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The Madhya Pradesh Government’s decision to bring a law to curb ‘love jihad’ is a classic example of populism designed to appease a particular lobby. It does not promise to be legislation that would address the perceived problem and, as such, will remain flawed and, once again, almost impossible to enforce. If they do wish to address a certain issue that might or might not be in the realm of reality, the matter should be properly and thoroughly discussed and the appropriate approach adopted.

It is obvious that there can be no intention to deny citizens the right to marry the person of their choice, irrespective of caste or community. Any law of this kind should protect the interests of such persons and be projected as such. The argument should be – people in love should not have the cloud of love jihad hanging over their heads. So, a primary checklist ought to be prepared for police to tick off if they receive a complaint, such as their age, marital status, etc. Any doubts expressed by family members should be substantial, instead of just motivated by prejudice.

What is love jihad supposed to be – a conspiracy to deliberately entrap women of other religions through guile and subterfuge so that they marry a Muslim and convert to Islam? The concern is that, after such conversion, the ‘bride’ loses certain basic rights not available to Muslim women. These include the right to a monogamous marriage, to practice one’s own religion or convert back, to legal recourse in case she is divorced, to bring up her children as non-Muslims, to dress as she likes, etc. Under the Special Marriage Act, for instance, all these rights are protected. Another argument at the social level is that Muslim women from a conservative background, which basically is the majority of them, are not permitted by the patriarchs to go out and mingle with men, leave alone those of other denominations. This reduces considerably the element of reciprocity. Women of other communities are taken advantage of as they have greater social freedom. It is only natural for there to be friction at the street level as a consequence.

A law cannot prevent these imbalances and, as is often the case, genuine cases of inter-religious marriages will come to be targeted. The matter has to be corrected at the social level. If the Hindus, particularly, are concerned, they must work to impart a greater sense of self-esteem, independence, self-reliance and knowledge of their rights among women. They must love their freedom too much to surrender it to any man – Hindu, Muslim or some other kind. These are the ‘sanskars’ that need to be strengthened if the fear of ‘love jihad’ is to be overcome.