The Love Jihad Law is the best example of our institutions destroying truth, leaving the facts redundant and powerless, and creating not just public opinion, but enough legitimacy for legislation. Will the Supreme Court step in to correct the flaw, wonders FAHAD ZUBERI.
It would be beneficial to remind ourselves of the many thinkers who wrote extensively to create awareness about the slow destruction of what we know as ‘truth’.
While philosophy can be accused of vanity and indulgence first and praised for social awakening last, what the ‘post-truth’ thinkers hypothesised and warned us about is here to put a man with a Muslim name in jail for marrying a Hindu woman by consent.
The Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, more popularly known as the ‘Love Jihad Law’ is an exercise in legislation based purely on rhetoric, hearsay, and a narrative created by the media and the politicians of the Hindu Right – a law of the post-truth.
The Love Jihad ‘Law’ is an ordinance. It means that the legislation was issued by the government without being discussed and debated in the Legislative Assembly.
The government has the power to issue ordinances when the Assembly is not in session and the situation of the country demands immediate action. This succeeds in the state recognising, documenting, and defining the problem – the malicious activities that the state ultimately aims to curb using the ordinance. That activity, in this case, is ‘Love Jihad’.
The conspiracy theory accuses Muslims to be undertaking an organised project of ‘luring’ young Hindu women into love so that they can be converted to Islam and married.
In an RTI inquiry to the National Commission of Women, when asked about the Commission’s records and notes on Love Jihad, the NCW denied having any data or complaints related to it.
The RTI was filed after Rekha Sharma, the Chairperson of the NCW met the Governor of Maharashtra to discuss “…rise in Love Jihad cases”.
Our Chairperson @sharmarekha met with Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, His Excellency, Governor of Maharashtra & discussed issues related to #womensafety in the state including defunct One Stop Centres, molestation & rape of women patients at #COVID centres & rise in love jihad cases pic.twitter.com/JBiFT477IU
The RTI response from the NCW implies that Rekha Sharma was simply peddling a lie and a piece of propaganda when she met the Governor and the NCW’s tweet telecasted the lie further – giving it institutional legitimacy.
The meeting of the Chairperson of the National Commission of Women and the Governor of Maharashtra – both important members and representatives of the arms of the government – concretised and camouflaged the lie of “Love Jihad’ as a matter of executive concern.
The ritual helped construct the hollow shell of the conspiracy while the documents denied the existence of any cases of Love Jihad.
The executives – Rekha Sharma and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari – simply pretended that malice called Love Jihad exists. They posed into a camera and a tweet was written and posted. The language of the tweet also added to the propaganda. It said that the Chairperson met the Governor to discuss “…rise in Love Jihad cases”.
The sentence is not as vague as the NCW would have wanted you to take it. It means that there were cases of Love Jihad that were already a problem, but there has been a recent rise in such cases and that is what concerns Ms. Sharma (and should concern you and the Governor as well).
Ms. Sharma’s office itself denied the existence of Love Jihad, and the Governor’s office never cared to cross-check the records before setting the agenda for the much-popularised meeting.
She had met the Governor to discuss the rise in the cases of a crime that, her official documents confirm, does not exist.
At the level of the government, it means that the statutory body of the government that would have played the role of the surveyor and keeper of the records for the alleged malice that the Love Jihad Law aims to quell has no records to substantiate the legislation, let alone to address the apparent problem. It supports the ordinance purely on the hearsay, lies, and delusions of its Chairperson – braced, nonetheless, by the ruling party.
The institution of the National Commission of Women destroyed a shared understanding of objective truth – no longer being the verifier or the repository of reality.
Love Jihad both exists and does not exist simultaneously. It exists as propaganda disguised as concern and does not exist as recorded cases. And once the rituals and the language confirmed Love Jihad as a matter of fact; documentary evidence, surveys and RTI responses ceased to matter.
What would a government then take as the basis to understand, define and identify the apparent problem? Ministry of Home Affairs seems to be a good site of inquiry. Here too, narrative wins over truth. BJP’s Minister of State for Home Affairs – G. Kishan Reddy – spoke from the floor of Lok Sabha in February 2020, stating on record that no cases of Love Jihad have been reported by any central agencies.
He also added that the Ministry has no definition for the act – simply put, they cannot see and tell if a case can be called ‘Love Jihad’or something else, or if it is even a crime. Once again, what the politicians said in rallies birthed the Law, and the Parliamentary speech fell redundant and meaningless. Another institution left devoid of truth.
Yogi Adityanath’s UP Government and BJP led several other governments across India are executing legislation against something that they cannot define.
The definition is not just loose but absent. It can change whenever the BJP wants. It can also (like it has) assume all interfaith marriages as illegal until proven otherwise.
The data is representative of what impact this can have. Within the first month of the implementation of the Law in UP, fifty-one people have been arrested in fourteen cases out of which only two cases were filed by the victims.
It would have been, however, just a matter of national embarrassment and good material for a stand-up act if the disjuncture and the fallacy were as benign as they seem.
The vagueness is precisely what gives power to the state to abuse human rights. If you do not define the problem, you can call anything that you dislike problematic. If you do not have records but pretend that the problem exists, you deprive the critics of any tool of verification.
Critics cannot ask you for data because it does not exist. In a conventional debate, you would worry whether you have the numbers on your side, here; the BJP is relieved of that pressure – liberated from the shackles of reality altogether. It is not by being specific, but by being vague and hazy that the state can, at will, put a consenting couple in jail and make the truth unreachable. It is like taking advantage of clouds to beat the radar, just that in this case, it works.
It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court realises how hollow the shell of the Love Jihad Law is.
In a better world, we could have been sure that the highest court will strike the ordinance down for the many violations of the Constitution that it commits, but having upheld myth over truth in the Babri Masjid Judgement, and thereby having abetted in the construction of the post-truth world in the recent past, the floor of the court is sadly, still open to speculations.
A post-truth world – a simulated reality – is a dictator’s wet dream. What the BJP has been able to cultivate is the inability of the people to differentiate between fact and fiction.
The Love Jihad Law is the best example of our institutions destroying truth, leaving the facts redundant and powerless, and creating not just public opinion, but enough legitimacy for legislation.
Coming back to the vane language of philosophy, the trick with Love Jihad is both ontological as well as epistemological. What the BJP is claiming to quell by the Love Jihad Law does not exist, and cannot be defined.
The party is no longer answerable to facts, let alone to values. When the distinction between correct and incorrect becomes extinct, the values of right and wrong are a thing of a distant, unreachable past.
(Fahad is an academic and writer. He writes regular columns on politics, culture, history and cities. He teaches Architecture and Design Histories, and also works as a musician for afterhours – designing and recording percussion. The views are personal.)