Love Jihad Bill is like saying that women are incapable of making decisions or at no liberty to decide on their personal matters

Not even five victims of love jihad, to speak of and yet the urgency to table this divisive bill is an all out assault on India’s pluralism and multi cultural ethos

Ibtedaae Ishq hai rota hai kya.. Aage Aage dekhiye hota hai kya… Famous Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir had written this poem.

In English it translates to: It’s only the beginning of love, why dost you groan?

O, wait and see what happens as you onward move.

What happens when love becomes an unstoppable force? Can it be tamed or caged?

In 21st century India, just as we thought we were making inroads into women empowerment, personal liberty and truly progressing as a nation in thought and deed, comes a bill that seeks to curtail rights to love.

Controlling a woman’s sexuality is patriarchy in action, nothing more or less, the term ‘love jihad’ hitherto an unrecognised term in the legal framework of India will soon find sanction. It’s not a secret that the Sangh Parivar’s pet project of bashing Muslims 24/7 is a continuum along with a global lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic, the CAA-NRC protests, Delhi riots among others. To add cherry on the cake is the news that the Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra has recently said that ‘purported’ love jihad bill that includes five years of rigorous imprisonment for ‘violators’ will soon be introduced in the state assembly.

Women never had much of an agency in India to begin with, whether it is to do with the right to be born, right to education, right to her body, right to choose a spouse etc.

Yes no doubt a few stray incidents have transpired in the past, of forceful conversions where Muslim men have married Hindu women and vice versa and the woman was forced to forego her immediate identity, which brings us back to the question whether the same has not happened with Hindu women at the hands of Hindu men?

It’s not shocking to say the least that such a bill is of top most priority in Madhya Pradesh, a state that has been ruled by BJP for the past 15 years where malnutrition, crimes against children, rape cases and employment is still a major issue for 62% of voters.

Come to think of this, if the state does implement this bill, the biggest losers will only be ‘women’.

The hypocrisy of banning Triple Talaq yet curtailing women’s personal liberty to choose a spouse by the present regime stands naked, hollow and exposed.

What sense does it make to safeguard a woman’s right to stay in her marital home and protecting her rights against a pronounced divorce from a Muslim man, and in the same breath taking another woman’s agency away of free will to choose a spouse? This will ensure that the state will take the power away from the young woman and place this authority and leave the decision making of marriage and place it in the hands of the parents of the woman.

There can be nothing more regressive and communal than that, it’s like saying that women are incapable of making decisions or at no liberty to decide on their personal matters.

All efforts to usher in reforms for the growth and empowerment of women stands decimated, if women of this country do not stand together and contest the passing of such an unconstitutional bill.

Two of my close family members got married to Hindu women in the recent past and their relationship was validated by the Special Marriage Act.

A few weeks ago a Tanishq ad that depicted an inter community marriage was forced to be pulled down by the right wing trolls, this act of harassment only depicts how communal harmony in the country has deteriorated in the past couple of years.

The ensuing Love Jihad Bill is nothing but another stick to beat up Muslim men with, a tool for harassment and further demonization of the minorities who have been left in the cold since the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.

Marriages in India continue to be ‘arranged’ by parents of the bride and the groom, it’s said that while a girl gets married into a boy family, she not only marries the boy but his entire family.

Rules of endogamy further narrow the institution of marriage.

Recently in Kerala, an inter-faith couple found their particulars splashed on social media alleging a case of ‘Love Jihad’, all claims were baseless.

Indian society since eons has taken the onus of what should be deemed honourable or not, this bill would further act as an agent of shame induced by so called unworthy, undesirable behaviour as deemed by societal mores.

Honour killings in India are glaring examples of how primordial, medieval behaviour not only is accepted but also gets state sanction.

The fact that khap panchayats and Kangaroo courts are still alive and thriving in India is a telling sign on how much we have progressed as a nation.

In olden days women were ‘gifted’ in marriage for territorial expansions, women and slaves came part as a booty capture of kings and rulers.

This vicious cycle validated the patriarchal control over a woman’s heart, mind and body confining a woman’s sexual and marriage rights within the narrow confines of caste and gotra, today marriage is only a by-product of caste and societal acknowledgement.

In such harrowing times, it’s baffling to note that the government has absolutely no data on ‘love jihad’ and yet its priority to communalize things further in a divisive atmosphere stinks of dirty politics and nothing else.

It’s time the Supreme Court of India takes suo moto cognisance of this bill that proposes to criminalize love rather than proposing a bill to criminalize hate.

The right to marriage (Article 21) of the Indian constitution says “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”

In the 2018 Hadia and Shefin Jahan case, Justice Chandrachud had ruled that neither the state nor the law can dictate a choice of partners or limit the free ability of any person to decide on these matters, they form the essence of personal liberty.

Any law by any state government or the centre that tries to curb an adult woman’s right to marry in the name of love jihad would be deemed unconstitutional.

Not even five victims of love jihad, to speak of and yet the urgency to table this divisive bill is an all out assault on India’s pluralism and multi cultural ethos.

It needs to be challenged viciously.

Saira Shah Halim

is a rights activist and an educator

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