National

Kerala ‘love jihad’ case is an example of Islamophobia and misreporting

Kozhikode: A recently major Supreme Court-related news, which is still active in the media, isrelated to a conversion and subsequent marriage of a woman to a Muslim boy. Both belong to Kerala. Many news organisations, however, reported that it’s a case of ‘love jihad’. But, is the case really about ‘love jihad’?

Hadiya and Shafin Jahan/ Image Courtesy: Keralashabdam Source: Shafin Jahan/Facebook

The Times of India, said in a report titled “Supreme Court asks NIA to probe Kerala 'love jihad' case”, that “the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe Kerala's 'love jihad' case pertaining to a Hindu woman converting to Islam and marrying a Muslim man.”

Several other leading news organisations like The Hindu, Indian Express, New Indian Express, Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, and NDTV also used the phrase ‘love jihad’ in their stories about this issue. Some used the controversial phrase in the heading while some others used it in the report. Some, like News 18, even reported that “SC accepts love jihad”.

Love jihad and the SC

Did the phrase ‘love jihad’ ever come up seriously during the court proceedings? I relied on multiple sources to get an answer to this question. I visited two legal news websites: Live Law and Bar & Bench, which published a copy of the SC order issued on Wednesday, 16 August. None of the websites used the controversial phrase. Live Law, besides, published an analytical piece on the SC order which also never used the phrase.

Notably, and contradictory to several media reports, the Supreme Court bench, consisting of the Chief Justice J. S. Khehar and Justice Chandrachud, which is considering the case, itself dismissed the involvement of the so-called ‘love jihad’ in the case, terming it only a “catch phrase,” which, the bench made clear it doesn’t subscribe to.

“We never said it (love Jihad). We are not behind the social media posts & press reports. We are not going by such catch phrases…,” Justice Chandrachud was reported to have replied when Haris Beeran, a lawyer who is appearing for Shafin Jahan, the petitioner, brought this issue to the Court on August 10. “I got a call from the central agency stating that the 'love jihad' case is listed at 2 PM. 'Love jihad' in common parlance as we understand is some kind of love trap in which girls are trapped. This is a simple case which has been blown out of proportion,” Haris told the court.

Among those who reported this development in the court was Balagopal B. Nair, a reputed Supreme Court reporter from Kerala. Balagopal, a senior journalist with the Malayalam news channel Reporter TV, is known for his detailed, often verbatim, narration of Supreme Court proceedings.

His Facebook posts, published on August 10 and August 16, in which he narrated in detail what happened in the SC on those days when the case came before it. He not only rejected the claim that the SC endorsed the ‘love jihad’ allegation, but he also give details on how the court categorically denied such allegations so far in the case.

What is interesting is that some media, like The Hindu, which reported last week that SC disapproved ‘love jihad’ phrase, also used this phrase in its report on Wednesday/Thursday, 16-17 August (online and print). 

Kerala HC too didn’t say ‘love jihad’

Some reports, like that of Hindustan Times, India Today and NDTV, mentioned that the phrase ‘love jihad’ was used in the Hadiya case by the Kerala High Court. This too is wrong.

In its 95-page judgment, which was widely criticized by many and sparked debates in Kerala and elsewhere on a range of topics including fundamental rights and religious freedom, the HC never used the phrase ‘love jihad’.

The HC bench, interestingly, stated clearly in its judgment that it was not a love marriage. “This is not a case of a girl falling in love with a boy of a different religion and wanting to get married to him. Such situations are common and we are familiar with them. In all such cases, this Court has been consistent in accepting the choice of the girl. However, the case here is different. It is an admitted case that this is an arranged marriage. Ms. Akhila had no previous acquaintance with Sri Shafin Jahan. According to her, she had registered her name at a matrimonial site by name 'Way to Nikhah'. The marriage proposal had originated from Sri Shafin Jahan in response to her profile that was available at the site,” the judgment said on pages 78-79.

