Why even courts fail to understand love jihad

The media too has played a role with fabricated news and lurid stories which had absolutely no element of truth.

 |   Long-form |   21-08-2017
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This "love jihad" case from Kerala, of which I know personally, is a harrowing account of how politics and religion play with the love life of people in Kerala of recent times.

The incident started with an adorable Muslim man and a Hindu woman in their early 20s from neighbouring villages falling in love without any "external factors" involved. Despite their seemingly dissimilar religious background and objection from both the families, the man and the woman tenaciously held on to their love affair and decided to elope.

A slew of legal and police measures, including a habeas corpus, could not dissuade the couple and they got married under the Special Marriage Act. Understanding the inanity of pursuing something that was fait accompli, both the families decided to let it be. Until this moment things were dealt by the police and the court, and the Constitution had the decisive role.

But, the couple had to find a shelter somewhere. Neither the man nor the woman had any access to a stable job or income. Hailing from a scrupulously patriarchal society, the man's home had to be the first choice. His home meant his community too, and quite obviously his religion as well. Thus, the woman "accepted" Islam. Now the Constitution doesn't have any say any more since cultural and religious norms decide the next course of action.

The man's family was moderate in every sense of the word. They were largely unorthodox and strictly not fanatic in their religious outlook. Some of them were not even practicing Muslims. And the local religious community and the Mahallu committee, which is the governing body for religious affairs like marriages for the community, took a perfectly neutral stand in the entire episode.

reuters-body_082117051612.jpgCredit: Reuters photo for representational purpose.

Understanding the hyper-sensitive nature of the issue and fearing any potential backlash from the authorities, the committee categorically refused to conduct a marriage ceremony for the couple under any circumstance. The couple explored alternative ways to get "religiously" married, and finally found some "benign" committees run by some radical Muslim organisations which would get the marriage conducted in a religious ceremony with the records being registered in the books.

The woman was later admitted to a religious institution run by this organisation that specialised in giving classes to the new converts. Later, the couple was warmly welcomed to the man's home. 

But to their misfortune, that was not the end of it. It was just the beginning of the next episode. The woman quickly became disillusioned with the state of affairs and started to rethink her decision. The couple decided to call it a day and move on. Left with hobson's choice, the woman contacted her parents. And needless to say, they were ready to take her back. The entire episode was "rolled back" - the love affair, marriage, conversion and everything that was associated with that.

From then on, the events took an entirely different dimension. What started as a pure love affair and progressed through religious elements met the obvious next in line, politics. The man and his family were sued for domestic violence under stringent provision of the law, and arrests followed. They were booked under forced conversion too. Hardline Hindutva groups and astute lawyers came into the picture. Failing to secure a bail, the man and his mother were sent to jail.

Although the mother was later given bail, the man remains to be there for the third month. Shocked by the turn of events, the family ended up approaching a hardline Muslim organisation with which they never had any kind of association before. Had it not been for the exceptional maturity and extraordinary prescience from the people of these two villages and some leaders, the situation would have turned really nasty.

But the case is listed as "yet another love jihad" case in Kerala and the coverage of the incident in media follows the same clichéd pattern that is designed and moulded to generate rumours and instil communal hatred in people's hearts. 

While having some striking parallels to this case, Hadiya's case is remarkably different from this, and similar cases, in one big way. The fact that Hadiya, who was known as Akhila before she chose to convert to Islam, was primarily motivated by religion and not by the love affair is extremely important. And the fundamental flaw of the verdicts and interference from the court's side so far in this case have been that it miserably failed to understand this raison d'être.

Her love affair and marriage came into the picture much after her conversion as clearly depicted in the high court verdict itself. For sure, this is not the only problem with high court verdict or the latest interim verdict by the Supreme Court bench that include Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud.

Despite repeated pleas by her husband Shafin Jahan's advocate, Kapil Sibal, to summon Hadiya or talk to her to ascertain facts, the court was not willing to do so. The bench was making statements with seemingly prejudiced allegation that she was not capable of taking her own decision and the conversion was under duress.

They even compared Hadiya, the 25-year-old woman with a doctor degree, with the victims of the infamous "Blue Whale Challenge" who are incapable of taking rational decisions.

