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As India debates the much-talked about ‘Love Jihad’ and forced conversions, feminists feel the political mainstreaming of the narrative, apart from fuelling communal strife, also signals difficult times for women’s rights movements in the country.
Hindu right-wing proponents allege ‘Love Jihad’ is a conspiracy by Muslim men to expand their community by pretending to be Hindus and tricking Hindu women into marrying them. Accordingly, the Hindu woman must be protected from such overtures.
Now, this is a jarring note for those vocal about women’s rights.
“From the perspective of a woman’s right to choose, the concept of ‘Love Jihad’ is a very problematic one,” says Anjali Monteiro, Professor and Dean, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
She explains that the idea of ‘Love Jihad’ assumes, at its very base, that a woman’s honour lies only in her body, and her sexuality needs to be controlled by others, which is in contradiction to every notion of a woman’s right over herself.
Novelist and poet Meena Kandasamy feels the robust call to fight the perceived ‘Love Jihad’ not only snatches away the right of sexual self-determination of women, but also makes women vulnerable to honour killings, ostracisation and shaming whenever they are transgressive.
“An idea like ‘anti-Love Jihad’ is a step to prevent women's role in the public sphere, and limit their access to public space. They will be policed and restricted to their homes, and they will become puppets,” says Kandasamy.
The concept of ‘Love Jihad’, she adds, infantilises women, assuming that they are incapable of thinking for themselves.
Women activists argue that people creating a ruckus over alleged ‘Love Jihad’ cases completely overlook the fact that Hindu women can also willingly fall in love with a Muslim man.
Historian Charu Gupta writes in the Economic and Political Weekly that women can actually be “actors and subjects in their own right by choosing elopements and conversions”.
Moreover, in a public statement on ‘Love Jihad’, issued a few days ago, leading women activists, including lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover, social activist Teesta Setalvad, and activist Shabman Hashmi of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), said despite conservative diktats, inter-religious marriages had been a part of the Indian milieu for a long time and might, in fact, help build a “united and strong India in the future”.
A recent incident which has come under the ‘Love Jihad’ sweep is that of national-level shooter Tara Shahdeo. She has claimed that her husband Ranjit Kohli alias Raqibul Hassan Khan, married her by pretending to be a Hindu and then tried forcing her to convert to Islam. She has also accused him of torturing her.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), feels branding Shahdeo’s case as ‘Love Jihad’ is not fair.
“When there are hundreds and thousands of cases of marital cheating, domestic violence, fake identities, and marriages after false promises, why are we picking up only this case and giving it a communal colour?”
Krishnan says a similar kind of domestic violence could have been meted out to any woman by her husband belonging to any community. “The AIPWA deals with many such cases where the accused is from the same community.”