At a time when marriages of Hindu-Muslim couples invite the anger of right-wing organisations and lead to violence in India, a high-profile interfaith wedding on Sunday evening in Lucknow has invited chuckles.
The wedding at Taj Vivanta hotel in the capital of northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state was attended by senior leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party, including the state Governor Ram Naik, BJP general secretary Ram Lal, central minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and several ministers of the BJP government in UP.
“Shriya Gupta weds Faizan Kareem,” read a sign at the hotel lobby directing guests to the pool side wedding on Sunday evening.
Marriages of Hindu girls to Muslim boys or vice versa are not uncommon but in recent years such weddings have created a political storm and led to violence. The BJP and its affiliated outfits accuse Muslims youths of luring Hindu girls and label such relationships as “love jihad”. The term love jihad is used to spread fears that Muslim youths seduce Hindu girls in order to convert them to Islam, a concern which officials in several states have dismissed as social media rumours. In the last five years, the police have investigated such claims and found no evidence of forced conversion of Hindu girls.
In the last five years, love jihad has dominated political and social media discourse and in one such case, it was investigated by National Investigative Agency, India’s top counter-terror agency. The NIA investigated 11 interfaith marriages in Kerala and the agency did not find found any evidence of forced conversions.
The most prominent case of Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan), a 24-year-old Hindu woman, who converted to Islam and married Shafin Jahan, had dominated headlines last year after the Kerala High Court annulled her marriage. Following the NIA investigation in October last year, the Supreme Court upheld the marriage and said Hadiya had the right to choose her partner.
However, love jihad continues to be a controversial term and the right wing outfits have violently attacked interfaith couples in several states. In several cases across the country, interfaith couples have approached police and courts, seeking protection from rightwing elements.
Reacting to the high profile interfaith wedding in Lucknow, a journalist said: “Where is love jihad brigade now, the RSS outfits had recently attacked a couple in Agra.”
The bride Shriya Gupta is a Lucknow girl and schooled in Loreto convent, a Catholic institution. She is the niece of BJP leader Ram Lal, a powerful general secretary of the BJP, a party that has spearheaded campaign against interfaith marriages during elections. Shriya’s husband, Faizan Kareem is the son of Dr Wijahat Kareem and Dr Surheeta Chatterji Kareem, who is a Congress leader in the state.
“A wedding is a private matter and I can’t say much but one cannot overlook the hypocrisy of the politicians,” he added. “I hope that people who get provoked by this love jihad bogey are able to see through hypocrisy of the political class.”
“It looks like what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. A Muslim friend married a Hindu girl in Lucknow only to be hounded by the police and rightwing elements for months on end. The cops would not just raid his house every few days in the middle of the night, they would conduct similar unauthorised searches in the homes of his friends and relatives,” recalled Indian expat Mohsin, 45. “The couple lived in fear. The girl was 24 years old at the time of her marriage but her parents lodged a police complaint saying she was a minor. The police knew she wasn’t and would refuse to listen or reason with us,” he said.
In 2017, Facebook drew sharp criticism after a user from Bangalore posted a list of 100 interfaith couples, inviting Hindus to hunt them down. The controversial post was taken down after widespread criticism.