Anti-Muslim agitationIndia – Fighting the alleged 'love jihad'
For Salman Ahmed it was clear that he wanted to marry his partner – even though they were of different faiths. To do so, the Muslim from the Indian state of Maharashtra risked a family rift. "My family was not happy with her being a Hindu," says the 31-year-old, who gave a false name, preferring to conceal his identity to protect his private life.
It is true that the couple's parents eventually accepted their decision. Yet neither Ahmed's father nor his brother turned up for the wedding almost one and a half years ago. In cities like Mumbai in particular, inter-caste and inter-religious couples are on the rise. But the increasing political polarisation worries many of them.
A murder case reported in November had a dramatic impact. A young Hindu woman, Shraddha Walkar, had been brutally murdered and buried by her Muslim partner. At the trial, the accused attended by live link from an undisclosed location, thus preventing an angry mob from gathering in front of the courthouse. Right-wing Hindu politicians quickly seized the opportunity to mobilise against partnerships between Muslims and Hindus in general.
Among married couples of different faiths, it is often the woman who is expected to adopt her husband's religion. This is where a popular conspiracy theory comes into play: the theory goes that Muslims are trying to change the long-term demographics of India by deliberately seducing Hindu women to convert to Islam. "Love Jihad" has become a combat term.
Islamophobic conspiracy theory
So far, such tones have been muted in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, where Ahmed and his wife live. But now politicians there are also proposing a law to "curb love jihad", as the radical Hindu politician Yogi Adityanath of the ruling BJP party called it, modelled on steps taken in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Its supporters include Chitra Wagh, leader of the BJP's women's wing in Maharashtra. It would help curb cases like Walkar's murder, she says.
In Uttar Pradesh, religious conversions for the purpose of marriage have had to be approved by a district magistrate since late 2020. Changing religion unlawfully may warrant a prison term of up to ten years. Numerous experts consider the law unconstitutional. Among them is the former chairman of the Law Commission, Justice Ajit Prakash Shah. Similar legislation also exists in the states of Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Haryana.
Despite the fact that thousands of demonstrators, including BJP politicians, took to the streets against "love jihad" in the western Indian metropolis of Mumbai at the end of January, many people here cannot imagine such a law. Nevertheless, the Maharashtra government did set up a committee in December with the aim of keeping an eye on marriages between Hindus and Muslims. The committee is supposed to collect detailed information on couples in inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. It can also check whether women have become "estranged" from their families and offer help to parents if this is the case.
So far, Ahmed, who like his wife works in the media industry, is not too worried. After the wedding, his wife kept her religious denomination and family name, he says. Meanwhile, the couple has moved in together in Mumbai. They do not experience much hostility in their everyday lives. But they are aware of the growing politicisation. (epd)
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