Love Jihad in India
Updated: May 31
Written by: Amal Malik
Edited by: Anna Mohan and Ria Chia
First heard around 2006 by activist Harsh Mandar, Love Jihad is a conspiracy theory popularised with the rising Hindutva ‘right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The conspiracy claims it is part of a Muslim agenda to increase the ‘international Islamic population’ and boils down to the idea that Hindu women are being seduced and targeted by Muslim men. It plays upon views that sink deep into the layers of the patriarchal Indian society, that young women are pliable and easily manipulated. The Love Jihad narrative pushes forward Islamophobic agendas and can represent the violent control of women’s sexuality.
The Love Jihad premise propagates two very important issues; it demeans Muslim men, rendering them as violent fanatics and abusers, while also making assumptions that Hindu women are weak and easily seduced.
2017 Hadiya Case
The Kerala High Court ruled that the marriage of 25-year-old Hadiyah to a Muslim man named Shafin Jahan was ‘Love Jihad’, although she had converted to Islam out of her own free will.
Hadiyah had moved from her small town in Kerala to Tamil Nadu, a larger city in the neighbouring state, to study medicine. There, she had met her husband through a Muslim marriage site. In 2017, her father, alongside the National Investigation Agency (NIA), had begun a court case on retaining her legal custody to her father. Based on her father’s claims, Hadiyah was accused of being ‘mentally unhinged’, and thus was manipulated into her conversion and was a victim of Love Jihad. The NIA argued that the case was part of a ‘terrorist network’, dismissing Hadiya’s assertions that she had willingly entered the marriage.
By November 2017, the supreme court had ruled that she required ‘guardianship’ which was awarded to the dean of her college. While the High Court nullified the marriage, on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled her father could not control her as she was a legal, consenting adult. The Supreme Court bench dismissed the ideas of ‘Love Jihad’, stating it was a ‘catch phrase’. By March 2018, the Supreme court restored Hadiya's marriage, ten months after the Kerala High Court had annulled the marriage.
The case becomes an example of the growing attempts to curb women’s freedom in the ‘urban public sphere’, as Love Jihad narratives are used to identify women as ‘subjects of the imagined Hindu Rashtra (nation)’. It plays into hegemonic ideas of the ideal Hindu woman and citizen, devoted to her family and nation.
Coercive propaganda limits the growing freedom of young women in urban cities and their sexuality. It twists ideas of nationhood to serve an agenda that limits women autonomy and “other” the Muslim population. Times Now, India’s most popular English medium news channel has shown its continued Islamaphobic themes. The channel during ‘Akhila to Hadiya Via ‘Hypnosis’?’, on the 11th of March 2018, alleged far fetched claims that Hindu women were systematically converted through hypnosis, arguing the ‘psychological kidnapping’ of women was again part of a larger plot to kidnap women to ‘Saudi and Yemen’. Repeatedly the anchor offers the words of ‘indoctrination’ and ‘coercion’, completely stripping the women of her autonomy while also rendering her as weak mined.
The tropism of this news channel funnels dangerous mishandling of public cases, further dividing Hindus and Muslims in India. It further ideas of the impossibility of being both Indian and Muslim, as it renders Muslims as alien subjects or threats to the nation, and an outsider to India’s identity. Women are thus rendered as mentally immature, degrading any choice that fits outside of familial acceptance. The Love Jihad conspiracy theories enact particular psychological violence and attack upon women, rendering their choices illegitimate. As shown in the Hadiyah case, this dangerous precedent can result in legal ramifications upon consenting adults that can leave women’s autonomy precarious and up to the judgment of patriarchal authorities. Love Jihad is thus weaponised against women as a tool to curb any attempts to break from the accepted image of the submissive Hindu daughter.
The propaganda and conspiracy theories of Hindu nationalists accused ‘Muslim goondas’ (or ‘thug’) of forced marriage, rapists, and kidnappers. The great proliferation of campaign material in the public sphere cultivated new ‘everyday representations’ of Muslims, with sources such as posters, pamphlets and organised meetings being circulated. This element of propaganda can still be seen in the utilising of accessible mainstream platforms.
The text in the poster above reads: ‘By sporting [fake] Hindu names, tying a sacred thread on their hand and putting a tika on their forehead, Muslim boys trap Hindu girls in love, convert them, marry them, have children with them, exploit them physically and mentally, and then leave them.’
