“Love jihad”, a concept steeped in religious conspiracy theories, argues that Muslim men in India are waging a war against the Hindu population by enticing and marrying young innocent Hindu girls. This alleged war reaches its culmination when girls are forcibly converted to Islam, thus increasing numbers of Muslims and diminishing those of Hindus.
Disturbingly, the Uttar Pradesh anti-conversion ordinance allows any relative of the Hindu woman to challenge the legitimacy of her marriage. In this case, the reverse burden of proof would apply, wherein the person who facilitated the conversion would need to prove that it was not forced, while disregarding the woman’s testimony of having consented to the conversion and marriage.
This anxiety has deep-seated patriarchal roots, wherein a woman is perceived as little more than cattle, handed over from her parents to her husband, with little say in the matter. As we saw in the infamous Hadiya case, the woman’s assertions of having converted and married her husband by choice was of little value. She was initially “returned to the custody of” her parents, and only reunited with her husband after a long battle to convince the courts of her autonomy. This reverse burden of proof completely disregards a woman’s consent and agency.
Historically, marriage has been a tool to control women’s sexualities, promulgate caste lineage and stop women from exercising their autonomy. This communal propaganda does nothing to safeguard women’s rights, rather it further curtails their mobility, social interactions and freedom of choice.
Young Indian women of all faiths are increasingly seeking freedom — to work, study, marry who they choose and live life on their own terms. These basic rights must not be questioned or curtailed. A woman’s agency is her own, and no parent, relative or state apparatus should be given the authority to coerce her. The attempt to rob women of their agency is an attempt to produce a docile female population that does as it is told, and does not rebel against societal and familial directives.