Most human cultures in the subcontinent and around the world consider marriage (or socially-sanctioned variants of the concept) to be the purest expression of human love in the form of permanent coupling between individuals. Whether it is the idea of love as espoused by society, or its self-styled “radical” and voluntary outcastes, it does not run blind in most cases.
If one looks at marriage, the only socially-sanctioned coupling institution with permanence as an avowed goal, it will be clear that religion, class, caste, ethnicity, language, or a combination of these factors, matter in most instances.
Some may dislike this state of affairs for whatever private preferences, but this is how it is for society-at-large. The coupling patterns of the so-called rebels and radicals also bear out the same private prejudices, their shrill public radicalism notwithstanding. White men and women born in Christian families, whose lives, ideals, and philosophies inspire certain brown urban yuppies, mostly marry white people from Christian families.
Let’s not take shelter in fashionably “cosmopolitan” fantasies and pretend that it is otherwise. Undercounting the majority and over counting the minority is a tactic straight out of the playbook of the fox without a tail. There is a reason why Aesop’s fables are as persistent, as they grew out of human experience.
Let us get a few things clear, given that trans-religious, trans-ethnic, or trans-linguistic marriages are somehow thought to represent some supposedly “higher” form of companionship in certain circles. An overwhelming majority of all people marry people from their own family religion. “Love Jihad” is a phenomenon where Muslim men allegedly target non-Muslim women to romance, rape, kidnap, marry, or do all of these with the objective of conversion to Islam or dishonouring non-Islamic women.
While this is a common occurrence in Pakistan (especially in Sindh), reports of this have come from the United Kingdom too. In the Indian Union, there have been sporadic allegations of this from Kerala, Karnataka, and more recently Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh, known for its history of communal animosity, is now agog with Love Jihad as a “chayer dokan” political issue.
Police probes into individual cases found no clear evidence that such a thing was happening as some broader conspiracy. In the Indian Union, there is nothing that prevents a Muslim man to romance, convert, and marry a non-Muslim woman.
Similarly, there is nothing preventing a Hindu man to romance, convert, and marry a Muslim woman. Whether an instance of such happenings occur with the covert intention of preying on a woman of a different religious background requires mind-reading techniques that are in the realm of science fiction.
However, cases of deception (a man feigning to be non-Muslim to lure a non-Muslim woman) do point to unholy intentions. Even if there are few instances of criminal deception, simply that cannot be the basis of speculation that a wider phenomenon exists or that it doesn’t.
But clarity on this matter is of utmost importance, given the politicisation that some of the alleged instances are receiving. When information is wanting, rhetoric, rumour, and prejudice rule the roost. That is a dangerous game to play. And it is a game with real consequences in blood and gore.
As far as the word of law in the Indian Union goes, any single man is technically free to marry any single woman. A natural corollary of this system is that the number of Hindu man-Muslim woman marriages should be roughly equal to the number of Muslim man-Hindu woman marriages. This pattern should hold at the state-level and at the district level.
If the data shows one kind of pairing to be far commoner than the other, it may be a hint of something wider. At lower levels, the data may be too sparse for useful analysis. One wonders why no comprehensive data exists for this – given the explosive political potency that this issue is assuming. Talking heads on each side seem to confirm or deny the existence of a phenomenon without substantive data. That is both unfortunate and irresponsible, to say the least.
Demographic anxiety is a real thing, and so is communal politics. Muslims have regularly been at the receiving end of “Hum Paanch, Humare Pachchees” type of propaganda, a reference to the Qur’anic allowance of polygamy that Muslim personal law in the subcontinent upholds. The available data on polygamy incidences in the Indian Union however shows that, according to the 1961 census, the proportion of Hindus practising bigamy (5.8%) was marginally more than Muslims (5.7%), though it must be mentioned that polygamy was legal for Hindus in the Indian Union till 1955 and hence the Hindu numbers could reflect a bygone reality.
While the charge of disproportionately high rates of polygamy by Muslim men persists, there is no data. This is also true for Kulin Brahmins, much maligned for their erstwhile practice of polygamy. Some Kulins no doubt had many marriages. But sex ratio in a human society with rampant female foeticide puts a hard mathematical limit on how common Kulin polygamy was.
Only a miniscule minority could have ever indulged in this abhorrent practice. Inventing conspiracies and ignoring conspiracies are equally criminal. The debate around Love Jihad is only the most recent instance. Why do states shy away from collecting data? Social realities inform public debate in a positive way. A political discourse based on prejudice-based rumours does the exact opposite. Let data rule our judgements when the question is about numbers.