Coverage of Malayalam media

Hadiya case is relatively new for many ‘national’ media. This has been evident in the way some of them reported the case’s ‘history’.

Hadiya case involves complex arguments and counter arguments. While one side argues that an educated adult’s right to her own body and life was curtailed and her fundamental rights were violated, the other side argues that she was brainwashed and a larger conspiracy is there behind her conversion and subsequent marriage.

What is clear, however, is that her marriage was not ‘love marriage’, as she met her partner through a matrimonial website long after her conversion.

Malayalam media, however, comparing to most of the national media, has been following the issue since much earlier. Hence, to know how the Malayalam media has covered the latest Supreme Court development is important -- both to have a better understanding of the case and to know whether the coverage of the national media lacked sensitivity.

‘Hadiya case needs to be probed by NIA: SC’ (Malayala Manorama), ‘Hadiya case given to NIA’, ‘Hadiya case: SC wants fair investigation’ (Mathrubhumi), ‘Hadiya case given to NIA’ (Madhyamam) were the headings published in some of the top Malayalam newspapers on August 17.

However, it is not that every single Malayalam media showed the same level of sensitivity and objectivity in reporting the case. Kerala Kaumudi, for example, wrote “Love jihad in Kerala: case given to NIA”.

None of the major Malayalam newspapers, either in the heading or in the report, used the ‘love jihad’ phrase. They in general focused on what mainly happened in the case on August 16: the SC handed over the case to the NIA.

Love Jihad: the larger picture

In Kerala, however, inter-religious marriages are not rare. Young men and women from every religious community love and marry from another community, though extremists from every community 'warn' against such relationships. In many cases, one of the couples, often woman, converted to the other's faith. This happens across to Christian, Hindu and Muslim women.

Also, in a comparatively liberal society like Kerala, love and marriage are not always the reason behind conversions. Individuals embrace a new faith based on their understanding and learning, just like several others left their religion and start a new life as an agnostic, atheist, liberal, or as Marxist.

In the present case, Hadiya reportedly got interested to Islam and converted to the religion much before she met and married Shafin Jahan, who informed the Court that the couple met each other through a matrimonial website. Hadiya’s conversion to Islam was a result of her own decision, as she reiterated this in a latest video released on August 17.

The argument that there is a well-planned conspiracy going on to seduce young women and marry them to 'increase' the number of one religion, or to 'use' them in any criminal activity like terrorism, is purely based on hate and xenophobia, if not Islamophobia. Such arguements need the backing of concrete evidences.

What is also striking is that the media, which now appears ‘concerned’ about Hadiya, was consistently ignoring her. It ignored the continued denial of her human rights ever since she was forcefully sent to parental custody by the Kerala HC last May. Even now, media is least interested to reach out to Hadiya who has been effectively put under house arrest and whose mental health was reported to have been negatively affected by her present situation.

One hardly has solid evidence to approve, or disprove, the concept, and practice, of ‘Love Jihad’ in Kerala. But we have sufficient evidence that suggests how this term, and the propaganda built around it, is misused for political gains, causing deadly communal polarization.

With this phrase being wrongly attributed to the Supreme Court and the High Court, one will not have to wait long to see how these decorated stories are going to be misused to further spread hatred. A basic search on Facebook or Twitter with a hash tag #lovejihad will show you the primary results!

It is understandable that it may not be possible for the court reporters to go into the details of each and every case they are assigned to cover. But, is it too much to expect them to be aware, and sensitive, about the use of controversial phrases like ‘love jihad’, particularly during a highly communally polarized national socio-political context like the one we are presently undergoing?

Criminals should not be spared. But in an atmosphere where Muslims in the country face threats, of different natures and from different corners, one expects some sensibility and sensitivity from the mainstream media, barring the Republic TV and Times Now types. Love jihad is not only something that is yet to be proved, but also something that is loosely defined, which makes it an effective tool in the hands of hate-mongers.

The author is an independent journalist and researcher based in Kerala. He may be reached at sabith.muhemmad-at-gmail.com

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