The Madhya Pradesh government on Tuesday announced its intention to introduce a bill in the state assembly combat "love jihad". The convicts will be awarded five years jail term according to the provisions of the bill, the charge cognizable and non-bailable, state Home Minister Narottam Mishra told reporters.
On September 23, the Allahabad High Court observed that religious conversions for the purpose of marriage were unacceptable. Since then, the governments in BJP ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, and Karnataka have declared they will bring in laws to curb the spread of "love jihad". "There are many reports about conversions due to love jihad. I don't know about other states, but in Karnataka we are going to end this. We are viewing the luring of girls with the use of money or love as something serious. We will take stern measures," Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said during the state executive meeting on November 5.
On Sunday, November 1 Haryana's home minister tweeted that "a law against love jihad is being considered…". Home Minister Anil Vij's tweet comes a day after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said his government was working towards introducing stringent anti-conversion laws.
While Vij's pronouncement came on the heels of the October 26 incident where a stalker shot dead 21-year-old Nikita Tomar in broad daylight outside their Ballabhgarh college after she allegedly refused to marry him, UP CM Yogi Adityanath's proclamation was inspired by the Allahabad high court's order.
"The Allahabad high court has said that for marriages, changing religion isn't necessary. The government too has decided to check 'love jihad' with all its might. An effective law would be made that would ensure that those who cheat gullible women by hiding their identity would be effectively dealt with," the Uttar Pradesh chief minister had said while addressing an election rally in Jaunpur.
Earlier in October, Assam MLA and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said the saffron party would mount a "strict fight" against "love jihad" if it was voted back to power in 2021. Assertions to combat "love jihad" is in consonance with campaigns propagated by right-wing groups against inter-faith marriages.
The recent takedown of the Tanishq ad which showed an interfaith family after a massive backlash from the Indian right-wing is indicative of the social barriers that still exist. According to a 2016 report from think-tank National Council of Applied Economic Research, only five per cent of marriages in India are inter-faith with Mizoram where 87% of the population is Christian, leading the pack.
Origins of Love Jihad. A bogey or reality?
Love jihad refers to the alleged conspiracy by Muslim men who lure women into converting to Islam on the pretext of love or marriage. The term was first mentioned by a Kerala High Court KT Sankaran in his November 2009 order on anticipatory bails filed by two Muslim men who were accused by their wives—a Hindu and a Christian—of forcing them into conversion and marriage.
In dismissing the bail pleas filed by the Muslim youth, the judge had observed that "there is a movement or project which is called "Romeo Jihad" or "Love Jihad" conceived by a section of the Muslims" and "indications that several similar instances" like those of the two girls had taken place in Kerala. Observing that the "idea appears to be to convert girls belonging to other religions to Islam," Justice Sankaran had directed the state police to probe the issue and recommended the state government to enact legislation to counter these "deceptive" acts.
The term soon caught on in light of an increasing number of conversion cases. In 2017, the issue came to a head in 2017, when the Kerala High Court had annulled an interfaith marriage and directed the National Investigation Agency to probe the issue. The Supreme Court, on a habeas corpus plea filed by Shafin Jahan—the husband, had unanimously set aside the high court order ruling that individuals had a right to choose their religion and marry a partner of their choice.
In a separate but concurring opinion, Justice DY Chandrachud observed, "Matters of belief and faith, including whether to believe, are at the core of constitutional liberty. The Constitution exists for believers as well as for agnostics".
"The exercise of that jurisdiction (high court) should not transgress into the area determining the suitability of partners to a marital tie. That decision rests exclusively with individuals themselves," Justice Chandrachud had said, adding, "Interference by the State in such matters has a seriously chilling effect on exercise of freedoms."
Love jihad is a colloquial term with no official sanction. In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Centre on February 5, 2020, admitted that the concept of love jihad was not officially defined under the existing laws and thus no such case had been reported by the central agencies.
Religious conversions for purpose of marriage invalid: Allahabad HC
The recent controversy on love jihad gathered steam in light of a September high court order where a plea filed by an inter-faith couple seeking police protection was dismissed. The Muzzafarnagar-based couple had sought protection from the girl's parents who did not approve of the match. The plea, filed by the couple, categorically stated they wilfully chose to marry each other without force, threat or coercion. The plea further sought the court's protection from any harassment or interference in their "peaceful married life".
The court, however, dismissed the plea on the grounds that the Muslim girl had clearly converted her religion—she converted to Hinduism a month before the couple married—"only for the purpose of marriage."
The high court had relied on its December 2014 order where it had observed that conversion of religion for the sole purpose to marry could not be said to be bonafide or valid.
Mixed reaction from courts
Inter-faith couples seeking police protection have received mixed reactions from the judiciary. In 2019, the Supreme Court observed that it was "not averse to inter-faith and inter-caste marriages" in response to a plea filed by a father challenging Chhattisgarh High Court order which allowed his daughter to live with her Muslim husband.
The 33-year-old Muslim man who had converted to Hinduism in order to marry had allegedly reconverted back to Islam, the father had alleged. Challenging the union, the father had alleged that the marriage was a sham and a racket being operated in the name of inter-faith marriage was underway.
In another case, the Allahabad high court while allowing the habeas corpus plea filed by a Muslim husband, the judge observed, though individuals have a right to profess, practice or propagate the religion of his/her choice, it was "disconcerting that in matrimonial matters one party should change his/her faith to the other's just for the sake of matrimony and nothing more."
Petitions supporting inter-faith unions in the Supreme Court
Earlier this week, a plea challenging the September 23 Allahabad high court order was filed before the Supreme Court. The plea pointed out issues faced by "runaway couples" who wished to marry under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act. It also submitted that the right to religion, included one's right to convert.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 was enacted to allow people of any faith or nationality to get married while maintaining their faith and religion. At least two pleas, one in the Supreme Court and the other in the High Court, have challenged provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
The plea in the Supreme Court submits that the provision where impending nuptials are publicly announced in case someone wants to object to the same infringe on a couple's privacy. "Publication of personal details often might have a chilling effect on the right to marry. In other words, couples are asked to waive the right to privacy to exercise the right to marry. This infringes the rights of autonomy, dignity and the right to marry, of various couples," the plea filed by law student Nandini Praveen read.
On October 7 2020, the Delhi high court issued notice to the Centre and the state government on a plea filed Nida Rahman and Mohan Lal challenging provisions of the Special Marriage Act which allow for public notice and a 30-day delay during which public may note their objections in cases of interfaith couples seeking to register their marriage.