Secular values vs 'Love Jihad'
It had the makings of a Bollywood remake of Romeo and Juliet: two young people fall in love but a social divide threatens to keep them apart. Then the Supreme Court steps in.
It’s what happened in a landmark verdict this April, centring on a young woman’s right to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man.
Akhila Ashokan, who changed her name to Hadiya, was threatened and brought to court by her parents. They sought to cancel her wedding, claiming she was a victim of ‘love Jihad’ – a Hindu conspiracy according to which Muslim men woo Hindu women to make them convert to Islam. Investigations by police and journalists have found no evidence to substantiate the theory.
Hinduism is by far India’s most widespread religion, making up 80.5 per cent of the population according to census data. But hysteria – spread by adherents of Prime Minister’s Modi’s rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party – has stoked fears about Muslim population growth. It’s portrayed as an existential threat, drawing on Islamophobia and defying the facts, which show Muslim communities’ growth rate is at a 20-year low.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014, Hindu extremists have become more vocal; vigilantes have murdered Muslims accused of eating beef or killing cows. Commentators accuse Modi of normalizing bigotry by refusing to condemn such acts. In April 2017, the Pew Research Center ranked India the fourth worst country in the world for religious intolerance – after Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.
Initially, the High Court of Kerala annulled Hadiya’s wedding, claiming she was a victim of brainwashing. In a victory for the Indian constitution’s secular values, the Supreme Court then ruled against the High Court. In the ruling, the Court said it was duty-bound to ensure ‘citizen rights are not subjugated by a paternalistic social structure’, concluding that ‘how Hadiya chooses to lead her life is entirely a matter of her choice’.