August 29, 2014

The Discourse Surrounding ‘Love Jihad’

‘Love Jihad’ is a curious creature by any measure. The central premise — and understanding of the term upon which this piece rests — is that it considered to be a process by which Muslims as a community or significant sections thereof (as opposed to as isolated individuals) dupe Hindu women into marriage through the pretence of love in order to convert them to Islam.

The discourse surrounding ‘Love Jihad’ though is, arguably, far more fascinating than the allegations of its occurrence. To begin with, there appears to be no discourse of ‘Love Jihad’ worth mentioning; there is discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ and there are rebuttals of the discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ which usually seek to negate the existence of ‘Love Jihad’ itself.

The discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ assumes that Hindu women are susceptible to being duped and does not credit them with anything remotely resembling intelligence or individual choice, which isn’t entirely surprising given the prevalence of arranged marriages where family choices may take precedence over the choices which individuals, in particular women, may desire to make for themselves.

Leaving aside the issues of women’s agency which cut across both class and community in India though, it isn’t clear how the discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ is anything more than a means, steeped in Islamophobia and patriarchy, for Hindu men to control Hindu women by attempting to keep them from marrying Muslim men. Unfortunately, the Hindu men who seek to do so — and it must be said that they appear to primarily be a section of upper caste Hindu men — choose to accomplish their aim not by making themselves more appealing to Hindu women but by demonising Muslim men.

There is no room in the discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ where a Hindu woman may choose, entirely of her own free will and without the slightest coercion, to marry a Muslim man and then either choose to convert to Islam or choose to remain Hindu; if she marries a Muslim man, she's been duped into marriage by a man intent on converting her to Islam. There is, however, plenty of room for the possibility of a Hindu man marrying a Muslim woman without censure and with social legitimacy — this appears to rest not only on the notion of ‘shuddhi’ or, in this context, (re)conversion to Hinduism, but also on the notion that women as wives have no independent identities of their own.

The latter issue of women’s autonomy being limited is, of course, not restricted to any one community in India but in the context of ‘Love Jihad’ what it appears to amount to is: having no independent identities unamenable to being subsumed into their husbands’ identities, women’s pre-marital identities are automatically sacrificed in favour of the identities of the men they marry. With this being the basis on which women’s identities are determined, Hindu men marrying Muslim women is not an issue: the women become Hindu. But Hindu women marrying Muslim men do not remain Hindu: they become Muslim which accomplishes the alleged aim of ‘Love Jihad’. Women, Hindu or Muslim, it would seem, quite simply do not matter in and of themselves in the context of ‘Love Jihad’ — they are but their husbands’ accessories.

In practical terms, what the discourse against ‘Love Jihad’ achieves though is to create a framework within which the only people who truly have freedom to choose whom to marry irrespective of their religion are Hindu men, specifically upper caste Hindu men, if one were to factor in the inequity within Hindu society: it is these Hindu men who have the freedom to marry women of whichever faith they choose including either Hindu women (often regardless of the women's caste) or Muslim women. Everyone else, it would seem, can only marry those whom  upper caste Hindu men (and their own social circles) do not object to.

It is far from clear whether ‘Love Jihad’ actually exists at all despite the amount of pushback there has been against it. There seems to be no evidence of any form of conspiracy or masterplan to commit ‘Love Jihad’ in the form in which allegations of its existence have been made, although the lines of argument that have been used to discredit the allegations have, at times, defied understanding. As have proposed ‘solutions’ like legislating a Uniform Civil Code and doing away with personal laws — given that religious conversion is not a condition of marriage under the Special Marriage Act, it appears disingenuous to argue that ‘Love Jihad’ has been either caused or facilitated by bad laws which necessitate conversion to marry. Quite apart from the fact that conversion into any religion, where is it voluntary, should not be problematic, the bottomline is that there is no legal necessity of conversion. If at all ‘Love Jihad’ exists, it is due to a socio-cultural problem and not a legal technicality.

This brings one back to the question of its existence. If ‘Love Jihad’ exists and involves Hindu women being duped by the pretence of love, the first question which springs to mind is: How would successful ‘Love Jihad’ ever be exposed as such? It defies belief that women in love and ostensibly being loved would feel deceived by the alleged pretence of love. The determination of ‘Love Jihad’ having occurred (or not), then, must be made by a third party.

On one hand, there are those who seem to believe that any marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man must necessarily be proof of ‘Love Jihad’. On the other, there are those who have, inexplicably, turned to rape statistics to confirm or disprove the existence of ‘Love Jihad’, breaking down the available statistics to attempt to determine the propensity of Hindu and Muslim men respectively to commit rape by taking into consideration their religion and ignoring not only factors such as their socio-economic marginalisation, but also, it would seem, unbelievably, ignoring the fact that data and statistics relating to rape are notoriously unreliable (especially given the sheer number of rapes which are likely unreported), and that attempting to understand violence against women solely based on crime statistics is unlikely to be an especially successful endeavour. (As an aside, it’s also interesting that the sentiment ‘Consent obtained by deception is not rape’ often heard in relation to false promises to marry coexists in public discourse with ‘But if a Muslim man obtains consent by deception, it's entirely acceptable to talk of ‘Love Jihad’ and bring up rape statistics’ even if the two sentiments are not always expressed simultaneously by the same people — small mercies!)

Coming back to the use of rape statistics: although there are grounds to suspect that there is, in general, a tendency for parents of minor daughters in India to have rape charges filed against men whom their daughters elope with, it is entirely unclear how this could help establishing whether or not ‘Love Jihad’ exists. Apart from not really taking into account adult women, it completely ignores the fact that marital rape is generally not a criminal offence in India. Once-Hindu / Hindu wives who are raped by their Muslim husbands would not be able to file criminal complaints of rape against their husbands even if they were raped which makes the choice of studying rape statistics in the context of ‘Love Jihad’ particularly difficult to understand. Not to mention that abuse (including rape) does rather undermine the premise of ‘Love Jihad’ — one would imagine that abuse and the (continued) pretence of love are usually incompatible.

That said, there is no reason to believe that there do not exist Muslim men who become abusive towards their wives if their own religious practices are not followed in much the same way that there exist Hindu men who compel their wives to follow their own religious practices, in each case with the wives being required to give up their pre-marital practices in favour of their husbands’ practices. It is, however, only in the case of the Muslim man that such abuse becomes not the story of an individual abuser — or as in the case of an upper caste Hindu man, possibly the story of a man who upholds his traditions and heritage — but the story of a community engaging in ‘Love Jihad’. There appears to be, in the discourse against ‘Love Jihad’, absolutely no differentiation between individual Muslim men and Muslims in general. The result is that where a Muslim man abuses a Hindu woman whom he’s married, an entire community is implicated in the conduct of the individual abusive man.

And this, all of this, despite there seeming to be no proof that Muslims as a community are engaging in ‘Love Jihad’ in the first place.

(This post is primarily based on tweets over the last few days.)