The words ‘Love Jihad’ sound straight out of a Bollywood film, and could be the flamboyant dance number from the latest blockbuster. The term, however, has a more ominous origin. It is used in India as a label for a Hindu – Muslim marriage, and most specifically one wherein the boy is Muslim and the girl Hindu. Muslim boys are converting Hindu girls by infecting them with love, thereby making insidious inroads into the Hindu heartlands of India and perpetrating jihad through the means of love. Over the last five years, love-jihad has gone from the fringe media in India to mainstream national newspapers and periodicals. The English language media has been more sceptical of the stories of love jihad while it has also been covered in the international media. In one version of the story, ‘Gulf nations’ have paid for Muslim men in India to buy motorcycles; which is surely guaranteed to make Hindu girls fall in love with them. Such importance ascribed to a motorcycle seems risible until one locates this fantasy as strongly rooted within the aspirational ideas and ideals of lower-income Indian classes.
The problem with the fantasy is that it deliberately distorts reality in order to exceptionalise that which is routine, if not regular. In most parts of India, men and women from different religions interact with each other, especially in school and college, and inter-religious marriages do take place. I personally know three women who are married to Muslim men. It was not easy and they faced a lot of familial conflict and societal pressure, but today they are settled into their marriages, and their choices have become normal for them and those around them. Bollywood film star Saif Ali Khan, himself the son of a Muslim father and a Bengali Hindu mother, is now married to the Hindu Kareena Kapoor. In a newspaper column he stated, “Intermarriage is not jihad, but India”. That did not stop the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Organisation)’s magazine Himalaya Dhwani (Voice of the Himalayas) from using a morphed photo of Kareena as a symbol of love jihad.
Given that the current Indian ruling party has close ties to Hindu groups, it might be politic for Saif and Kareena to ignore this interpretation of their personal life. What Saif and Kareena do, however, is not my object of interest. What I find interesting is the term itself and its moulding of reality. The term ‘love jihad’ robs all Hindu Muslim marriages of their individuality, and instead turns them into symptoms of a larger malady. There is no need then to understand this man, this woman and their particular circumstances. They are always already understood. The possibility of love disappears, forever conjoined with and subject to the jihad.