Illustration by Felix Pawlyn
Earlier this month the Indian Supreme Court refused to curb so-called “love jihad” laws: laws intended to stop religious conversion marriages. This occurred in three Indian states currently governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a right-wing Hindu nationalist party. Petitioners are claiming that these laws are being used to forcibly break-up interfaith marriages between Muslims and Hindus, and there have been claims that these laws are another attempt on the part of the BJP to subjugate the Muslim population.
The apparent motivation for these laws is a baseless – though sadly not unheard of – conspiracy theory. A conspiracy theory stating that interfaith marriages are a cover-up allowing Muslim men to seduce Hindu women and force them to convert to Islam. The laws are perceived as a far-right reaction to what Hindu nationalists call “love jihad”, a derogatory term used to describe marriage between Muslim men and Hindu women. There have already been scores of arrests and incidents of violent break-ups at wedding ceremonies.
As it stands, the laws require individuals to assert that they acted freely and without the intention of religious conversion. But the decision of the Supreme Court appears to show that it is pursuing a policy of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, where proving one’s faith in court is about as easy as proving that one’s thought is in line with party ideology, as the 2017-18 case of Hadiya Jahan shows. Given the surge in Muslim arrests and violence already instigated by the BJP, it is not unthinkable to suggest that this authoritarian policy may soon allow for accusation alone counting as proof in court.
The BJP advocates the ideology of hindutva, that translates broadly as ‘Hindu-ness’. Hindutva seeks to define Indian culture against other religious or secular practices. It has been described as a form of religious nationalism that seeks cultural and ethnic homogeneity and is closely allied to neoliberal economics. Some have gone further and likened it to fascism. Surely this calls the purpose of the Supreme Court in India into question. Its decision to allow these “love jihad” laws essentially consents to unwarranted and violent state intervention into its citizen’s affairs. In this case the Supreme Court appears to act as the legitimating vehicle to further the BJP’s persecution of Muslim minorities.
It’s of no surprise that the Muslim minority is fearful of the BJP’s increasingly authoritarian actions against them. It is becoming increasingly clear that justice is no longer the priority of the Supreme Court. Rather, there is an overwhelming impression that its care for the sanctity of the law comes second to ensuring the ideological hegemony. BJP are continuing to worsen Hindu-Muslim tensions throughout the country and it’s perhaps all the more worrying that the BJP still has, despite its economic policy failures, wide support among the Indian population.
Born to a Hindu family, Jahan married a Muslim man in her 20s. The Supreme Court intervened to annul the marriage on the grounds that she had been forcibly converted to Islam in the marriage, but then restored the marriage a year later.