A new law, based on the myth that Muslims are waging a “love jihad,” may also affect Christians and members of other minorities.
by Massimo Introvigne
Last month, Romeo and Juliet were in court in Allahabad, India. Juliet’s father has succeeded in registering a FIR (First Information Report), alleging that Romeo and his family had “kidnapped” Juliet for the purpose of converting her to their religion. But when Romeo and Juliet appeared in court, their loving relationship was so obvious that the judge quashed the FIR, and told the families that the couple consisted of “two grown-up individuals who out of their own free will and choice are living together peacefully and happily.”
Juliet’s name is Priyanka Kharwar, and she was born and raised a Hindu. Romeo is called Salamat Ansari, and he is a Muslim. The High Court of the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, told Priyanka’s family that, although the girl is converting to Islam, this is her fee choice, protected by the Indian Constitution. Is she converting because she loves her husband, or because she finds the theology of Islam persuasive? This, the Court said, is impossible to determine, and lies beyond the province of what judges can and should assess.
But Yogi Adityanath, the controversial Hindu holy man who serves as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has a different opinion. He believes that Priyanka is a victim of “love jihad,” an alleged conspiracy of Muslim men who, supported by extremist organizations and funded by Islamic countries, wine, dine, and serenade naïve Hindu girls, and marry them with the only purpose of converting them to Islam.
Adityanath’s theory failed to be substantiated by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up in September by the Inspector General of Uttar Pradesh Police, Mohit Agarwal, following requests by Hindu nationalists. Released in November, the SIT report concluded that, while Muslim boys and Hindu girls do sometimes fall in love and marry, there is no conspiracy, no foreign funding, and no “love jihad.”
However, the “love jihad” conspiracy theory remains extremely popular in Hindu nationalist circles and social media. Also in November, a FIR was registered against two Netflix executives after one episode of the network’s series “A Suitable Boy” showed a Hindu girl kissing a Muslim boy, with a Hindu temple in the background. Previously, the Jewelry brand Tanishq had to withdraw a publicity campaign featuring a mixed Hindu-Muslim couple. According to Hindu nationalist critics, this promoted “love jihad” too.
These incidents pale in comparison to Yogi Adityanath’s introduction of a law that will compel a man and a woman belonging to different religions who want to marry in Uttar Pradesh to give two months’ notice to the district magistrate before the marriage. They will be allowed to tie the knot only “if there will be no objections” the magistrate will regard as valuable. Those trying to circumvent the law will face prison terms up to five years. The law, called “Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020,” was promulgated by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh on November 27, 2020, only three days after it was approved by the local government—a record, due according to several observers to the need to counter the effects of the High Court decision in the case of Priyanka and Salamat.
The Uttar Pradesh government made it abundantly clear that the purpose of the law is to make it more difficult for Muslim men to marry, and convert to Islam, Hindu girls. But since a law targeting only Muslims would be obviously against the Indian Constitution, Islam is not specifically mentioned, and all interfaith marriages should pass through the district magistrate. Clearly, the law can be also used to try to prevent Hindus from marrying Christians, and members of other minority religions.