If one looks at marriage, the only socially sanctioned human-coupling institution with love and 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. Of course, fringe creatures born out of contemporary urban rootlessness scoff at such societies and celebrate ‘alternative’ and ‘radical’ modes of ‘liberated’ companionship. Whether it is the idea of love as espoused by society or by its self-styled ‘radical’ and voluntary outcastes, it does not run blind, in most cases. 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, cultures, artifacts and philosophies inspire certain brown urban yuppies and radicals alike, mostly marry white people from Christian families. Let's not take shelter in fashionably ‘cosmopolitan’ fantasies and pretend that it is otherwise. Undermining/undercounting the majority and valourising/overcounting the minority is a tactic straight out of the playbook of the fox without a tail.
Most people marry people from their own family religion. ‘Love Jihad’ is a phenomenon where Muslim men allegedly target non-Muslims women to romance, rape, kidnap, marry or do all of this with the objective of conversion to Islam or dishonouring non-Islamic women. While this is a common occurrence in Pakistan (especially in Sindh), in the Indian Union, sporadic allegations have come from Kerala, Karnataka and more recently Uttar Pradesh. Probes found no clear evidence that such a thing was happening. Nothing legally prevents men and women, Hindu and Muslim, to romance, convert and marry. One can’t speculate about covert intentions of preying on a woman of a different religious background. However, cases of deception (a man feigning to be from the woman’s religion) do point to unholy intentions. But individual instances of criminal deception do not prove or disprove the existence of a wider phenomenon. When information is wanting, rhetoric, rumour and prejudice rule the roost. That is the dangerous game that is being played now.
In the Indian Union, where a single man is technically free to marry any single woman, 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 the hint of something wider. One wonders why no comprehensive data exists for this — given the explosive political potency that this issue is assuming. It’s irresponsible to confirm or deny the existence of a phenomenon without substantive data.
Muslims have regularly been targeted with ‘Hum Paanch, Humare Pachchees’ type of propaganda, a reference to the legal sanction of Muslim polygamy. However, last available census data on polygamy incidence shows that the proportion of Hindus practising bigamy (5.8%) was marginally more than Muslims (5.7%). A 1974 survey returned roughly similar numbers (5.8% for savarna Hindus and 5.6% for Muslims). Similarly, the fashionable and indiscriminate maligning of all Kulin Brahmins for their erstwhile abhorrent practice of boundless polygamy needs to be tempered by mathematical limits. A male-heavy sex ratio in a society with strict endogamy and rampant female foeticide could have made polygamy possible only for a miniscule proportion of Kulins. Understating and overstating incidences are equally criminal. We sorely need data about love in these times of an alleged jihad.
The author is a commentator on politics and culture @gargac