'Love Jihad' Laws: No Room for Consent

The politics of 'love jihad' has deep roots in our patriarchal society. Individual agency needs a voice, now more than ever.

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath, has proposed legislation threatening that those engaging in ‘love jihad’ must be prepared to die. Here, the suggestion is that ‘innocent’ and ‘gullible’ girls are forced into marriage with Muslim men and forced to convert in order to do so. It also suggests that the state has the right to step in to protect the girl and honour the Indian tradition of marrying within one’s own network. He has even threatened that boys who engage in this practice would find that their “Ram Naam Satya” (a phrase chanted at Hindu funerals) journey would follow. While without threats of death, other states – Karnataka, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh – are considering similar proposals.

This call is communally-tinged and promotes honour killings. Honour killings occur when a girl is supposedly duped into marrying someone who comes from a family, caste, or religion that is unacceptable to her family or village leadership, thereby justifying action by them to avenge the dishonour caused and to restore the family’s izzat or honour.

Both practices deny women and girls their constitutionally guaranteed right to social justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, and equality of status. India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1989) that calls for ‘free and full choice’ in decisions on when and whom to marry, and these practices also show that we do not honour this commitment.

Girls are seen in need of constant policing

Persisting patriarchal gender norms underlie both honour killings and ‘love jihad’. Girls and young women continue to be perceived as incapable of making informed decisions and in need of constant policing. Marriage continues to be perceived as an alliance between families and not an alliance between two individuals.

In Uttar Pradesh itself, as recently as 2015-16, a state-wide survey by Population Council reports that as many as 40% of young married girls did not participate at all in the decision on when and whom to marry, while 51% simply acquiesced to their parents’ wish. They were typically shown a photograph of the prospective groom, told that ‘he is from a good family’, or felt it was their duty to obey their parents. While a few did have an opportunity to become acquainted with their husband prior to marriage, just 8% made their own decisions. In short, few girls and young women in Uttar Pradesh make informed decisions, and as a result, almost three in five (57%) met their husband for the very first time on the wedding day. 

Also read: Ulterior Motive of ‘Love Jihad’ Laws Is to Drive Muslims Out of the Social Ecosystem