic communities, particularly of Hinduism and Christianity, and have thereafter forced them into conversion all in the name of ‘Love Jihad’.Young non-Muslim women have been warned by the right-wingers, especially the Sangh Parivar, against falling prey to such religiously motivated design of Muslim men. The secular front, however, has dismissed ‘Love Jihad’ as a complete bogey and has called for a critical examination of the political motivation of the right-wing behind overplaying it. Islamic organizations, for their part, denying all allegations of organized ‘Love Jihad’ have blamed the conceptualisation of the term on the political imagination of the right-wing. Thus, practice of ‘Love Jihad’ has been defended as passionately as it has been denied. The debates, allegations and counter-allegations seem impassioned and hence unending. Given the lack of trust and mutual respect between religious communities in India, ‘Love Jihad’ hardly seems to be a square peg in the round hole of Indian politics. Hence, one would not be mistaken to assume that ‘Love Jihad’ holds the possibility in its wake of having far-reaching consequences for 21st century India and its socio-political image.

Despite communal tensions India has witnessed several instances of inter-faith marriages both prior and post independence. The power of emotions is known to render identity concerns unimportant which is why Hindu-Muslim marriages, even though publicly decried by hardliners, have scarcely been a rarity in India. In a multi-religious secular state, an inter-faith marriage could hardly be considered an aberration, an isolated incident or an event revolting enough to incur the wrath of the communities involved. It would be appropriate to opine that ‘Love Jihad’ is the most potent embarrassment to Indian secularism in recent times. The problem of the Indian secular fabric is posed by the deeply incestuous relationship shared by religion and politics which ordains nothing to remain purely secular, purely religious, purely political or purely private. The personal often troubles the political and vice versa. Modernity with the boon of secularism finds itself ill at ease in India as communal acrimony heightens with every accusation of ‘Love Jihad’ hurled at the Islamic community. The suspicion with which one religious community views another, the exclusionary practices that they follow to protect themselves from being duped by another reflects the deep seated fear, anxiety, disgust and malevolence toward one another that they have internalized. The right-wing, with their warnings against ‘Love Jihad’, has not only expressed its own fear of another religion but has also attempted to transmit the fear of the ‘Other’ to the unsuspecting population at large. The intermixing of faith is so profane an idea that it is resisted even at the cost of individual rights and liberties. It must be understood that spewing of communal venom is above everything a deeply political strategy of the right-wing to ensure the loyalty of the Hindu, non-Muslim voters. Monopolization of power is a lucrative goal for which civility can be conveniently skewed. This paints a sorry picture of the political culture of India as an inherently uncompromising struggle which refuses to give benefit of the doubt to fellow contenders of power or to the legitimate claims of minority, in the fear that respect to the opponent would preclude their subordination.

The idea of ‘Love Jihad’ is not only deeply communal, but also largely anti-women. ‘Love Jihad’ works with the basic assumption that women are naive and cannot distinguish right from wrong. Hence, guidance must be provided to them when it comes to choosing their spouse. Proponents of the concept of ‘Love Jihad’ claim that women’s reproductive ability is the targeted site of exploitation by the Islamic community. The allegation is to limit the proliferation of Hinduism particularly, Muslim men manipulate Hindu women into marrying them to create a larger Islamic community in India. Women’s reproductive ability is thus treated in isolation. This goes to show how a woman’s identity is made essential in terms of her reproductive role. A woman marrying a Muslim man out of her own volition may not choose motherhood and even if she does, the assumption that children out of such unions would grow up to follow the religious faith of the father reeks of blatant patriarchal chauvinism. Religion forms a significant aspect of a believer’s identity. Socialization has an important role to play in it. Children of parents belonging to different religious communities could receive mixed religious socialisation and thus have greater probability of growing up with heterogeneous religious belief. In such a case one particular religious identity (presumably that of the father) may not take precedence over a more fluid religious outlook. This curious possibility however is seldom taken into account by the fierce advocates of the conspiracy theory.

Anxiety expressed by majorities is traceable in the concept of ‘Love Jihad’. The majority fears that the minorities might in the future have a formidable existence independent of them. Thus, the majority thinks it to be ideal for the minorities to have an existence that is limited to their interaction within their specific communities. Anything beyond that causes the majority to suspect a hidden agenda of the minorities which is ultimately aimed at troubling the majority. This anxiety creates an imagined image of the minority that the latter has to counter. Love Jihad is an idea born out of this majoritarian anxiety. It takes no note of the fact that multiculturalism in India would help create a peaceful society, a harmonious one, rather than a homogenized national identity which is uncomfortable with its inevitable and irreversible diversity. The demerits of the claims of ‘Love Jihad’ needs to be emphasized hence to arrive at a truly secular discourse which is not upset by acceptance and extension of minority well-being. Women’s agency also is in the need of recognition as is the inevitability of inter-faith marriages in multicultural India. ‘Love Jihad’ is a difficult narrative beset with deep seated communal tension, majoritarian anxiety, misogyny and Islamophobia. Debunking this carefully crafted myth would foster greater social prosperity in India and politics would be one step closer to being freed from bitter diatribes against minorities.

Sohini Chatterjee is a student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her interest areas include identity politics, Indian culture, mythology, contemporary Indian politics and narratives of diaspora. She identifies as a feminist and believes it defines her more than anything else. Writing is not solely an intellectual exercise for her but a powerful weapon or a magic wand which, she believes, can make the world a better place.

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