The debate on “love jihad’’ focuses on Muslim men seducing Hindu women across the caste spectrum and marrying them to propagate Islam and alter the religio-demographic profile of our country. The same forces have, often in the past, accused Christians of luring Hindus from the lower castes and tribals into the folds of Christianity.
But this is a new Hindutva-Brahminic theory — that through love, the religio-demographic profile of a country such as India – can be altered. Under the pretext of this new theory of “love jihad” any attempts at inter-religious marriages, which in any case are few and far between, are being blocked.
Even now India is not a land where marriages of choice, or love marriages as we call them, are encouraged. Matrimonial partners are by and large still endorsed by families under our thriving “arranged marriage” system.
This arranged marriage system was institutionalised as it alone could nourish, feed and sustain the caste system. And that’s the reason it continues even in this day and age. The arranged marriage mechanism put an effective full stop to inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.
Not only Hindus, but Muslims and Christians too endorse this pernicious system to conserve their family lineage, cultural and religious traditions.
Historically, the adoption of the religion of the spouse is well-known and documented. More upper caste Hindu women have married Muslim men, than upper caste Muslim women (there is caste among Muslims, too) have married Hindu men. In such marriages, some Muslim women have changed their religion and some have not.
The most striking example of “love jihad” is that of Kamala Das (later Kamala Surayya) — an upper caste Hindu woman, a famous writer and a devotee of Lord Krishna, who lived in Kerala. According to a biographic source, “She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nallappattu) family having royal ancestry. After being asked by her lover, whom she mentions as Sadiq Ali, an Islamic scholar and a Muslim League MP, she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.”
Ali was said to be much younger than her and yet he was willing to marry her on the condition of conversion. This was a known case of real “love jihad”. At 65, she embraced Islam and chose to don the hijab, chucking her colourful designer wear.
The Brahminic lower caste Hindu women had been ostracised by society till the Cheraman Perumal royals converted to Islam in the early 6th century. The pre-and post-Adi Shankara-charya Hinduism had forced lower caste women to be in a semi-naked state. This in addition to the pubertal, menstrual and child birth seclusions inposed on them.
Women who embraced Islam either by marriage or through other ways were immediately liberated from their semi-nakedness and various forms of untouchabilities. Though those who embraced Islam in Kerala in particular and south India in general took to the ways of the locals, rights accorded to women in the Quran changed their status instantaneously. Till medieval times Muslims were granted Quranic rights without any compromise.
However, the Adi Shankara Adwaita school did not liberate the upper caste or the lower caste Hindu women from Manu’s brutal laws, dogmatic superstitions and caste-bound practices.
As a child I was pained to see the myriad forms of untouchabilities that the lower caste women had to suffer in the erstwhile Nizam’s territory — Telangana. By then though the women were allowed to wear the upper garment, called ravike (a form of blouse), they could not eat with male members of the family. They were not allowed to cover their ankles with their sari, or comb their hair every day, or talk to their husbands in the presence of other family members. These practices were apparently adopted from Turka Sanskruti.
In Kerala, the right to the wear upper garment was granted to non-Muslim women in the late 19th and early 20th century. In such a situation, going into a Muslim house appeared to be a big relief for young women who desired the freedom to cover their bodies. Loving Muslim men, therefore, was a true jihad.
Gradually the south Indian communities, across the caste spectrum, learnt from Islamic and Christianic ethic and improved the status of women – both within and outside the four walls of the house.
Studies show that a Muslim woman’s status within her house in south India is far superior to that of her Hindu counterpart.
In North India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the status of non-Muslim women is much worse than that of Muslim women. The ugly underdevelopment of these states is related to women’s status, health, education and freedoms. In this situation “love” becomes a source of “jihad” against oppression.
As far as I know no Hindu organisation has launched a campaign to promote equality of gender or to abolish oppressive practices. If they, indeed, want to stop “love jihad”, they should take up massive social reforms amongst all castes. The reforms should be spiritual, cultural, and include the dimension of man-woman relationship. We have not heard of a single Sangh leader talking about family or social reforms.
We cannot achieve “sabka vikas” without giving equal rights to women of all castes and religions and transforming cultural codes. In some castes women’s oppression is in still in the primitive mode. In North India the condition of Jat and Yadav women is telling of their status in the family and society.
North India is still an unreformed den and the Sangh Parivarwalas want to push North Indian women into worse conditions. They have no agenda for social reform. The more they want the Indian women to be oppressed “Hindu naris” without rights, the more they will become “Muslim Begums” with rights. The real problem lies in equal rights and the modernisation of family. They need to realise this.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad