This Monday a young Indian woman, from the northern province of Uttar Pradesh, retracted a statement made in August which had accused a Muslim man of abducting, raping, and forcefully converting her to Islam for marriage. This redaction has challenged a Hindi nationalist characterization of inter-marriages as “love jihads,” an Islamism conspiracy in which young girls are systematically seduced and converted by Muslim men. This perceived phenomenon has had growing legitimacy since it was introduced as a rallying campaign in August.
Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling parliamentary party, and its affiliate groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have supported a campaign against these “love jihads” which they view as threats to Hindi family structures and communities.
Shanthakaka, the head of Rashtra Sevika Samiti, which is the women’s wing of one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s affiliate group (the RSS) has even proposed a monetary compensation system in which to young Muslim boys are paid for successfully marrying Hindi girls. She has even proposed a system of reward related to the caste of the seduced girl where, “the remuneration for Rajput girls is Rs 1 lakh ($1,635) and for Brahmin girls is Rs 2 lakhs ($3,270).”
Some opponents of Hindi nationalism expect that the BJP hopes to ban inter-religious marriages. Experts have observed that the insistence of love jihad would help the party gain social support for such a law.
The northern province of Uttar Pradesh, which provides many of the cases which support the conservative government’s conception of love jihads, is a region fraught with religious conflict. Deadly religious riots last year caused the death of more than 60 people and displaced thousands from the Muzaffarnagar district. Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India and a hindutva nationalist, has been unapologetic, or even tolerant, of such religious violence in the past. The introduction of love jihad to the region seems a strategic way to add an emotional threat to Hindi safety in this region of inter-religious tension.
The young woman—whose name is being kept confidential for safety reasons—from this region, who had been used as an example of national victimhood, innocently defiled by Muslim force, has made a new statement insisting that she was forced, by her family and governmental pressure, to press charges against her formerly accused rapist, Kaleem, who is now serving a prison sentence.
In her new statement the young woman said that she met Kaleem and fell in love. He wanted to marry her and, though inter-religious marriages are a social taboo, promised that she could continue practicing her religion after their union.
In July, she discovered she was pregnant and had an abortion in order to avoid the shame and stigma associated with pre-marital sex. However her parents discovered her surgery scars. Though she planned to marry Kaleem to avoid familial shame, her parents blocked their marriage and instead forced her to issue a statement claiming gang rape and planned forced conversion.
A recent article also shows that a few days before her August 7th statement a representative of the BJP gave her family Rs 25,000 which has been explained as a governmental initiative to support of the poor, independently gifted.
Her father has insisted that this governmental gift not be politicized.
A public political tension, the fact that the existence of Muslim minority ethnicities complicates the nationalist rhetoric of Hindi right-wing parties, is being physically manifested in female bodies. Non-traditional women are cast as either the victims of seduction or the representations of Hindi purity. Either way, they are conceptually framed as bodies which need to be protected and acted for. In national political narratives the will of women is not important, in fact, engaging with the complexities of choice and desire, would make it more difficult for families and ruling political leaders to speak on the behalf of young women. Legitimizing restrictions on inter-marriage can only be understood as positive for young women if they are bodies to be protected instead of people to be given rights and agency.
The reclamation of agency, through revision of her statement, by the young woman from Uttar Pradesh has resulted in her being placed in police custody. She told Al Jazeera reporters: “See, my life is over. Wherever I live, I will always be taunted about this whole incident. They say that my body and womb is impure now.” The campaign of love jihad is not interested in dissenting young women’s agency who complicates its narrative.
Framing the argument against intermarriage as a protection of young girls silences the intentions of women actually implicated by the law.
It is important to nationalist rhetoric to imprint an imagined family structure and set of preferences in the self-understanding of identities included in the understood nation. To maintain control, it is necessary that it not become conceivable that young Hindi girls might actually want to marry Muslim men. This possibility would internally open up questions of identification about whether religious difference is actually socially divisional. Questioning, and the broadening of who belongs in different categories, is dangerous to nationalist identities trying to promote a singular definition of belonging. Therefore the introduction of an extreme and inflexible narrative of “love jihad” is important to maintain rigidity and not allow for nuance or complexity of actual situations. If the Hindi are to be imagined as a collective and unified group, then restricting examples of difference within the community maintains the illusion of cohesion.
Just the possibility that a young girl might fall in love with a Muslim man by her own choice challenges the narrative of religious incompatibility and difference Hindi nationalists want to make believed.