Interfaith love is a danger amid the rush of Hindu nationalism in India

Interfaith love is a danger amid the rush of Hindu nationalism in India

Pelagavi Arbaaz Al Mulla’s love story began, as romance usually does, when he first laid eyes on the woman of his dreams, Shweta Kumbar.

Over the course of nearly three years, their relationship’s courtship was in many ways similar to any other married couple, and each had made promises to the other to marry. But those secret promises will never come true.

This romance angered the relatives of Kumbhar, a Hindu, so much that they hired members of a hard-line Hindu nationalist group to kill the 24-year-old mullah, who was a Muslim.

They did exactly that, according to the police. On September 28, his bloodied and dismembered body was found along the railway tracks.

While interfaith unions between Hindus and Muslims are rare in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu nationalists have decried what they call a “love jihad”. A corrupt conspiracy theory holds that predatory Muslim men deceive women into coercing them to convert their religion, with the aim of establishing dominance in the Hindu-majority nation.

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The case of “love jihad” has pitted the BJP against secular activists who have warned it is undermining constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and putting Muslims in the crosshairs of Hindu nationalists, encouraged by a prime minister who has remained mostly silent about the increasing attacks on Muslims since he was first elected in 2014.

said Mohan Rao, a retired professor of social sciences at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, who has conducted research on interfaith marriage.

Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a BJP spokesman, said the party had no objection in principle to interfaith marriage, which is legal, but noted that concerns about “love jihad” were valid.

“To lure someone through financial means, or some coercion, or some kind of motive to convert, that is unacceptable,” Agarwal said.

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India’s National Investigation Agency and some court rulings have dismissed the “love jihad” theory as unfounded. Census data shows that the country’s religious mix has been stable since 1951, and India remains predominantly Hindu with Muslims making up around 14% of its 1.4 billion population.

However, rights groups say violence against couples of different faiths has increased in recent years, perpetrated by hard-line Hindu nationalists to stop such relationships. Hundreds of Muslim men were assaulted, and many husbands were forced into hiding. Some were killed.

Against this background of fear, Al Mulla and Kumbar started dating in late 2018 in the city of Bilagavi in ​​the southern state of Karnataka.

The mullah’s mother, Nassima Sheikh, was worried. She was well aware of frequent news stories of interfaith couples being targeted in Karnataka, which is ruled by Modi’s party.

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“I was unstable because I knew how it could end,” a sheikh said one afternoon in her modest home.

She tried to persuade Mullah to end the relationship, but he refused.

Meanwhile, the Compar family was terrified. Sheikh said she pleaded with them to bless the relationship, but were told that they “would be killed or be killed but would not allow their daughter to marry my son.”

Soon, Mullah started receiving threatening calls. They came first from the Kumbar family, then from members of the hard-line Hindu nationalist group Sri Ram Sena Hindustan, or the army of Lord Ram in India. They demanded money and money to separate from Kumbar.

Compar’s parents also sought to prevent her from seeing him, so the couple began meeting secretly in distant towns and in the fields in the country, according to his friends.

When the threats intensified, the mullah reluctantly agreed to end the relationship after being told that it would mean he wouldn’t be upset anymore. But the couple continued the correspondence in secret – and her family was furious when they found out. It wasn’t long before he was called to meet the members of Sri Ram Sena Hindustan again.

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Investigators say that at the meeting, members of Sri Ram Sena Hindustan beat the mullah with batons and cut off his head with a knife. It was then alleged that they placed his body on a railroad track to try to make it look like he had died when a train was run over.

Soon, ten people were arrested, although formal charges have yet to be brought. Among them are Kumbar’s parents, who, according to senior investigator Laxman Nimbarjee, confessed to paying the killers.

The Associated Press was unable to speak with Compar. After a brief period in police custody, she is now staying with relatives who have refused to make her available or even locate her.

Sri Ram Sena Hindustan denied its members had killed the mullah and said the group was being targeted “because it works for Hindus”.

Its leader, Ramkant Konduskar, a self-described foot soldier in the battle to save Hinduism, said that he is not against any religion but that people should marry within their own religion. The “love jihad” is considered a danger to society.

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Some jurisdictions governed by Modi’s party are now beginning to try to codify this sentiment into law.

Last year, lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh passed India’s first “love jihad” law, which requires couples of different faiths to give two months’ notice to an official before marriage.

By law, it is up to the official to determine whether the conversion occurred through coercion, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Because authorities can publish the names of husbands during the process, hardliners have sometimes stepped in to pressure women’s families to bring charges of forced conversion.

So far nearly 100 people have been arrested under the law, although only a few have been convicted. Three other BJP-ruled states have introduced similar measures.

Critics say the bills violate the constitutional right to privacy. They also view laws as deeply patriarchal.

“Women are not assets,” said Renu Mishra, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Uttar Pradesh.

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Some liberal activists, mostly Hindus, have formed social and legal help groups for interfaith couples and celebrate their stories on social media.

But in Belajavi, a relatively small city, such resources and support are lacking. Karnataka has recently seen a rise in attacks against Muslims, exacerbating fears among the community.

In that environment, the mullah felt he had nowhere to turn, according to those close to him.

“My son made a terrible mistake when he was in love with a Hindu woman,” said an elder.

She paused, looking for the right words, before continuing, “Is that what you get for loving someone?”

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Associated Press reporters Shonal Ganguly, Ijaz Rahi, and Chunshui Ngachangva contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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