Christian girls are targeted by ‘love jihad’, says Kerala church
The Syro-Malabar Church, the largest Christian denomination in Kerala, on Wednesday said Christian girls are being targeted and killed after being forced into marriages and blamed the police for not taking effective measures to curb the menace.
In an official communiqué, the church expressed serious concern over the issue and exhorted believers to be alert. It also said such practices were posing a serious threat to secular fabric of the state and cited many incidents to buttress its claim.
“Instead of viewing love jihad as a religious issue police should consider this as a law and order problem that threatens to vitiate communal harmony. Statistics with us show it is not sheer imaginary. There have been recent complaints in the state that women were sexually abused in the name of love and later forced to convert,” the letter said.
It also said that among the 21 people missing from north Kerala in 2016, who believed to have joined the Islamic State, many were converts from Christianity. There are reports that some of these Indian widows were languishing in a jail in Kabul. The communiqué signed by the media commission chief Father Antony Thalachellor said the church will carry out vigorous awareness programmes for parents and girls from the community.
‘Love jihad’ is an alleged activity through which girls belonging to one community are converted by feigning love. Though the existence of such a phenomenon continues to remain under question, intelligence agencies do admit that in many conversion cases, modus operandi was similar and persons/institutions worked behind them were same. It came up prominently during the Hadiya Jahan case three years ago.
Last year, vice-president of the National Minority Commission, George Kurian, had also sent a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a detailed probe by a central agency into such cases. In the letter, he claimed that many Christian girls were trapped and later forced to convert. He also quoted statics from an inquiry commission conducted by the Kerala Catholics Bishops Council saying at least 4,000 such cases were reported in one and a half decades in the state.
The issue came up prominently during the Hadiya Jahan which grabbed national attention after the Kerala High Court annulled her marriage with Shefin Jahan saying it was a sham. Her father Ashokan had moved the court saying his daughter was indoctrinated and forcibly converted. He also claimed that she would be pushed to the Islamic State-controlled areas like the 21 missing people from the state. But in 2018, the Supreme Court had restored her marriage and allowed Jahan to go with her husband.
Many reformist groups in the church, meanwhile, said that the issue has been raised “at a wrong time and was intended to divert attention from some of the burning issues afflicting the church”. “Property disputes, capitation fee kickbacks and alleged sexual abuse charges against some priests church is mired in many issues. It seems this issue was raised all of a sudden to divert attention from them,” said Kochi-based activist P Thankachhan.
Both Hindu and Christian groups had floated helplines to check the so-called phenomenon. A Kochi-based yoga centre was in news for all wrong reasons last year after some of the girls complained that they were mentally and physically tortured at the centre to return to their faith.