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Love Jihad or Romeo Jihad is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love. The movement has also been described by some, including Inderpal Grewal, as antifeminist due to paternalistic attitudes towards women's choice in marriage and by allegedly using women's rights as a cover for Hindu nationalism. The concept rose to national attention in India in 2009 with alleged conversions first in Kerala and subsequently, in Karnataka. The claims have subsequently spread throughout India and beyond, into Myanmar, 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.
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 India and Pakistan. 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. Women on both sides of the conflict were impacted, leading to "recovery operations" by both the Indian and Pakistani governments of these women, with over 20,000 Muslim and 9,000 non-Muslim women being recovered between 1947 and 1956. 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. 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 Pradesh 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 of 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. Marriage between Muslim women Hindu men (including Sikh, Jaina and Buddhist) is legal civil marriage under The Special Marriage Act of 1954.
Hindu Nationalism and Right Wing Politics
Love jihad in politics has been closely tied to Hindu nationalism, particularly the more extremist form hindutva associated with BJP Prime minister of India Narendra Modi. The anti-islamic stances of many right wing hindutva groups like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) are usually hostile to inter-religious marriage and religious pluralism, which can sometimes result in mob violence motivated by allegations of love jihad.
Similar controversies over inter religious marriage were relatively common in India from the 1920s until independence in 1947, when allegations of forced marriage were typically called "abductions". They were more common in religiously diverse areas, including campaigns against both Muslims and Christians, and were tied to fears over religious demographics and political power in the newly emerging Indian nation. Fears of women converting was also a catalyst of the violence against women that occurred during that period.
Allegations of Love Jihad first rose to national awareness in September 2009. 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. 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. According to an opinion piece by Liberal Politics blogger Sunny Hundal, "In the 90s, an anonymous leaflet (suspected to be by Hizb ut-Tahrir followers) urged Muslim men to seduce Sikh girls to convert them to Islam."
The Sikh Council received reports in 2014 that girls from British Sikh families were becoming victims of Love Jihad. Furthermore, these reports stated that these girls were being exploited by their husbands, some of whom afterwards abandoned them in Pakistan. According to the Takht jathedar, "The Sikh council has rescued some of the victims (girls) and brought them back to their parents."
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 25 June 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."
The discourses of Love Jihad are also prevalent in Myanmar. Wirathu, the leader of 969 Movement, has said that Muslim men pretend to be Buddhists and then the Buddhist women are allured into Islam in Myanmar. He has urged to "protect our Buddhist women from the Muslim love-jihad" by introducing further legislations.
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 establishing the 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 Thiruvananthapuram, 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."
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.
In September 2014, controversial BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj claimed that Muslim boys in madrasas are being motivated for Love Jihad with proposals of rewards of, "Rs 11 lakh for an "affair" with a Sikh girl, Rs 10 lakh for a Hindu girl and Rs 7 lakh for a Jain girl." He claimed to know this through reports to him by Muslims and by the experiences of men in his service who had converted for access. Abdul Razzaq Khan, the vice-president of Jamiat Ulama Hind, responded by denying such activities, labeling the comments "part of conspiracy aimed at disturbing the peace of the nation" and demanding action against Maharaj. Uttar Pradesh minister Mohd Azam Khan indicated the statement was "trying to break the country".
In January, Vishwa Hindu Parishad's women's wing, Durga Vahini used actor Kareena Kapoor's morphed picture half covered with burqa issue of their magazine, on the theme of Love Jihad. The caption underneath read: "conversion of nationality through religious conversion".
In May 2017, the Kerala High Court annulled a marriage of a converted Hindu woman Akhila alias Hadia to a Muslim man Shafeen Jahan on the grounds that the bride's parents were not present, nor gave consent for the marriage, after allegations by her father of conversion and marriage at the behest of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It ordered the DGP of Kerala to investigate cases of "love jihad" and probe incidents of forced conversion, emphasising "the existence of an organisational setup functioning behind the scenes of such cases of 'love jihad' and conversions." The decision was apparently taken based on large number of radicalised youths from Kerala joining ISIS. It also observed, "Are there any radical organisations involved, are questions that plague an inquisitive mind. But sadly, there are no answers available in this case." The father had claimed that his daughter had been radicalised and influenced to marry a Muslim man by some organisations so she no longer remained in her parents' custody.
The woman's father, Ashokan Mani, had earlier filed a habeas corpus petition in January 2016 after she disappeared from the campus where she studied. He alleged his daughter was forcefully converted to Islam, and his family were reportedly told by her that she was being held against her will by two of her classmates Jaseena Aboobacker and her sister Faseena. However, after she was found, Akhila claimed that she was following Islam since 2012 and left her home out of her own will. She also stated that she was not under any confinement against her free will. She stated that she had come under the religion's influence after hearing its teachings from her roommates. She said that she had joined a course run by Tharibathul Islam Sabha, Kottakkal to learn Islam. In her affidavit, she stated she lived with Aboobacker for a brief period and then shifted to Satyasarani's hostel in Manjeri, an institution allegedly promoting conversion to Islam and reported to be closely connected with the Popular Front of India. The institution introduced her to Sainaba in Ernakulam with whom she lived after her father filed the petition. The court allowed her to stay with Sainaba and later dismissed Ashokan's petition in June 2016, after she produced records of her admission to Satyasarani. Two months later, he filed another petition and alleged that his daughter was converted at the behest of ISIS and feared she may be taken to join it in Afghanistan, citing cases of two Kerala women joining the group after conversion and marriage to Muslim men. By December, Akhila had married Shafeen and Ashokan's petition came up for hearing in January 2017. Akhila showed the marriage certificate and marriage registration certificate, but it was annulled.
