India’s ‘Love Jihad Law' Explained

A new law promises to protect women being tricked into conversion. We explain what this law does, and why it’s being passed now.

Bride signing marriage papers
(S.M. Samee / Wikimedia Commons)

Michaela Stone Cross


December 10, 2020

The term ‘love jihad’ — the idea that there’s an organized effort of Muslim men to turn primarily Hindu women into Muslim wives — has been all over the internet lately, ever since India passed what many call its first ‘Love Jihad’ law, officially named the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Law. Proponents say the law is not an anti-love jihad law at all, but an anti-conversion bill signed for women’s protection; critics say the law is Islamophobic, paternalistic, and addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. We look at the facts and context to explain where the idea of love jihad comes from and why these laws are being passed at all.

Love Jihad

The term ‘love jihad,’ first called ‘Romeo jihad,’ gained traction in 2009, when communalist paranoia seized the already-tense state of Kerala. It was originally propagated by Catholic leaders worried about Christians girls getting seduced out of the faith. The idea spread when a website belonging to the Hindutva organization Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that a Muslim youth organization was launching a mass campaign to trick Hindu women into becoming Muslim wives. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council claimed that 4,500 girls in Kerala had been forcibly converted, while the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed 30,000. The National Investigative Agency (NIA), which initially encouraged the theory, eventually closed the probe in 2018, after finding no evidence.

The most famous case promoted by the NIA’s investigation was that of Hadiya, a young woman who converted to Islam and then married a Muslim man. After her father filed a love jihad complaint, Kerala’s High Court annulled Hadiya’s marriage, returning her to her father’s custody despite her being 24 years old. The NIA, similarly, citing the case as an instance of “psychological kidnapping,” despite Hadiya’s insistence that the choice to convert and marry was made without coercion of any kind. The Supreme Court eventually stepped in, freeing Hadiya from her father’s custody and restoring her marriage.

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