Ever since the gang-rape case of a 20 year-old girl from Sarawa village of Distt Meerut who was allegedly abducted, raped and forcibly converted to Islam came into light, the political environment of India is heating up over “Love Jihad”. So lets try to analyze this issue from a social and legal standpoint.
According to this explosive article in Open Mag, there is a palpable fear in the Hindu population of Western UP at the moment, where parents and community leaders are claiming that daughters of Hindu families are being lured in by Muslim boys/men with promises of a life of comfort and luxury with the intention of converting them to Islam and possibly even trafficking them to foreign countries.
The authors of the Open Mag piece claim that several such incidents have been occurring in Western UP for quite sometime now and often the victims are minors. In most cases, the men seem to be previously married and much older than the victims of this Love Jihad. While the cases from Western UP are getting attention now, similar complaints have been coming from Southern states of Kerala and Karnataka. Quoting from the article:
“Love Jihad may have gained prominence only now in North India but in the deep south, especially Kerala and Karnataka, it has been a controversial subject for many years now. In August 2009, the Kerala High Court asked the state government to consider enacting a law prohibiting it. “Under the pretext of love, there cannot be any compulsive, deceptive conversion,” said Justice KT Sankaran of the Kerala High Court, while rejecting the bail applications of two people accused of Love Jihad. He went on to say that after going through the case diary of such cases, it was clear that there was a concerted effort to convert girls of a particular religion to another with the blessings of some religious outfits. The Court pointed out that there were 4,000 to 5,000 religious conversions due to love affairs in the last four years in Kerala alone.
Two weeks later, the Karnataka High Court also directed the state government to order a probe into Love Jihad cases. In October 2009, the Karnataka Government ordered a Crime Investigation Department (CID) probe into the matter. In 2010, then Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan called Love Jihad an effort to turn Kerala into a Muslim majority state”
In view of the left-wing media’s serious attempts to obfuscate the issue by repeatedly bringing consensual inter-faith marriage into the discussion, let me be absolutely clear: Love Jihad is not about consensual inter-faith marriages, it is about sexual violence, gender crimes, deceit and fraud. It is a women’s rights issue.
The Legal Solution
Let’s first examine the laws that already exist to cover gender violence.
Firstly, if a minor is lured into a sexual relationship or marriage, a clear case of paedophilia (covered under Protection of Child from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012) and/or Child Marriage (Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006) can be made.
Love Jihad is not about consensual inter-faith marriages, it is about sexual violence, gender crimes, deceit and fraud. It is a women’s rights issue.
Second, if abduction and rape is involved, there are several criminal laws which already deal with these crimes. Sections 354 and 375 deal with rape. These have been enhanced and made more stringent recently in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, also known as the Nirbhaya Act to cover sexual assaults, voyeurism, and stalking among other things. Section 366 of the IPC declares Abduction leading to forced marriage/sexual relationship against the woman’s will punishable for up to 10yrs in jail plus fine or both. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 makes human trafficking illegal.
So if all these laws already exist, why is this an issue?
Reality Check (@realitycheckind on Twitter) in his blog “Love Jihad is air gapping two different legal regimes” argues that the biggest concern about Love Jihad is not religious conversion but that of
(a) informed consent and
(b) woman’s rights under the Muslim Personal Law vis-a-vis the Hindu Law or even the SMA.
“When a Hindu girl gets married under Shariah Law, she waives her existing rights . So even if she consented – was it an informed consent in the sense that she voluntarily waived her rights ?”
Most cases that are coming to the fore are from rural areas and younger victims who are quite unlikely to know their legal rights as a Hindu woman. In order to ensure informed consent, Reality Check offers the following proposal:
Hindu girls marrying under Shariah must be either required to sign or at least informed about exactly the rights they are losing. I prefer the waiver form to be direct so that these rural girls understand whats going on. Something of the kind : Do you agree to waive your right that your husband does not need your consent if he wants to marry again ? Do you agree to waive your right to divorce procedure ? etc”
Deceit and Fraud
While there are several laws that cover the criminal aspects of a case, there isn’t one to curb forced religious conversion. As in the recent case of Tara Sahdeo, a national level shooter from Ranchi, her husband who duped her into marriage by using a fake Hindu identity and later on raped, tortured and forced her to convert, it is evident that the element of deceit and fraud is undeniable. Sexual violence, followed by blackmail appears to be merely means of achieving the end goal: conversion. But is a legal remedy for this even feasible?
