“Inter- religious marriages, arising out of love affairs or otherwise, are to recognised and promoted. To solemnise such marriages, there need necessarily be any conversion of one party to the marriage from one religion to another. If a boy or girl believes that a marital union is not possible without the other party to love converting to his or her religion, it is his or her faith. But in such cases, it is not love that is prominent, but religion. Forcible, compulsive or deceitful conversions take place in such cases. Nobody would say that it is a healthy trend. Love is divine. It has no barriers of religion, caste or creed. But under the pretext of love, there cannot be any forcible, compulsive or deceitful conversion. It destroys the divine and sublime love”
–Kerala High Court (Justice K T Shankaran) while passing on Order in Shahan Sha A vs State Of Kerala case on December 9, 2009
The monstrous murder of Shraddha Walker, a young girl from Maharashtra, by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla, shocked the nation. Not that this is the first crime of this nature and gravity, but it has brought the more significant issues of Love Jihad, the sanctity of the family institution and deteriorating social values again to the forefront. When the Shraddha murder case was in the headlines, the Supreme Court, while accepting the petition filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyaya on the ‘forced conversion’, asked the centre to ‘make its stand clear on what action it proposes to take’ to stop the menace. Though conversion and apparent love jihad look like two different things, the roots of both phenomena are the same, requiring deliberation with a national perspective.
Though we have witnessed gruesome murder cases, from the Tandoor Murder to the Nirbhaya rape and reacted to them with a lot of anguish, Shraddha’s murder case is different in many ways. A modern, independent girl working in a call centre met a Muslim boy through a dating app in 2019. Despite opposition from her parents, she decided to go ahead with a live-in relationship with Aftab and shifted to Delhi in 2022. Soon, Shraddha started pressuring the man to marry her, resulting in frequent fights. Isn’t it a perfect Bollywood plot? But unlike a happy-ending movie, on May 18, the man lost his temper, strangled her to death, chopped her body into pieces, and disposed of her parts in nearby areas in the jungle area of Chattarpur Enclave in Delhi.
Can Shraddha’s murder be discounted just as another criminal case, or was the conspiracy hatched with a love jihad angle, as alleged by the victim’s father? Why are dating apps becoming so prevalent in our society? What are the reasons behind younger people losing faith in the family institution? The real issue is not the inter-faith marriage but impersonating a fake identity and forced conversion. Can interfaith marriages be one-way traffic? Muslim girls would be forced to remain in Hijab and denied equal opportunities to choose their life partners. If they dare to do so again, the end would be tragic. Is there a design behind this phenomenon? Kerala High Court asked the same question in 2009, which has remained unanswered thanks to the ‘liberal’ whitewashing.
The same is true about the other means of ‘forced conversions’. As the petition argues, religious conversions by ‘hook and crook’ occur in every district of Bharat, and its impact on our society is momentous. Though the law does not permit conversion from one religion to another by coercion or undue influence, in the name of freedom of religion, monotheistic religions are using fraudulent means to convert people. The conversion mafia, among Islamists and Missionaries, manipulates socio-economic problems of caste or tribal identities and poverty to uproot people from their indigenous faiths without ensuring social equality or economic prosperity. Otherwise, what is the logic of having reservations for Dalit Christians or OBC Muslims? Thankfully, the Supreme Court has decided to entertain the petition on the ground that forced conversion will affect the nation’s security and freedom of religion and conscience. The debate started in the Constituent Assembly continues to haunt us.
In the competition for remaining politically correct, how long will we turn a blind eye towards problems like love jihad and forced conversions? Ours is the land of spiritual democracy. No one should be allowed to impose his religion on others in the name of propagation. Before it is too late, we must deliberate on all aspects of religious conversions, including the ‘love jihad’, in the light of our civilisational ethos.