A powerful church in Kerala has refused to back down from its claim that ‘love jihad’ does exist in the state and has instead said that political parties are dodging the issue for their own narrow reasons.
Is this part of a rising trend among fundamentalist religious groups to control women? Is the Church trying to cosy up to the BJP to counter the effects of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Northeast where Christian groups have been active in proselytising tribals for decades? Is just plain elopement being projected as abduction and terrorism?
Across the state, Syro-Malabar Churches read out a letter from Cardinal George Alenchery during Sunday Mass, that Christian girls are being lured and killed by radical elements. However, he substituted “inter-religious love” for love jihad that featured in the earlier decision.
Just five days ago, the Synod of the Church, the apex body of Catholic Bishops, accused the state police of not viewing the matter cautiously and taking timely action in love Jihad cases.
The announcement surprised many observers because the state police chief has repeatedly said that investigations have not shown any cases of love jihad. That has not deterred fringe Hindu groups from repeating the Church’s claim. A prominent Muslim group frequently accused of promoting such liaisons has rubbished the claim.
Central investigation agencies say that some Indians did indeed travel to Syria, reportedly to join the Islamic State. The Church claims that 21 Indians have joined the IS and half of them are Christians.
The Democratic Youth Federation of India, a pro-CPI (M) outfit, ridiculed the Church’s statement. DYFI state secretary AA Rahim said it was unfortunate that it had failed to understand the RSS agenda of attacking minorities. The Church should clarify and produce evidence before releasing statements that love jihad exists in Kerala. … Otherwise, it will only help the RSS, he said.
The Islamic group, Popular Front of India (PFI), has questioned the timing of the Synod’s decision and said it will “only create division amid growing unity among various sections of society against Hindutva Fascism.”
The Christian community has been under flak in Kerala for being silent on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the National Registration of Citizens at a time when all political parties and most religious bodies have expressed their views. The Synod’s move could possibly be a way to win favours with the BJP as church groups from Kerala have been active for decades in proselytising tribals in the Northeast.
Many of the residents of the region, especially in Assam, face problems with the NRC. By making common cause with the BJP over Muslims, the Church possibly feels it will be able to win some popularity among Hindu groups. The RSS usually sees both Christians and Muslims as enemies because their religion is foreign to India. This move perhaps is aimed at softening that stand.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has welcomed the Church statement and called for a united fight against love jihad in Kerala. The VHP said love jihad is gaining grounds in Kerala and putting social peace and communal harmony in danger. “It is a reality that love jihad is happening in Kerala in a planned manner targeting Christian girls,” it said.
Inter-religious marriages have always been held in Kerala over the decades. But in recent years, with the explosion in social media, it has become easier for people of various faiths to get to know each other. In the Muslim-dominated north Kerala, any stray incident of a Hindu or Christian girl eloping with a Muslim boy is automatically projected as a systematic luring into terrorism.
No protests are heard when Hindu or Christian men marry Muslim women. The objection has mostly been when women marry a Muslim man. In some cases, the woman has been forced to adopt the religion of her in-laws. In a few cases, they have been confined to the house and cut off from normal social interaction. Sociologists say that the women are often keen to please their husbands and view changing their faith as a way to earn their love. The women often go out of the way to blend with the new families and their customs.
Fringe Hindu groups have often alleged, especially during election time, that Muslim men lure Hindu and Christian women into marriage, force them to convert to Islam and use them in drug trafficking and terrorism. They have, however, not offered proof of this.
Fears of love jihad have swirled around the country for years. Mughal rulers were frequently seen as manipulators. Over the years, from just rulers, all Muslims were seen as abductors and terrorists, according to historian Charu Gupta of Delhi University, who has studied Hindu-Muslim marriages in India. Even elopements were seen as abductions, the most recent being the sensational case of Muslim physiotherapy student Hadiya in Tamil Nadu. Such fears have increased since 2009 with the emergence of the BJP as a major force in the country and a few cases of inter-religious marriages in Kerala and Karnataka have been projected as a nationwide systematic plan to convert people to Islam and even to support terrorism.
(The author has worked as a reporter and editor in Indian and international publications for 40 years)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal)