“Love Jihad”- I first heard the term when I was a student in India. It was uttered by a police officer to whom I had gone for some verification work as a foreign student. He had just looked at my papers and his eyes narrowed down on my family information. My father’s surname- Ahmed, and mother’s surname- Dhar. It was clear that my late father had a Muslim background, and my mother a Hindu background. I had experienced it nearly all my life in different places- in administrative offices, in airports, in hotels, in institutions- everywhere. The different religious backgrounds of my parents always sparked the curiosity of people, and many never shied away from asking unsolicited questions. It was nothing new. However, what was new for me was the term. Love Jihad- waging jihad through love.
It sounded funny to me, that this man was calling my late father a jihadi- a man I never saw praying while we lived together, a man who drank alcohol and never taught me anything about Islam. I never saw my mother practicing Islam, while she was married to my father. I was never forced to choose any religion. Rather, I was taught to respect everyone irrespective of their religious background. As a child, I took part in festivals of different religions- not limited to Islamic or Hindu festivals.
So it made no sense to me, until much later when I started coming across this derogatory term more and more. The recent controversy surrounding an ad from Tanishq showing a Hindu woman accompanied by her Muslim mother-in-law for her baby shower ceremony brought back those memories and recently, I have had the privilege of reviewing a brilliant write up on this issue. Thus, I can’t resist sharing my two cents on this topic. After all, I am a child born out of the so-called “Love Jihad.”
The theory of “love jihad” is not just communal and Islamophobic, it is also misogynist. The theory assumes women as mere properties and does not acknowledge their agency. It is tied to the patriarchal notion that women are properties of their family and their community (In this particular case, a Hindu woman belongs to the Hindu community and she must not stray). It shows the rising intolerance in India, which is saddening and alarming. It is a theory propagated by the promoters of the Hindutva ideology, who bear a striking resemblance to the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh or elsewhere, and to extremists elsewhere. Most, if not all, of these extremists, have one belief in common; that is, women are not entitled to making choices for themselves. Theories like love jihad refuse to acknowledge that many women chose to marry Muslim men because they fell in love- or perhaps those promoting love jihad theory refuse to believe that any sane Hindu woman can choose to betray by going away with a Muslim man.
Before dear Sanghis start yelling at me, let me clarify. I am not denying the incidents of kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu women in Pakistan or Bangladesh. However, the incidents of forced conversion are driven by the same ideology- that a woman is a property of her community, and to violate the dignity of a woman is to attack her community. But to label every inter-faith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man as an example of “jihad” or “forced conversion” is not just biased, it is an example of extreme bigotry. I have lost track of how many times in my entire life I have been told that the marriage of my parents is an example of “love jihad” – while I studied in India. On the other, I have also been told off countless times in Bangladesh that the marriage of my parents is not “Halal” or “legitimate” because my mother did not practice Islam after her marriage, thus labeling me as an “illegitimate” child. When my parents got separated, I had to hear extremely disrespectful comments about both of the communities. My parents’ failed marriage became a weapon in attempts to manipulate me. Thus, I have experienced bigotry from both sides and the worst was the suggestions and questions about my future marriage.
Many so-called well-wishers advised me strongly on which religious community I should marry into(But wait, I thought I am supposed to marry someone I love and compatible with, irrespective of his background!)- a tug of war that continued for several years. Some told me I must marry a Muslim because Islam is my father’s religion and I must not betray. Patriarchy asserts that I belong to my father, even though I was raised by my mother after their separation. On the other hand, some told me I must marry a Hindu man instead because Hindu men are more liberal – and isn’t the failed marriage of my parents enough for me to learn from, that I must never ever marry a Muslim? Ironically enough, many of these people never met either of my parents and have no idea why exactly their marriage did not work out. But that did not stop them from trying to manipulate me with their bigotry.
I feel disgusted about how communalism and sexism intersected in all of these incidents, whereby my capacity to think or act has been brutally denied. Who were people to suggest to me in the first place when I never consulted them? As an individual who does not believe in these barriers imposed by society, it makes me disheartened and worried for those who may not have an ounce of freedom that I was lucky to gain for myself. Furthermore, being looked upon as a prospective property of either community makes me feel reduced to nothing, but a mere piece of flesh- a vagina. A vagina to be conquered, a vagina that will deliver babies who will have a religion (but which religion?) unlike me. Nothing more than that.
Thus, while following up on the debate, sometimes I can’t help but wonder whether Karl Marx was right when he said: “Religion is the opium of the masses.” I don’t know yet the answer to my traumas and frustrations that resurface periodically, but I can definitely say that this utterly disgusting, communal, and sexist theory of love jihad is something that needs to be addressed seriously, or else the fire of communal hatred will continue to create havoc in the region over and over again. And as far as I am concerned, the child born out of “love jihad” or “haram” marriage, my life’s decisions will be made by me, not by bigots full of hatred in their hearts.
- “Sanghis”- it is a term referring to those individuals who support Hindutva and thus are Islamophobic.
About the writer:
The writer is working as the editor of the Women Chapter’s English site. She has completed an M.A. in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, the Netherlands. When she is free, she likes to write, travel, or make quilled art/crafts.