Love Jihad, also called Romeo Jihad, is an alleged activity under which young Muslim boys and men reportedly target young girls belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love. Arising in a background of national religious tension, including strong cultural prohibitions against interfaith marriage, the alleged activity is based on the power of emotional appeal in religious conversion. The controversial issue has garnered international attention.
The concept first rose to national attention in India in 2009, with claims of widespread conversions in Kerala and Mangalore, but claims have subsequently spread throughout the nation and beyond, into Pakistan and the United Kingdom. With waves of publicity in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014, the allegations of Love Jihad in India have raised concerns in various Hindu, Sikh and Christian organizations, while Muslim organisations have denied the allegations. The concept has remained a source of political contention and social concern for many, although as of 2014 the idea of an organized Love Jihad was still widely regarded as a conspiracy theory by the Indian mainstream, according to Reuters. Official investigations launched in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014 have found no evidence of the activity. As of 2014, individual reports continue to spread.
Religious conversion through emotional appeal
The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion notes that the effectiveness of emotional appeals in converting people from one faith to another is well known and often exploited by religious leaders. Religious groups have utilized techniques like love bombing and Flirty Fishing to interest potential recruits. Love Jihad is an alleged activity wherein Muslim youth utilize such emotional appeals, using charm to entice girls into conversion by feigning love - in some reports, as an organized, funded behavior.
Regional historical tensions
In a piece picked up by the Chicago Tribune, Foreign Policy correspondent Siddhartha Mahanta reports that the modern Love Jihad conspiracy has roots in the 1947 partition of India. This partition led to the creation of the sovereign states of the Dominion of Pakistan (it later split into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh) and the Union of India (later Republic of India). According to Mahanta, the creation of two countries with different majority religions led to large-scale migration, with millions of people moving between the countries and rampant reports of sexual predation and forced conversions of women by men of both faiths. This tense history caused repeated clashes between the faiths in the decades that followed as well, according to Mahanta, as cultural pressure against interfaith marriage for either side.
As of 2014, Hindus were the leading religious majority in India, at 81%, with Muslims at 13%.
Marriage traditions and customs
India has a long tradition of arranged marriages, wherein the bride and groom do not self-select their partners; one 2000 book reported that 90% of marriages in India at the time had been arranged, mostly within caste. Through the 2000s and 2010s, India witnessed a rise in love marriages, although tensions continue around interfaith marriages, along with other traditionally discouraged unions. In 2012, The Hindu reported that illegal intimidation against consenting couples engaging in such discouraged unions, including inter-religious marriage, had surged. That year, Uttar Predesh saw the proposal of an amendment to remove the requirement to declare religion from the marriage law in hopes of encouraging those who were hiding their interfaith marriage due to social norms to register.
One the tensions surrounding interfaith marriage relates to concerns of required, even forced, marital conversion. Marriage in Islam is a legal contract with requirements around the religions of the participants. While Muslim women are only permitted within the contract to marry Muslim men, Muslim men may marry "People of the Book", interpreted by most to include Jews and Christians, with the inclusion of Hindus disputed. According to a 2014 article in the Mumbai Mirror, some non-Muslim brides in Muslim-Hindu marriages convert, while other couples choose a civil marriage under the Special Marriage Act of 1954.
Scope and history
The concept of Love Jihad first rose to national awareness in September 2009 and soon rose to international attention. Love Jihad was initially alleged to be conducted in Kerala and Mangalore in the coastal Karnataka region. According to the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, by October 2009 up to 4,500 girls in Kerala had been targeted, whereas Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that 30,000 girls had been converted in Karnataka alone. Alleged incidents spread. Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana general secretary Vellapally Natesan said that there had been reports in Narayaneeya communities of "Love Jihad" attempts. Reports of similar activities have also emerged from Pakistan and the United Kingdom. In 2014, reports have originated from diverse regions, including Bihar, Kanpur, Gwalior, and England.