The decision of the court was challenged by Shafeen Jahan in the Supreme Court of India in July 2017. Shafin had met her with his family in August 2016 in response to her advertisement on a matrimonial website. The Supreme Court began hearing the case on 4 August 2017. The counsel of the father of the woman alleged she had been psychologically indoctrinated. The Supreme Court meanwhile sought response from the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and the Kerala government. It ordered a NIA probe headed by former SC Judge R. V. Raveendran on 16 August while the NIA had earlier submitted that the woman's conversion and marriage was not "isolated" and it had detected a pattern emerging in the state, stating they came across another case involving the same people. The NIA has stated that the husband in this case was allegedly in touch with two individuals charged in another Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-related case and that one of these individuals may have coordinated the marriage.
The Supreme Court on 8 March 2018 overturned the annulment of Hadiya's marriage by the Kerala High Court and held that the she had married out of her own free will. However, it allowed NIA to continue investigation into the allegations of a terror angle.
In June 2018, Jharkhand High Court granted divorce in alleged love jihad case in which accused lied about his religion and forcing the victim to convert to Islam after marriage.
Despite drawing severe criticisms, the Syro Malabar Church continued to repeat its stand on ‘love jihad’. According to the church, Christian women are being targeted, recruited to terrorist outfit Islamic State, making them sex slaves and even killed. Detailing this, a circular, issued by Church chief Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, was read out in many parishes at the Sunday mass.
In the circular (dated January 15) that was read out in churches on Sunday, it is stated that Christian women are being targeted under a conspiracy through inter-religious relationships, which often grow as a threat to religious harmony. “Christian women from Kerala are even being recruited to Islamic State through this,” the circular read. Further, Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference’s (KCBC) Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, claimed that there were 4,000 instances of “Love Jihad” between 2005 and 2012.
In September 2020, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked his government to come up with a strategy to prevent "religious conversions in the name of love" and even considered passing an ordinance for the same if needed.
In September 27 2020, protests erupted in India when graphic video showing a young Muslim man gunning down a 21-year-old Hindu woman in broad daylight outside her college campus went viral. The family of a 21-year-old girl student, who was shot dead by jilted lover and his associate outside her college in Faridabad, has echoed the "love jihad" conspiracy theory, saying that she was forced to convert and marry the accused.
In August 2017, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) stated that it had found a common mentor in some love jihad cases in August 2017. According to a later article in The Economist, "Repeated police investigations have failed to find evidence of any organised plan of conversion. Reporters have repeatedly exposed claims of "love jihad" as at best fevered fantasies and at worst, deliberate election-time inventions." According to the same report, the common theme regarding many claims of "love jihad" have been the frenzy objection to an interfaith marriage while "Indian law erects no barriers to marriages between faiths, or against conversion by willing and informed consent. Yet the idea still sticks, even when the supposed “victims” dismiss it as nonsense."
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.
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 many Hindu girls had converted to Islam of their own will. In early 2010, the State Government reported to the Karnataka High Court that although many young Hindu women had converted to Islam, there was no organized attempt to convince them to do so. 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. 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 early 2010, the State Government reported to the Karnataka High Court that although many 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.
The Karnataka government stated in 2010 that although many women had converted to Islam, there was no organized attempt to convince them to do so.
Following the launching of a poster campaign in Thiruvananthapuram, 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 November 2009, DGP Jacob Punnoose stated there was no organisation whose members lured girls in Kerala by feigning love with the intention of converting. He told the Kerala High Court that 3 out of 18 reports he received expressed some doubts about the tendency. However, in absence of solid proof the investigations were still continuing. In December 2009, Justice K.T. Sankaran who refused to accept Punnoose's report concluded from a case diary that there were indications of forceful conversions and stated it was clear from police reports there was a "concerted effort" to convert women with "blessings of some outfits". The court while hearing bail plea of two accused in "love jihad" cases stated that there had been 3,000-4,000 such conversions in past four years. The Kerala High Court in December 2009 stayed investigations in the case, granting relief to the two accused though it criticised police investigations. The investigation was closed by Justice M. Sasidharan Nambiar following Punnoose's statements that no conclusive evidence could be found for existence of "love jihad".
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.
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 2012, after two years of investigation into the alleged love jihad, Kerala Police declared it as a "campaign with no substance". Subsequently, a case was initiated against the website where fake posters of Muslim organisations offering money to Muslim youths for luring and trapping women were found.
In 2017, after the Kerala High Court ruled that a marriage of a Hindu woman to a Muslim man was invalid on the basis of love jihad, and an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of India by the Muslim husband where court, based on the "unbiased and independent" evidence requested by the court from NIA, instructed NIA to investigate all similar cases for establishing the pattern of love jihad. It allowed NIA to explore all similar suspicious incidences to find whether banned organisations, such as SIMI, are preying on vulnerable Hindu women to recruit them as terrorists. NIA had earlier submitted before the court that the case was not an "isolated" incident and it had detected a pattern emerging in the state, stating that another case involved the same people who acted as instigators.
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 Yogi Adityanath.
Uttar Pradesh Police in September 2014 found no evidence of attempted or forced conversion in five of six reported cases of love jihad reported to them in past three months. Police said sporadic cases of trickery by unscrupulous men are not evidence of a broader conspiracy.
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