What does Jihad got to do with love?  

Laws exist against forced conversion, cheating etc. and there is no evidence to suggest that forced conversions have increased so alarmingly that laws are required to curb them, writes Mrinal Pande

Representative Image 
Representative Image

Mrinal Pande

Early in November UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath referred to an Allahabad High Court judgment to justify curbs on ‘Love Jihad’. The judgment in question had dismissed the need for conversion at the time of maying a person belonging to a different faith.

The chief minister solemnly declared, “Allahabad High Court has said religious conversion isn’t necessary for marriage. Government will also work to curb Love Jehad… if people do not stop playing with the honour of daughters and sisters by concealing their identities, the ‘Ram naam satya hai’ journey (an euphemism for a funeral procession) will begin.

Since then UP Government has promulgated an ordinance, duly approved by the Governor Anandiben Patel, to require advance notice to the magistrate for interfaith marriages and a ten-year jail term for any man found guilty of forcing women to convert for the sake of marriage. Conversion for marriage by holding out allurements, by fraud and cheating would make the offence non-bailable. Other BJP-ruled states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have also declared their intention to curb ‘Love Jihad’.

Laws already exist against forced conversion, cheating etc. and there is no empirical evidence to suggest that such cases have increased so alarmingly or are so high that laws are required to curb them. But by empowering the state and the police to question couples, detain them and decide whether conversion by one of the partners is malafide, the state has taken over the role of the family and community, which may or may not accept and endorse such alliances.

The role of the judiciary has been mixed. While different high courts have regularly extended and ordered protection to couples opting for interfaith marriages, the Supreme Court of India set a dubious precedent by asking the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to explore the possibility of an ‘Islamic’ conspiracy behind the conversion and marriage of Akila Ashokan in Kerala to a Muslim man of her choice; and without waiting for NIA’s report, the court ordered that the woman’s custody be given to her parents. NIA however found the allegation to be untrue and in 2018 the Supreme Court was forced to declare the marriage solemnized under Islamic rituals as valid.

Interfaith marriages have been politicised to such an extent that even cinematic marriages, as in the film Padmavati, between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man—or in advertisements like the one promoted by the jewellery brand Tanishq in which a Muslim mother-inlaw is holding a baby shower for her Hindu daughter-in-law—brought out mobs on the street, wielding sticks, stones and swords.

Union Minister of State for Home, Kishan Reddy had, however, informed Parliament (in answer to a starred question) that NIA had investigated two interfaith marriages and found no evidence of duplicity or illegal conversions. “The term Love Jihad”, he clarified, “is not defined under the extant laws”. Various other state High Courts have also upheld the Kerala High Court order on Hadiya’s marriage that quoted the provisions under Article 25 of the Constitution that provides citizens with the freedom to profess and practice any religion subject to public order, morality and health. It is plain that such laws defy the Constitutional protection to citizens and violate fundamental rights.

Women across the world have lived with the bitter fact that they are treated by men as sexual objects. Marriages are decided by men to control women’s sexuality and fertility. Every culture has favoured far more severe punishment to women for interfaith marriages, rape, battery, incest and extra marital sex.

Women are denied the right over their own bodies and the right to think for themselves. Women, for most men, remain machines to produce a lineage of racially pure males. Laws and the judicial system too are tilted towards men because they are crafted, defined and adjudicated mostly by men. Despite inter faith marriages between two consenting adults being entirely legal, it took Hadiya two years to get a verdict that validated her marriage.

Interfaith marriages have been fairly common in ancient India, especially among the warrior castes. In the Mahabharata, Kshatriyas like Arjuna, Krishna and Bheema have all been open to ‘hypergamous’ unions with women from different castes and creeds.

The scholar V K Rajwade writes in the preface to one of his seminal works (Marathanchi Itihas Sadhane) on Hindu community that in the earliest period, both rural and urban areas had dozens of castes and communities following various faiths. If someone wished to break away, he appealed to the local panchayat and if they were convinced of his viability in their midst, he was admitted and after a while, allowed to settle down as member of that community

Numerous people of non-Indian origins were thus assimilated and subsumed and castes kept multiplying. Rajwade has left behind copious notes based on the Mahabharata to deconstruct the history of the institution of marriage (published posthumously by Peoples’ Publishing House). The epic is full of interfaith marriages, elopements, incest, sexual harassment of women and Rishis living in celibacy and hunter kings mating with free living Apsaras and their progeny and producing off springs like Bharat, the founder of Bharat, that is India today.

A tale that I heard as a child spoke of lord Krishna’s grandson Pradyumna falling in love with Usha, a beautiful princess from the Asura community. Fearing reprisals from her powerful father Banasur, the lovers eloped. The Asura King Banasur was livid. He prayed to his mentor Shiva to help him take on Krishna.

A war to settle matters was fought. It was led on the boy’s side by Kama, the God of Love armed with flower arrows, and on Banasur’s side by the celibate warrior and son of lord Shiva, Karthikeya. He was armed to the teeth with poison darts carrying snakes and scorpions. The strange war was finally won by Love. Kama’s arrows acted as a most effective antidote against venomous arrows until the embarrassed gods told the girl’s father to accept the marriage and be done with it.

Ever since that war, my grandmother would say, the best remedy when bitten by a scorpion, has been to rub mango blossoms on a clean stone and apply it to the stung part of the body or use the juice of a betel leaf mixed with human saliva. The juice of the fragrant blossom and leaf would suck out the most harmful of poisons as it did in the battle between Kama and Karthikeya, she would say.

Because love triumphs over hate.

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