The Dangerous Agenda Behind Probing Interfaith Marriages

The move to set up a panel to monitor and probe interfaith marriages appears to be a sinister one – it has the possibility of dovetailing into an anti-conversion law such as the ones passed by nine other states already.

The panel, named ‘Interfaith marriage-family coordination committee (state level)’, will be headed by the women and child development minister, who is a vocal Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Mumbai’s rich constituency of Malabar Hill, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who is well known for his anti-Muslim views. Initially the panel was to probe both inter-caste and interfaith marriages, but the government resolution (GR) was amended quickly due to opposition from various political parties as Maharashtra has a policy of encouraging inter-caste marriages. So the word ‘inter-caste’ was dropped and now the panel will probe only interfaith marriages (read: Hindu women marrying Muslim men).

Deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis commented: “It is alarming that there has been an increase in cases of cheating in interfaith marriages in some parts of the state. Therefore, fraud in the name of love jihad has to be stopped.” ‘Love jihad’ is an unproven conspiracy theory used by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Hindutva groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women using the lure of marriage.

The panel will collect information about such marriages through the registrar’s office and stamp duty offices, and not only marriages registered under the Special Marriage Act but those performed in temples or other informal forums will be scrutinised too. Even live-in relationships will come under the scanner.

Also read: Using ‘Love Jihad’ as a Rallying Cry, Sanatan Sanstha Attempts to Communalise the Konkan

It is obvious that the motive of such monitoring is to prevent Hindu women from marrying Muslim men. However, it has put Hindu women who wish to marry men from another faith out of their own choice at great risk and endangered their lives. Most parents oppose such marriages and inflict a great deal of violence to prevent such marriages from taking place. The stated motive of bringing about a ‘reconciliation’ between the parents and the woman in question seems to be a hoax. It will only strengthen patriarchal control over women and prevent women from exercising their autonomy in the matter of choosing a life partner. In this panel, state power will coalesce with patriarchal power to choke women’s choices.

The ruse for this move is the recent gruesome murder of  Shraddha Walker by her live-in Muslim partner, Aaftab Poonawala. Right-wing groups have refused to view this as a case of domestic violence against women in general and have turned it into a communal frenzy, as though all murders and violence takes place only in inter-faith relationships. Most of the women who face domestic violence are in same-faith marriages/relationships and are subjected to an unspeakable degree of cruelty. However, their plight does not seem to be of concern to this panel. This alone exposes the government’s hidden motive. The panel will not be concerned with addressing issues of violence against women within marriage or in marriage-like relationships, and will not make any effort to address it or provide remedies. That’s not the aim of this committee.

The entire move is directed towards infantilising young women and disregarding their agency. This will also place Hindu women at great risk from vigilantist groups who might attack them and threaten their lives. It will normalise interference in people’s personal lives and violate their right to privacy, which is a fundamental right. It will expose young women to newer  ways of harassment and blackmail.

It appears to be a shortsighted move driven by a single, one-point agenda of preventing Hindu women from falling in love or marrying Muslim men, and giving a boost to the entire bogey of ‘love jihad’ propaganda and fanning Islamophobic tendencies in society.

Also read: Hijab, Halal and Sexually Trained Males: Hindutva’s Anxieties About Muslims Cover a Wide Range

There has been some opposition to this move by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Party MLA and former minister Jitendra Awhad tweeted, “What’s this rubbish of committee to check inter-caste/religion marriages? Who is the government to spy on who marries whom? In liberal Maharashtra, this is a retrograde and nauseating step.” Party spokesperson Clyde Crasto said that the panel should be available to women irrespective of any religion, caste or faith. “If they do not, then it will be clear that this panel is set up with mala fide intentions,” he added.

There has been opposition to this move from women’s organisations as well. The Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti, along with over 20 other women’s organisations, criticised the government for the GR, which facilitates the collection of “detailed information” about couples who are in interfaith marriages and information of the women’s maternal families. They have also called for publicly burning a copy of the GR that set up this committee.

But it appears that Catholic Bishops have failed to see the deeper agenda beneath this move and have hailed the move. They believe that the ‘counselling’ will help women to ‘reason’. It almost appears as if Islamophobic tendencies prevalent among them run as deep as in right-wing Hindu fundamentalist groups. In fact the term ‘love jihad’ (as well as ‘narcotic jihad’) was used by some Christian churches in Kerala who, relying on false data, spread the rumour that there is a sinister move to lure Christian girls into marrying Muslim boys.

In their short-sightedness, the Catholic bishops have failed to see that there may be a possibility of this move dovetailing into introducing anti-conversion laws in Maharashtra, which will adversely impact not just Muslims but also the Christian community.

Flavia Agnes is a women’s rights lawyer.

Featured image: Pablo Heimplatz/Unsplash

This article was first published on The Wire.