The several claims and counter-claims over this issue has destroyed the multicultural fabric of the state.

2017 The year the bogey of love jihad was back in Kerala with a vengeanceThis image is for representational purposes only
news Love jihad Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - 15:26

The bogey of ‘love jihad’ reared its ugly head on many different occasions, in various contexts, in Kerala, throughout 2017.

This notion of Hindu women being forcibly converted to Islam and then allegedly radicalised through marriages to Muslim men is now entrenched in public imagination.

Despite several reassurances from the government and top police officials that such a phenomenon does not exist, it has done nothing to silence the vehement arguments put forth by many pro-Hindu groups that such an organised movement exists.

This pervasive idea especially took root in public imagination in 2016, then a Christian woman named Merin and a Hindu woman named Nimisha married a pair of siblings, Bestin and Bexen; the four of them then converted to Islam and left to Afghanistan to join the Islamic terror network ISIS.

2017 saw the state openly discuss this concept and several high-profile cases grabbed the headlines.

The most prominent, of course, is the case of 25-year-old college student, Hadiya.

In 2016, Hadiya – who was born as Akhila – converted to Islam and left her home. She married Shafin Jahan and, despite her constant reassurances that both her conversion and her marriage were the result of her free will, her father filed a complaint claiming that she was a victim of love jihad – that she was converted so she could fight for the ISIS in Syria.

The marriage was annulled by the High Court in May this year and it resulted in her being confined in her parents’ house for months on end. Shafin Jahan moved the Supreme Court against the judgement.

“I want my freedom,” she told judges in the Supreme Court, adding that she had spent the last 11 months in “unlawful custody”. 

But their marriage still hangs in the balance for the top court merely asked her to complete her education first.

In a sense, the Hadiya case paved way for the narrative of love jihad in the state to penetrate further.

When the radical Popular Front of India and SDPI came into the picture, claiming to be Hadiya's saviours, pro-Hindu groups too pounced on the case.

In August, despite the Supreme Court quashing the plea asking the National Investigation Authority to probe Hadiya’s marriage, the agency said it would be probing at least 90 so-called love jihad cases that had allegedly taken place in the last two years.

In October, though, the High Court shifted its stand on inter-faith marriages. It first pulled up a lawyer for alleging his client was a victim of love jihad. Sruthi, a woman from Pariyaram of Kannur district was in a relationship with her classmate Anees Hameed and the two had got married. In the first habeas corpus petition filed by her father, claiming she had been detained against her will, she chose to return to her parents. But in the second petition filed by Anees, she asked to go back to her husband.

An irate court told the lawyer of the wife’s family, “Don’t say love jihad in every here and there.” The court warned that blaming love jihad for every inter-religious marriage or conversion was not appropriate.

Haritha, a Hindu, and Nishamudheen, a Muslim, were neighbours for many years in Thrissur. When the two fell in love, her parents took umbrage and asked her to break off all ties with him. She refused and her parents leveled the worst accusation they could think of – they claimed Nishamudheen had links with the ISIS and planned to take Haritha to Syria.

As “proof” of his accusations, Unnikrishnan approached the media in the first week of October with a hand-written diary that he claimed was his daughter's. One of the entries talked about Muslim men radicalising Hindu women, converting them to Islam and later taking them to Syria.

The court, however, dismissed this evidence and allowed the couple to reunite.

Both cases shed light on the Siva Sakthi Yoga Vidya Kendram, in Trippunithura, near Kochi, which is now under a cloud for allegedly torturing girls who were in inter-faith relationships. Sruthi had alleged that she had been forced to undergo ‘treatment’ there, where she was tortured and harassed into breaking off her relationship with Anees.

Haritha also said someone from the centre had reached out to her and offered to “counsel” her. The woman allegedly told Haritha that she was choosing to marry out of her religion because she did not know enough about her own religion, and that Nishamudheen would eventually take her to Syria.

Ashita, a survivor, opened up to TNM in a chilling account, describing the torture she had to undergo at the centre.

This year saw the narrative of love jihad take over headlines and prime-time debates – and the only purpose it has served is to unravel the multicultural fabric of the state at its seams.