(This story was first published on 22 November 2020, and is being republished from The Quint's archives to mark one year since the anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh came into effect.)
“Mixed couples grew weary of the “condemnation and harassment they faced on a near daily basis” from the rest of their community… Smaller happenings, such as harassing couples until they stopped going to_________ together, occurred regularly. Some confrontations turned violent as _________ men and their_________ girlfriends were assaulted in the street and paraded around town, announcing their crime of having social and sexual relations with someone of a different _________. The communal disapproval began even before the _________ Laws were enacted; due to their passage, many mixed couples simply decided that it was better to split when their relationship became a burden and source of danger.”
It is likely that you will find it quite easy to fill in the blanks here, thanks to all the news about the ‘Love Jihad’ laws that several Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states, including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, are planning to enact.
The actual passage being quoted, however, does not deal with this modern Indian horror, but instead is a description by Richard D Heideman, citing detailed research by Patricia Szobar, of the effects of the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany.
If you hear the word ‘Nuremberg’ now, chances are you will automatically think about the Nuremberg Trials of 1946, where international military tribunals prosecuted prominent Nazis for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
However, a decade before those trials, Nuremberg went down in historical infamy for a different reason – albeit one that did influence the choice of the city for those trials.
At their by-then-customary annual rally in Nuremberg in 1935, the Nazis announced two laws that were essential to their ideology: the ‘Reich Citizenship Law’, and the ‘Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor’. These legislations came to be collectively known as the ‘Nuremberg Laws’.
The Reich Citizenship Law was an obvious cornerstone of their vision of Germany. It restricted German citizenship to those of ‘German or related blood’, thereby excluding Jews (and communities like the Roma as well).
It also made it a condition for citizenship that a person had to prove by their conduct that they were willing and fit to faithfully serve the German people and the Reich – which effectively meant that dissent (even among those of Aryan stock) could cost you your citizenship, a powerful weapon for an authoritarian government.
The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, on the other hand, was more limited in its scope, but by no means less important.
It banned marriage and extra-marital relations between Jews and those of ‘German blood’. Those found violating the law were to be punished with prison sentences along with hard labour.
The objective behind this law was to prevent ‘race defilement’ of German women and German girls and thereby ensure the survival of the pure German Volk. While ostensibly gender-neutral, the underlying panic about Jewish men targeting Aryan women can be observed in how the law also specifically prevented Jews from employing female Germans under the age of 45 in their households, as well as the propaganda that surrounded the enactment of the law.
“Why does the Jew instigate the German woman to race defilement, systematically and on a mass scale,” asked strident Nazi media darling Julius Streicher, for instance, in a promotional poster for a special edition of his newspaper explaining why this law was needed.
You would not be alone in finding this eerily familiar.
The Shameful Tradition of Anti-Miscegenation Laws
Nazi Germany was hardly the first country to have laws to prevent what was called ‘miscegenation’ – ie marriages and relationships between members of different races, that were considered to impact racial purity.
A majority of states in the USA had laws in place preventing mixed-race marriages (particularly between Whites and African-Americans) long before Nazi Germany. While many states repealed these laws over the years, 16 states retained such laws long after the Nazis were defeated.
It took till 1967 for these laws to be finally struck down by the US Supreme Court in Loving vs Virginia, with a comprehensive takedown of the spurious ‘science’ behind preventing mixed-race relationships, and a recognition of the fundamental right to marry.
Apartheid-era South Africa also had a law preventing marriages between its four racial classifications (White, Coloured, Indian, and Black), with criminal penalties for those who broke the law.
It is important to understand that the specifics of these laws are not really relevant.
Which races exactly they targeted, how various races were defined in them, what was the exact criminal penalty described – none of these details were actually pertinent, because the details could be twisted and worked around if required, to achieve the law’s objectives.
This can be seen in how the US courts would ignore arguments by men accused of violating a law preventing African-Americans from marrying White women who pointed out they were actually from the Honduras or Haiti, or how the Nazis defined Jews to be anyone with particular degrees of Jewish ancestry, regardless of whether they had converted to another religion.
The objectives behind these laws were to ‘other’ certain communities, to separate and classify them as lesser than the community which held power (in both the US and Germany, the majority community) and to prevent the mixing of these communities with the community which held power, to emphasise and formalise this classification.