Serious concerns have been raised by legal luminaries about the verdicts in this case that have denied Hadiya her agency and ability to act by her own will. What is even more alarming is the courts' gullibility in falling in to the political propaganda of "love Jihad" that has been created by radical Hindutva groups and increasingly providing a fertile ground to radical Muslim groups like the Popular Front.

The court alone cannot be blamed for this fiasco. In fact, poring over various court verdicts on "love jihad" cases in Kerala would easily make one realise that most of the shocking words from honourable judges find their root in some shady reports by the police. The former DGP of the state, TP Senkumar, who was at the helm of intelligence and police for many years, had shocked the state after his retirement when he made some controversial statements about Muslims of the state laced with rabid Islamophobia and riddled with Hindutva propaganda about Muslims.

It is not surprising that during his tenure as the intelligence and police chief, these agencies had filed many of those impugned police reports. A couple of days ago, it was revealed by some news reports that cases registered against Hadiya's husband, Shafin, were actually been against another person with similar name. These cases were used to portray Shafin Jahan as a person with criminal background. The media too has played a role with fabricated news and lurid stories which had absolutely no element of truth.

In one such report, it said that hundreds of Hindu girls were forcibly converted to Islam and "exported" to red light areas in Karachi. As usual, political parties were mostly vague and opportunistic in dealing this "love jihad" propaganda or the communal venom spewed along with it. Almost died once, the phenomenon has resurfaced and found a fertile soil with the recent spate of Islamic State-related news. "Love jihad" with some IS strings attached to it has become a deadly combination and simply irresistible. Hadiya's case perfectly fits into this category.    

Dealing with "love jihad" cases is not simple. This issue has a lot of elements and agendas associated with it - cultural, social, religious and political interests of various parties involved are coalesced into the so-called "love jihad" phenomenon/propaganda.

To fight it out, the entire "paraphernalia of love jihad" has to be dismantled. Fact and fiction have to be separated. The media, police, government and last but not least, the religious scholars and followers alike have a role in it. There have been many cases of alleged IS involvements handed over to the NIA in Kerala recently. None of these have been completed or the alleged people are proven guilty or innocent.

The cases have been mostly open-ended, providing an excellent platform for rumours and speculations. Unless there is any conclusive verdict in these cases, the propaganda would go on unabated.

Obviously, communal harmony, for which Kerala is best known, would be the first victim of this. From the followers of the religion, a matured and compassionate approach towards lovers is needed. There is an inherent danger in using the most natural feeling (love) for worst political motives. While for the Hindus this is mostly being cultural and political, for the Muslims this is scriptural too. Their obsession with religious conversion and hostile attitude towards inter-religious marriages are what is being exploited by some fringe elements and people with vested political motives.

Islam, in its early stages, had a rather friendly attitude towards inter-religious marriages. For the men among them, it was allowed to marry people from other faiths except for the people of Meccan Quraysh who were actively waging war against them. It is true that it didn't allow the other way around, that is the Muslim girls to be married off to men from other faiths. But a closer analysis of the relevant scripts and teachings along with a reading of the social context would reveal that this was mostly a practical and political decision reflecting the realities of then Arabia.

The restrictions were put to counter the lack of opportunity to lead an Islamic life in case of being married into a different environment (faith). In any case, chasing out people who have married to people from a different community or even apostates is definitely not in the spirit of the Quran or Islam, as demonstrated by the Prophet with his life.

Muslims should be able to accommodate inter-religious marriages in their family and community and leave the individual's religious decisions to God. And Islamic terminologies and concepts like jihad itself definitely needs a better treatment from the Muslims too.

"Love" and "jihad" are two most recurring themes in Islamic theology. It's high time that these concepts are re-associated to the originally intended meaning rather than for spreading hatred disrupting the social fabric.

Hadiya's case is yet another manifestation of the multi-dimensional nature of "love jihad" phenomenon and the Hindutva propaganda machine.

There is an urgent need to address this - a duty of everyone who believes in tolerance and religious pluralism.

Also read: Supreme Court ordering NIA to ‘probe’ Kerala woman’s conversion to Islam is insulting

Writer

Nasirudheen kollathodi Nasirudheen kollathodi

The author is an IT consultant in Bangalore. He writes on politics, religion and various other issues.

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