tharoor147_MANJUNATH KIRANAFP via Getty Images_india love jihad Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images

A Dispatch from India’s Culture War

India’s ruling Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party has recently whipped up hysteria over the largely imaginary crime of “love jihad,” reflecting the party’s deeply entrenched Islamophobia. The BJP's culture war must be fought in the courts – but even more in the hearts of all Indians.

NEW DELHI – As if the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a spluttering economy, record-high unemployment, and massive farmers’ protests besieging the country’s capital weren’t enough, India’s ruling Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now incited a new crisis: a culture war.

In late November, India’s largest state, BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, introduced a new law to combat the largely imaginary crime of “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory claiming that Muslim men seduce Hindu women as a ploy to oblige them to convert to Islam through marriage. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance stipulates that a marriage will be declared “null and void” if a woman converts to Islam solely for marriage. Women wishing to change their religion after getting married need to apply to the District Magistrate for permission, a breathtaking assault on individual liberty that combines misogyny, patriarchy, and religious bigotry.

The measure is the brainchild of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk whose inflammatory rhetoric has made him one of the BJP’s best-known and most polarizing figures. And it takes a sledgehammer to the freedom of worship enjoyed by Indian citizens under the country’s constitution. By the first week of December, state police had arrested and filed charges against seven people. Conviction carries a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment.

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