Kerala 'Love Jihad' Bogey: Why Are CPI(M) and Church Troubled by a Marriage?
A Christian woman, Joisna, and a DYFI leader born to a Muslim family, Shejin, got married on 9 April.
An interfaith marriage in Kerala has spelt trouble for the state’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Roman Catholic church.
The marriage, that took place on 9 April, was between Joisna Mary Joseph, a Christian and MS Shejin, who was born to a Muslim family. While Shejin is a Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) leader and an atheist, it was alleged that the couple’s union was the result of ‘love jihad’ – an alleged conspiracy by which Muslim men marry non-Muslim women to force them to adopt Islam.
How did the CPI(M) and the Syro-Malabar church respond?
A Communist Leader and CPI(M)'s Sticky Wicket
DYFI is the youth wing of CPI(M). However, an ex-MLA of the party was the first to refer to ‘love jihad,’ after Joseph married Shejin. George M Thomas, CPI(M) leader and former MLA of the party from Thiruvambady, said that ‘love jihad’ is a reality. The marriage between Joisna and Shejin affected communal harmony in his home district, he accused.
Joisna had eloped to marry Shejin and her family had lodged a complaint in Kozhikode, her home district, stating that she was held captive against her will.
The Kerala High Court, on 19 April, allowed the bride to live with Shejin, as she testified that she married him out of her own will. The CPI(M) publicly censured George M Thomas for issuing the ‘love jihad’ statement. The leader too had to withdraw his comments. Public censure in CPI(M) is no less than suspension.
Syro-Malabar Church and 'Deepika' Intervention
However, the Syro-Malabar church – a denomination among the Roman Catholics – remained hostile. On 19 April, Deepika, the oldest Malayalam daily that is distributed across the state, published an editorial titled, ‘The questions that Kodenchery raises.’ The article asked people to think why this marriage has triggered a controversy in a state where several interfaith marriages take place.
“Instead of threatening the family of Joisna in the name of secularism and religious harmony, mysteries surrounding the incident should be cleared,” the editorial in 'Deepika' read.
‘Deepika’ is managed by the Syro-Malabar church, even as its Managing Director Father Chandrankunnel Mathew claimed that Latin Catholics too are “shareholders and supporters” of the media outfit. The Latin Catholic church has denied the claim. "Deepika is managed and operated by a fellow denomination within the Catholic church, and Latin Catholics have no stakes over the newspaper,” Antony Noronha, president of Kerala Latin Catholic Association said.
Meanwhile, Shejin told The Quint that he and Joisna "are unfazed by the article because they have now been given legal sanctions (High Court order) to be with each other." He assured that there are "no vested interests except for the hope of a future together." He added, “I am not a believer but she has a lot of faith and she has the freedom to practice her own religion.”
But why has the marriage put both the CPI(M) and the church in a tight spot? The marriage strained CPI(M)'s effort to woo Christians.
How CPI(M) Tapped into Christian Votes
Going by the 2011 census, Christians form 18.38 percent of Kerala’s population. Numerically, the state has 6,411,269 Christians, and 70.73 percent of the population falls under Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara Catholic, Malankara Orthodox Syrian, Jacobite Syrian Christian, Church of South India, Marthoma, St. Thomas Evangelical, Chaldean Syrian, and Malabar Independent Syrian Churches.
A section of Christians – named Syrian Christians – among these churches consider themselves to be of the dominant caste. Latin Catholics in Kerala fall under the OBC category.
The CPI(M) has been trying to woo the Roman Catholic, dominant caste Christians, whose population is high in central-Kerala districts including Ernakulam, Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta. This, even as the community across denominational lines has been traditional Congress voters.
In 2014, current Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan said that Christians backed CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha elections. Just a few weeks before the 2021 Assembly election in the state, Kerala Congress (Mani) leader Jose K Mani made a public statement expressing deep anguish over the recurring ‘love jihad’ cases in Kerala. A regional party that finds its mass base in the Catholic Church, Kerala Congress (Mani), had turned its loyalty to CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) the same year.
In keeping with this trend, in 2021, the party had circulated a booklet among its grassroots level leaders to use as a reference book for political speeches.
The book cautioned the party's youth and student wings against attempts of ‘Islamic extremists’ to lure educated young women from professional college campuses. "There are deliberate attempts at professional college campuses to distract educated young women to extremism and fundamentalism. The student and youth fronts must be vigil against this issue," the booklet read. All CPI(M) leaders, whom The Quint contacted for a comment on the booklet, remained noncommittal.
Result: In 2021 elections, a good chunk of the Christians votes went to LDF, because the community remained miffed with Indian Union Muslim League’s prominence in the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Meaning, the Christian votes too had helped the LDF come back to power in 2021.
How 'Deepika' Attempted to Affect CPI(M)'s Sway
It is this longstanding effort to woo the church that got strained when ‘Deepika’ published the editorial criticising CPI(M)’s stand in Joisna-Shejin marriage.
Naming CPI(M), the editorial said that political parties and a section of media have been opposing the ‘love jihad’ claim, calling it an effort to cause communal tension.
"The purpose of our publication is to speak the truth. We are tolerant to a man and woman falling in love genuinely and getting married irrespective of religion. But then the issue we are raising is of those men who dupe the women in the name of true love," Father Chandrankunnel Mathew, who is the Managing Director of Rashtra Deepika Ltd, the publisher of Deepika daily, told The Quint.
Political observers, however, criticised the position taken by CPI(M) and the church, in this case.
"It has been the Sangh Parivar's long-standing claim that Kerala is emerging as a recruitment hub for political Islam. The Christian leadership might have ulterior motives for sharing the BJP campaign on love jihad. But secular parties like CPI(M) must rise above short-term political advantages and safeguard secularism, co-existence, and social solidarity," said writer and activist Dr Azad.
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