Posted on December 2, 2020

It Was Never Easy Being an Interfaith Couple in India. Now Some States Are Making It Harder.

Joanna Slater, Washington Post, November 26, 2020

—–Marrying across religious lines has always been a challenge in India, a vast multifaith democracy where the pull of family and tradition remains strong.

Now politicians in India’s ruling party are contemplating laws to thwart such unions, driven by a conspiracy theory that views them as a tool for conversions.

At a rally last month, the leader of the country’s largest state warned of the danger of “love jihad,” an inflammatory slur referring to an alleged plot by Muslim men to convert Hindu women through marriage.

Men who “conceal their names and play with the honor of daughters and sisters” should prepare for their final journeys, thundered Yogi Adityanath, the radical Hindu monk who leads the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The “love jihad” smear is baseless, but it has become common parlance among members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. In recent weeks, four state governments have promised to enact new laws to combat the purported threat.

On Tuesday, the state cabinet in Uttar Pradesh — home to more than 200 million people — approved an order criminalizing religious conversions “by marriage” with jail terms of between one and 10 years. The order, once it’s signed by the state governor, would also nullify unions in which a woman changes her religion solely to marry.

The new laws will deepen concerns that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s Muslim minority is increasingly subject to suspicion, discrimination and even violence.

Couples belonging to different religions or castes have long faced hurdles in India that range from familial opposition to death threats. There is no official data on how many interfaith marriages there are in the country, but a study based on statistics from 2005 suggested they represented about 2 percent of the total.


Now the notion of “love jihad” — once relegated to the Hindu nationalist fringe — has moved on to the legislative agenda in states controlled by the BJP.


Earlier this week, Arun Singh, the national general secretary of the BJP, told reporters in Delhi that “love jihad” is a “very serious problem” that states should pass laws to address. {snip}


Despite the absence of evidence for the phenomenon of “love jihad,” three more BJP-controlled states — Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka — have pledged to enact laws targeting it.

Anil Vij, a minister in the Haryana government, was among those promising strict action. “No one should, either by trapping a person in the web of love, temptation, by seducing or by threatening, change someone’s religion,” he said in a recent television interview.

Companies that depict interfaith romance have faced outrage. In Madhya Pradesh, state police registered a complaint against two Netflix India executives after a Hindu nationalist group objected to a scene in the serial “A Suitable Boy.” In the scene, a Hindu woman and a Muslim man share a kiss near a Hindu temple. {snip}

Last month, the jewelry brand Tanishq was forced to withdraw an advertisement built around a touching scene of interreligious harmony at a baby shower. It evoked a furious response from some Hindu nationalists, who threatened to boycott the brand for promoting “love jihad.”