Most cases that are coming to the fore are from rural areas and younger victims who are quite unlikely to know their legal rights as a Hindu woman.
A pertinent question here is this: how does one distinguish between genuine cases of inter-religious love marriage vs these cases of malicious intent aka Love Jihad? This is an absolutely critical question since laws cannot and should not be ambiguous. As Harsh Gupta and Shoaib Daniyal warn in this DNA article that in order to curb this growing menace, the law cannot and should not overstep female autonomy and individuality.
I would go a step further and make the above argument gender neutral. The state should not overstep individuality and autonomy of any individual. Period. Harsh and Shoaib explain in their article how even genuine inter-religious marriage cases many times involve conversion since the Special Marriage Act (which allows for two people of different faiths to get married under the Civil Law ) is far from perfect and in fact quite problematic. As a result, one partner in genuine inter-religious marriage cases convert to the other’s religion to bypass the hassle. Their concern and point is valid. They propose that SMA should be simplified first in order to ensure consenting adult women are not forced to convert just to avoid the hassles of SMA.
Both advices are sound and should be seriously considered but is this enough? Probably no. I would argue that forced conversion is a menace to the society since it oversteps into a person’s liberty and freedom to religion. So it may appear feasible to declare “conversion by deceit, treachery, fraud or force” illegal. The problem, however, is with the implementation. If implementation of a certain law is not thought through, it becomes a nightmare like Section 498A due to unlimited misuse. So the first challenge is to draft a law that is robust and fool proof. The second challenge here is that the state shouldn’t step over the right of an individual to convert by consent as noted above. But how does one prove coercion in the first place? I suppose victim testimony should work, however, as in 498A, this sometimes works negatively. Concrete proof of deceit, lying and treachery in cases like these would be hard to come by, thus allowing culprits to escape the law. On the other hand, aggrieved parents of consenting adults in an inter-religious marriage could potentially misuse this forced conversion law, should it be created.
Over–reliance on laws and the legal framework is the hallmark of socialist state but as history bears witness, its hardly any solution. The number of laws in this country are so overwhelming that Prime Minister Modi has taken a vow to repeal as many as possible. But too many laws is not India’s only problem. Drafting incomplete laws full of loopholes that allows fraudsters to make merry at the expense of common man is the bigger problem.
While there are several laws that cover the criminal aspects of a case, there isn’t one to curb forced religious conversion.
It is for this reason that I believe that Love Jihad should be dealt with socially rather than legally.
The Social Aspect
Hindu families (and Christians in Kerela) feel victimized because their naive, unsuspecting daughters are being lured and they do not know what they are getting into. However, at the heart of this problem is another social issue. According to Kerala CM Oommen Chandy, 2500 women have been converted to Islam since 2006 in Kerala alone. Note that this figure is quite less than noted by the Kerala High Court (as quoted from the Open article). As compared to this staggering figure of 2500, a mere 79 were converted to Christianity and a negligible two to Hinduism.
If these were voluntary conversions, and thats a big IF, one can clearly see that a negligible number of Muslim women are converting into other religions, despite having fewer rights under Muslim Personal Law as compared to Hindu Law or Civil Law. Even in the cases mentioned by Open, a lot of women get involved with men under the lure of money (note that Muslim identities of the men are not always hidden). It is an interesting social question to wonder why that is the case.
Absence of more granular demographical data pertaining to conversions and inter-faith marriages makes it impossible to study this phenomenon with scientific precision. However, a few sociological reasons come to mind. According to a 2013 paper by Dr Tanweer Fazal, a staggering 47 per cent of Muslim females are illiterate and 23 per cent of Muslim girls are out of schools. This combined with the rigid codes of Muslim society, prohibits Muslim women (typically in rural settings) from fraternizing with boys, especially of other faiths. In contrast, Hindu households of similar socio-economic status in a similar setting would allow greater freedom to their daughters. However, “higher degree of patriarchy” argument doesn’t really solve our puzzle since the conversion rates are low in urban settings as well (Note that there were only 81 conversions of Muslims into other faiths in all of Kerela, including cities) where women are supposedly more educated and more liberal.