A 2007 psychological study by Sudhir Kakar, found that Muslims are presented in India as ‘sexual predators’ with Muslim men seeming to be ‘obsessed with sex and [forced] themselves upon our women’, in a study amongst Hindu men. The language of Jihad evoke very specific connotations, it plays into the universal stereotyping of Muslims to terrorism and continues to perpetuate Islamophobia.
On the 23rd June 2017, a news story headlined by Times Now entitled ‘CAUGHT: ISIS Converting Hindu Girls for 5 Lakh Rupees’, hosted a male-only panel to discuss the issues of Love Jihad in India. On the new screen behind the anchor flashed ‘lured, converted and packed off to Syria’ repeatedly, arguing that Hindu women have all been ‘Forcefully converted. Lure them into marriage. Pack them off to the Middle East’; according to the news anchor.
Such media narratives had led to material consequences. It not only ‘others’ Muslims, but it strips Hindu women of their autonomy.
Dhanak of Humanity, Delhi
An organisation run by Asif Iqbal and Ranu Kulshresta, a married couple from Uttar Pradesh, formed as a result of their own experiences. The organisation seeks to aid both ‘inter-faith and inter-caste couples’ to marry through the Special marriage Act (SMA). Ranu has seen that Muslim women who have married Hindu men have has to ‘de-Islamise themselves’, by stopping religious practising and names changes, and argues that this too can be Love Jihad. The contrast to Love Jihad is ‘Ghar Wapasi’ or ‘home-coming, in which Muslim women convert to Hinduism. This is significant when noting both the positive connotations of “homecoming” as well as how this hypocritical narrative is shielded by media coverage. In a report by DNA News Paper Online, Shweta Desai argued that ‘Reverse Love Jihad’ existed, as ‘between 2014 and October 2016‟, 389 cases of underage girls missing or kidnapped were registered by the district police.
The Hindu ideas of nationhood during this period can mark a turning point in which Hindu women were increasingly observed to be pillars of ‘communal boundaries’.The ‘good Hindu girl’ was to navigate her body language and respectability, particularly in the city. ‘The head of religious affairs of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti (the women’s front of a pan-Indian Hindu nationalist organisation), categorically stated, ‘Our look conveys the way we are. We have to dress well and keep our character safe. If you dress badly, you will sow what you reap’.
The Love Jihad campaign creates the image of the ‘ideal’ Hindu nationalist citizen, particularly when it comes to praising women for staying within the parameters of accepted values. It also asks Hindu Men to live up to their ‘duty’. In Uttar Pradesh, the Shiv Sena launched the ‘Love Trishul (trident, the weapon of male Hindu martial gods) campaign’, where groups of Hindu men would threaten suspected couples of engaging with Love Jihad in public spaces. It enforced an increasing sense of surveillance upon Hindu women, by showing organised methods of harassment by organisations. The campaign rules out undesirable social groups in the ‘urban public sphere’, notably those who engage with interfaith relationships outside of family acceptance.
‘The politics of Hindutva is one where the construction of the desired masculinity (ideal Hindu male, virile yet with controlled sexuality) requires the destruction of competing masculinities and men’.
The threat of globalisation destabilises the Hindu nation and decentres the ideologies of the nation. It expands the opportunity for young Hindu women to explore their sexuality, education, options for employability and a chance to create their own spaces. Love Jihad performs nation-making functions, as it creates an idea of the ‘self and the ‘other’, with the internal self-being the good Hindu citizen, and the other as the treasonous Muslims. It also allows the existence of ‘good male violence’ (anti-Love Jihad activists) in the name of protecting Hindu women’s honour.
Love Jihad becomes a symbol of nationalist conflict on the battleground of women bodies, exploiting women’s sexual vulnerability as a site to obsesses over the Hindu women’s sexuality.
Edit: It has been noted that there are instances of this happening, but the conspiracy we speak of refers to the inflation of such events. This inflation feeds into a harmful narrative being weaponised as Islamaphobia and is doubly hurtful to women. However, we understand this is a sensitive subject and we apologise for the position that has come across in the article - we realise we needed to pay credence to the few events where this may have happened.