This would make it even easier to enable hatred against them and discriminate against them, as they would no longer be seen as equals. The penal aspect of the laws in turn would create a climate of fear and harassment that would enforce these other objectives.
Another similarity among all of them was a vicious patriarchal strain, that disregarded the autonomy of women who chose to be part of such marriages on the basis of a narrative that they were being defiled and preyed upon by the men of the targeted communities.
The Proposed New ‘Love Jihad’ Laws
And so, enter the raft of ‘Love Jihad’ laws that are being touted in five Indian states at present: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, and Assam.
Given the fact that ‘Love Jihad’ itself is an undefined, unrecognised concept, even for the BJP, it is unsurprising that the proposed legislations (for UP and MP at least) focus on questioning conversions, and making conversions for the sake of marriage illegal.
At the outset, let’s be clear: There is no legal basis for any such laws, whether because of the overreach they would involve, or the fact that any actual illegalities are already covered by existing legislation, such as state laws against forced conversions and criminal intimidation under the IPC.
As long as there are two consenting adults involved, the right to privacy and the right to practice a religion or faith of one’s choice preclude any interference by the state, the courts, right-wing goons and even the families of the couple – no amount of creativity in the wording of the legislation can change that.
But legality isn’t a consideration when it comes to the ‘Love Jihad’ laws and it never has been of any concern to those who have propagated this concept. And this is where these touted new laws fall in step with anti-miscegenation laws such as the second Nuremberg Law, or the laws in the US and apartheid South Africa.
What We Risk Unleashing
Now, you might say that this is a false equivalence because those laws were based on race, rather than religion. However, as discussed earlier, the specifics of those laws were never the point: The objective was to target particular communities, sharpen divisions between them and the community in power, and make discrimination easier. That is exactly what the ‘Love Jihad’ narrative does as well.
This is driven home by the way these laws are being framed as necessary to ‘protect’ Hindu women and their honour, with the emphasis on predation by Muslim men – completely ignoring the agency of consenting adults who enter into inter-faith relationships.
The enabling of harassment of mixed couples by these new ‘Love Jihad’ laws is yet another area of similarity. Remember that passage with the blanks from the start of this piece?
“Mixed couples grew weary of the “condemnation and harassment they faced on a near daily basis” from the rest of their community… The communal disapproval began even before the Nuremberg Laws were enacted; due to their passage, many mixed couples simply decided that it was better to split when their relationship became a burden and source of danger.”
We have already seen this kind of harassment take place without the existence of any such laws, from the depredations of Yogi Adityanath’s ‘Anti-Romeo Squads’ to assaults on couples by the Bajrang Dal and other right-wing groups, and to, lest we forget, the horrific murder of Mohammad Afrazul by Shambhu Lal Regar (who was celebrated by his local community and was even put up as a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections).
If this kind of harassment is given legitimacy by a law, then we may well see inter-faith couples in India also forced to give up their relationships to avoid this kind of harassment, which will now also add the risk of jail time and being forced to contend with India’s awful criminal justice system.
The absence of an actual ban on inter-faith marriages is irrelevant – that a criminal law process can be triggered just because a couple originally belonged to different faiths is punishment enough.
The damage to India’s social fabric that these laws will promote is terrifying. The state sanction of harassment of couples that society doesn’t approve of, of intrusion into the private lives of consenting adults, of mistrust between communities, of disregard for women’s agency – these are consequences that will go far beyond attacking the Muslim community.
The infantilisation of women and the effective endorsement of the idea that a community’s honour resides in their sexual choices will set back attempts to combat regressive gender stereotypes and empower women across the country, allowing men even more control over their lives. This perhaps explains why it is men who are at the forefront of every clamour about ‘Love Jihad’ and not women themselves.
While an incredible amount of damage has already been done by the risible narrative of ‘Love Jihad’ over the last few years, and the announcement that these laws are on the table, there is still time to try and salvage this.
Waiting for the constitutional courts to strike down the laws after they are enacted will be a waste of time (as they would have to, going by the law), not least because the courts are likely to take forever to make any decision, rendering the issue a fait accompli.
But if we do not pull back from this brink, we will be the only constitutional democracy to have laws in force that harken back to the shameful past of anti-miscegenation. No matter what short-term political gains can be made from doing so, even the BJP has to realise this is not a tradition to aspire to.