It is observable that Muslim women appear to be more devoted to their faith—even the rebellious atheistic/agnostic/liberal ones—than their Hindu counterparts. In several cases of inter-religious marriage, a Muslim woman would urge the non-Muslim husband to convert rather than converting herself. So, my question is, why are the Hindu women being perceived as naive and unsuspecting who can be lured into Islam whereas Muslim women are showing the conviction to stay true to their faith irrespective of the level of emotional involvement? If these conversions are not voluntary, and most of them don’t appear to be, then why are Hindu women easy targets for Islamists?
In several cases of inter-religious marriage, a Muslim woman would urge the non-Muslim husband to convert rather than converting herself.
One aspect is the degradation of Hindu values in the society. Having faced constant and unfair attacks by the Marxists against their culture for the past half-century or more, Hindu society has taken a severe beating. Add to that the sanitization carried out in our history books (as explained by the Arun Shourie in his book Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud and in my article here) and the constant mocking of Hindu faith and traditions have made Hindus overly defensive.
If Hindu iconography is any indication, women were anything but docile, submissive creatures. Rg Veda gave equal stature to women and the Vedic society made no distinctions in the way sons and daughters were raised. Hindu society in fact celebrates a woman’s emotions, her sexuality and her power to influence lives. It celebrates womanhood. It celebrates Durga, Chandi, Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati. All the different avatars of Shakti symbolize some aspect of womanhood. So why then do Hindus raise docile and submissive women now? 1200 years of Islamic occupation has that kind of lasting effect but its time we wake up from our slumber.
The Marxist movement is effectively dying out in India (after wreaking havoc for 50 plus years) and this is good news. This is also an indication that Hindus learn from their rich culture and discard and dismiss the Leftist narrative. Hinduism is anything but a patriarchal culture, it is a rich culture, more in tune with femininity than any other contemporary culture or religion in the world and it’s time we recognized it and celebrated it that way.
Hindus need to raise their daughters as confident people and not hide them in the kitchen or lock them in houses. They need to equip them with the power of knowledge. An awareness drive should be run to inform Hindu women of their rights and privileges and what they will lose should they convert. They should also be made aware of the dangers lurking nearby and what to do if they feel they are being trapped. Setup inter-community counsellors, older women who can help guide and advise girls who wish to seek help. Another major issue with Hindu society is insularity. Hindus need to open their doors for those who wish to join the Hindu Samaj, be it a non-Hindu converting to Hinduism or a Love Jihad victim who wishes to come back in the Hindu Samaj and live a life of dignity. We also need to revive our Hindu identity, over and above our caste identity.
Hinduism is anything but a patriarchal culture, it is a rich culture, more in tune with feminity than any other contemporary culture or religion.
Kids, both male and female, should be raised in an open but cultural environment where they imbibe Hindu values without being overwhelmed by traditions and rituals. Spirituality is a very personal quest, and it is treated as such in the Vedas and that is how it should be treated in every Hindu household. Focus on what’s important. “Appreciation of our rich heritage” and the rest will follow automatically. Hindu kids, especially girls, should be taught critical reasoning, the “do-not-take-everything-at-face-value approach”. Encourage them to question everything, including aspects of their religion that have been taken on blind faith. When they ask, try to answer to the best of your ability and encourage them to find answers on their own. Expose them to the rich library of Hindu texts, including Advaita and Charvaka. Do not restrict their imagination, let them appreciate and critique the texts they read. Raising kids with Dharmic values will have a dramatic improvement in the numerous issues facing Hindu society, including but not limited to the susceptibility of Hindu women towards Love Jihad.
A deep and heartfelt appreciation of the Hindu heritage is important because it is a part of our identity. It is what makes us who we are, it is what ties us to our roots. And last but not least, stop raising docile and submissive girls but raise them to be Durgas: confident, fierce and independent, equipped with the strength and confidence and ability to hit back hard in the face of danger.
Neha Srivastava is an alumnus of Columbia University, and is currently working for a leading wall street firm.