The fundamentalist Muslim organization Popular Front of India and the Campus Front have been accused of promoting this activity. In Kerala, some movies have been accused of promoting Love Jihad, a charge which has been denied by the filmmakers.
Following the controversy's initial flare-up in 2009, it flared again in 2010, 2011 and 2014. On June 25, 2014, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy informed the state legislature that 2667 young women were converted to Islam in the state since 2006. However, he stated that there was no evidence for any of them being forced conversions, and that fears of Love Jihad were "baseless." In connection with an alleged case in Delhi, India TV indicated in September 2014 that the number of cases of reported Love Jihad were rapidly increasing admidst "intense debates" over relationships between Muslim boys and Hindu girls.
Various organisations have joined together against this perceived conduct. Christian groups, such as the Christian Association for Social Action, and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) banded against it, with the VHP making a specific Hindu helpline that it indicates answered 1,500 calls in three months related to "Love Jihad". The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) has reported that the Catholic Church is concerned about this alleged phenomenon. The Vigilance Council of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) raised an alert for the Catholic community against the practice. In September, posters appeared in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala under the name of right-wing group Shri Ram Sena warning against "Love Jihad". The group announced in December that it would launch a nationwide "Save our daughters, save India" campaign to combat "Love Jihad".
Muslim organizations in Kerala called it a malicious misinformation campaign. Popular Front of India (PFI) committee-member Naseeruddin Elamaram denied that the PFI was involved in any "Love Jihad", stating that people convert to Hinduism and Christianity as well and that religious conversion is not a crime. Members of the Muslim Central Committee of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts have responded by claiming that Hindus and Christians have fabricated these claims to undermine the Muslim faith and community.
In July 2010, the "Love Jihad" controversy resurfaced in the press when Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan referenced the alleged matrimonial conversion of non-Muslim girls as part of an effort to make Kerala a Muslim majority state. PFI dismissed his statements due to the findings of the Kerala probe, but the president of the BJP Mahila Morcha, the women's wing of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, called for an NIA investigation, alleging that the Kerala state probe was closed prematurely due to a tacit understanding with PFI. The Congress Party in Kerala responded strongly to the Chief Minister's comments, which they described as deplorable and dangerous.
In December 2011, the controversy erupted again in Karnataka legislative assembly, when member Mallika Prasad of the Bharatiya Janata Party asserted that the problem was ongoing and unaddressed — with, according to her, 69 of 84 Hindu girls who had gone missing between January and November of that year confessing after their recovery that "they'd been lured by Muslim youths who professed love." According to The Times of India, response was divided, with Deputy Speaker N. Yogish Bhat and House Leader S. Suresh Kumar supporting governmental intervention, while Congress members B. Ramanath Rai and Abhay Chandra Jain argued that "the issue was being raised to disrupt communal harmony in the district."
That same month, the alleged phenomenon was raised by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader during a protest organized by Hindu Hitarakshana Vedike about the arrest and reported mistreatment of 15 people on an unrelated matter, when Sangh suggested that police feared to interfere with Muslim youth who practice "Love Jihad" and cautioned young Hindu women against using cell phones, suggesting these play a major role. It was also raised by filmmaker Paromita Vohra, who labeled the phenemonen as VHP conspiracy theories.
During the resurgence of the controversy in 2014, protests turned violent at growing concern, even though, according to Reuters, the concept was considered "an absurd conspiracy theory by mainstream, moderate Indians." BJP MP Yogi Adityanath alleged that Love Jihad was an international conspiracy targeting India, announcing on television that the Muslims "can't do what they want by force in India, so they are using the love jihad method here." Conservative Hindu activists have cautioned women in Uttar Pradesh to avoid Muslims and not to befriend them. In Uttar Pradesh, the influential committee Akhil Bharitiya Vaishya Ekta Parishad announced their intention to push to restrict the use of cell phones among young women to prevent their being vulnerable to such activities.
