India conjures up ‘love jihad’ bogey to ban inter-faith marriages

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- The Hindu nationalist groups linked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have in recent weeks stepped up their campaign against a conspiracy theory known as “love jihad,” which accuses Muslim men of tricking Hindu women into converting to Islam.

The theory has been circulating among fringe Hindu right-wing groups for years. But for the first time, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has passed a law that stipulates up to 10 years in prison for an inter-religious marriage “with the intention of changing the woman’s religion.”

Other states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, such as Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Karnataka, have announced that they would bring similar ordinances.

“It’s just really sad that things have come to this in India. I just can’t believe that I have to talk about these issues now,” Neha Sethi, a Hindu woman married to a Muslim for seven years, told EFE.

In a country where marriages “arranged” by the family, normally within the constraints of castes and social classes, continue to be the norm, interfaith couples united by love are relatively rare.

However, in a multicultural society of over 1.3 billion people and multiple faiths, such marriages are not unheard of and have even been regulated under the Special Marriages Act 1954.

“Now, that the states are legislating against it, I think this is taking away our basic right to chose who to marry,” said Sethi, who got married in 2014 just before Modi became prime minister for the first time.

Although the lives of interfaith couples have always been difficult in India, the situation has worsened since the BJP came to power, she asserted.

Sethi, who called the latest laws “draconian,” said that she and her husband now felt the pressure to be “the perfect couple in society’s eyes.”

The Hindu nationalist sections represented by Modi – who has been accused of dividing the Indian society and trying to reduce over 300 million Muslims to second-class citizens – have stepped up verbal attacks and events against “love jihad” in recent weeks.

Uttar Pradesh, headed by BJP’s controversial Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, became the first state to pass a “love jihad ordinance” in November.

Local broadcasters have reported that the state police on Saturday registered the first complaint under the act by the father of a young Hindu woman allegedly forced to convert by a Muslim man.

Many Indians have termed the campaign a baseless conspiracy theory, but its advocates have used it to raise suspicion on all interfaith marriages.

Surender Jain, the general secretary of conservative group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which belongs to the same ideological family as the BJP, told EFE that Muslims consider women as “child producing factories.”

“So, if they shut down the factories of Hindus, by bringing them in their own religions, (…) they reduce the population of Hindus and increase the population of Muslims by those means,” said Jain, office-bearer of one of the groups most aggressively involved in the campaign against “love jihad.”

Although Jain admitted that not all marriages between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman were part of the conspiracy, he insisted that this was true for “most of the cases.”

“We have suggested that in every inter-religion marriage, the candidates should give at least one month’s advance notice, (which) is sufficient to prove whether it is with consent,” said the leader.

Charu Gupta, a history professor at Delhi University, has researched inter-religious couples in India.

Gupta told EFE that the arguments of the conservative right-wing stem from an “anxiety about the Hindu woman making a choice.”

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