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Indian court settles row over interfaith marriage

The father of a Christian woman who married a Muslim in Kerala had alleged 'love jihad'

Indian court settles row over interfaith marriage

An Indian bride with her hands decorated with henna paste during a marriage ceremony. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 21, 2022 04:40 AM GMT

Updated: April 21, 2022 04:51 AM GMT

A top court’s refusal to intervene in the marriage of a Christian woman to a Muslim man has brought the curtain down on a snowballing controversy in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The father of Jyotsna Mary Joseph, who worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, had filed a habeas corpus petition in Kerala High Court seeking a probe into his daughter’s "disappearance" after she walked out on her family and married Shejin, a communist youth leader belonging to the Muslim community, without their consent.

The family leveled charges of suspected "love jihad," a conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of targeting women from other religions for conversion to Islam by means of marriage, deception and force.

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But the high court division bench of Justice V.G. Arun and Justice C.S. Sudha on April 19 declined to interfere in the couple’s decision to marry and disposed of the father’s petition.

The court arrived at a decision after Jyostna appeared before it and categorically stated that she had married Shejin of her own free will and not under any compulsion.

The judges told the family that while they understood their concern, Jyostna was a 26-year-old woman working in Saudi Arabia and hence capable of making her own decisions.

“We don’t mind two adults from different religions marrying and settling down together. How to lead their life and with whom is their decision”

Addressing reporters, the newly married couple denied allegations made by Jyotsna’s relatives and community members that she would end up being a Muslim. She has all the freedom to stick to her religion until her death, they said.

A section of the Christian community including nuns in Jyotsna’s native Thiruvambady, a major hill town and suburb of Kerala’s Kozhikode district, had staged demonstrations alleging the marriage was a case of love jihad.

A statement by George M. Thomas, a former official of Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), supporting the allegation of love jihad triggered a virtual storm on social media as Shejin is a leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of CPI-M.

Finally, the ruling party’s leadership intervened and made Thomas issue a clarification.

The Catholic Church in Kerala and elsewhere in India has expressed its concerns and cautioned its members, especially young women, against the trap of love jihad.

“We don’t mind two adults from different religions marrying and settling down together. How to lead their life and with whom is their decision,” said Mathew Xavier, a Catholic lawyer.

The states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the north have already passed laws that criminalize conversion by marriage

But a Catholic priest who did not want to be named said legally there was nothing wrong with two adults from different religions deciding to marry each other “but our Catholic traditions do not approve of it.”

The priest said the Church in Kerala had come across many interfaith marriages between Muslim men and Catholic women that made life miserable for the latter. He cautioned Christian women to be careful as such marriages have the potential to ruin their lives.

Public concerns over love jihad first surfaced in Kerala before making their way across the four corners of India. The Church in the state claimed that love jihad was part of a larger agenda to “threaten the religious and social harmony of Kerala.” Senior clergy even raised the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2020.

The states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the north have already passed laws that criminalize conversion by marriage while Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam and Haryana, all ruled by the BJP on its own or in a coalition, have promised laws to curb the so-called social menace of love jihad.

In January, the top court of Madhya Pradesh, like its counterpart in Kerala, confirmed the rights of a Hindu woman married to a Muslim man and prevented the government from criminalizing their marriage by invoking the anti-conversion law.

In Gujarat too, a court granted protection to interfaith couples from unnecessary harassment under the state’s recently amended anti-conversion law.

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