Following this announcement, Times of India reported, Senior Superintendent of Police Shalabh Mathur "said the term 'love jihad' had been coined only to create fear and divide society along communal lines." Muslim leaders have referred to 2014 rhetoric around the alleged conspiracy as a campaign of hate. Feminists voiced concerns that efforts to protect women against the alleged activities would negatively impact women's rights, depriving them of free choice and agency.
Uma Bharti, water resources minister and a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, called for communal discussions between leaders of the communities to protect young men and women regardless of religion.
In October 2009, the Karnataka government announced its intentions to counter "Love Jihad", which "appeared to be a serious issue". A week after the announcement, the government ordered a probe into the situation by the CID to determine if an organised effort existed to convert these girls and, if so, by whom it was being funded. One woman whose conversion to Islam came under scrutiny as a result of the probe was temporarily ordered to the custody of her parents, but eventually permitted to return to her new husband after she appeared in court, denying pressure to convert. In April 2010, police used the term to characterize the alleged kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of a 17-year-old college girl in Mysore.
Following the launching of a poster campaign in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, purportedly by organisation Shri Ram Sena, state police began investigating the presence of that organisation in the area. In late October 2009, police addressed the question of "Love Jihad" itself, indicating that while they had not located an organisation called "Love Jihad", "there are reasons to suspect ‘concentrated attempts’ to persuade girls to convert to Islam after they fall in love with Muslim boys". They documented unconfirmed reports of a foreign-funded network of groups encouraging conversion through the subterfuge, but noted that no organisations conducting such campaigns had been confirmed and no evidence had been located to support foreign financial aid.
In late 2009, The Karnataka CID (Criminal Investigation Department) reported that although it was continuing to investigate, it had found no evidence that a "Love Jihad" existed. In late 2009, Director-General of Police Jacob Punnoose reported that although the investigation would continue, there was no evidence of any organised attempt by any group or individual using men "feigning love" to lure women to convert to Islam. They did indicate that a large number of Hindu girls had converted to Islam of their own will.
On 9 December 2009, Justice K T Sankaran for the Kerala High Court weighed in on the matter while hearing bail for Muslim youth arrested for allegedly forcibly converting two campus girls. According to Sankaran, police reports revealed the "blessings of some outfits" for a "concerted" effort for religious conversions, some 3,000 to 4,000 incidences of which had taken place after love affairs in a four-year period. Sankaran "found indications of ‘forceful’ religious conversions under the garb of ‘love’", suggesting that "such ‘deceptive’ acts" might require legislative intervention to prevent.
According to The Indian Express, Sankaran's conclusion that "such incidents under the pretext of love were rampant in certain parts of the state" ran contrary to Central and state government reports. In early 2010, the State Government reported to the Karnataka High Court that although a large number of young Hindu women had converted to Islam, there was no organized attempt to convince them to do so. A petition was also put before Sankaran to prevent the use of the terms "Love Jehad" and "Romeo Jehad", but Sankaran declined to overrule an earlier decision not to restrain media usage. Subsequently, however, the High Court stayed further police investigation, both because no organised efforts had been disclosed by police probes and because the investigation was specifically targeted against a single community.
In January 2012, Kerala police declared that Love Jihad was "[a] campaign with no substance", bringing legal proceedings instead against the website hindujagruti.org for "spreading religious hatred and false propaganda."
In September 2014, following the resurgence of national attention, Reuters reported that police in Uttar Pradesh had found no credence in the five or six recent allegations of Love Jihad that had been brought before them, with state police chief A.L. Banerjee stating that, "In most cases we found that a Hindu girl and Muslim boy were in love and had married against their parents' will." They reportedly indicated that "sporadic cases of trickery by unscrupulous men are not evidence of a broader conspiracy."
That same month, the Allahabad High Court gave the government and election commission of Uttar Pradesh 10 days to respond to a petition to restrain the use of the word "Love Jihad" and to take action against Adityanath.
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