Her choice, hers alone: Love jihad is a communal, patriarchal hoax

The Syro-Malabar church of Kerala has claimed that “love jihad is not an illusion”, that Christian women are being lured abroad by Muslim men to become “sex slaves”. These church elders have followed the Hindutva playbook, where the idea of love jihad is classic kindling for communal tension. At the core of this bugbear lies a refusal to accept that in our free republic, adult female citizens are at liberty to fall in love with anyone they want.

Of course crimes against women should be prosecuted, whatever the religion of the perpetrator. But in traditional patriarchy a woman just thinking for herself and making her own sexual choices is a matter of horror, a rent in the social fabric – which is why a young woman is surveilled, and kept in place with the weights of chastity and reputation and honour, and if she still steps out of her bounds, real violence. The purity of sealed social categories rests on woman – religion, caste, gotra, family, status are all threatened by her independence.

Kerala, for all the educational and economic achievements of its women, is no exception to this conservatism. In this case, the Syro-Malabar church has made common cause with the Islamophobia rampant in India today, to the great satisfaction of varied patriarchal institutions. But no one who sees citizens as equals can buy into this noxious notion of love jihad, which denies women the right to choose their faiths and their spouses.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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