The Sangh’s propaganda of “Love Jihad” has seen its recent policy manifestation in the ordinance cleared by the Uttar Pradesh government, led by BJP’s Yogi Adityanath. The ordinance makes religious conversions through what they define as “unlawful means” a non-bailable offence, and requires that these be sanctioned by the district magistrate first, citing rising incidents of forced & fraudulent religious conversions.
However, what is evident is that this is part of the Hindutva government’s anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-Ambedkarite agenda, as laid bare in a recent speech delivered by Adityanath, in which he declares that they would come up with a strict law to curb “Love Jihad” — a Hindu fundamentalist conspiracy theory developed as long back as the 1920s that Muslims were engaged in forceful mass conversions of Hindu women. An open violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private”, this would be detrimental to the syncretic, diverse nature of the country as well as to the right to choose one’s partner and convert to the religion of one’s choice.
Time and again, the Mughals have been brought into the conversations around “Love Jihad”, with the argument that it was practiced widely in the subcontinent under its emperors. This narrative is then imposed on today’s Muslims to establish it as an age-old Islamic tradition. But what do history and evidence say? We find out in this conversation with Audrey Truschke.
Mukulika R (MR): What’s your take on the following quotes?
“Love Jihad is not new. It’s not something that the Hindu community came up with. The Mughals brought it here”.
(Chetna Sharma, convenor of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Durga Vahini)
“According to the Islamic text ‘Tabkat-i-Akbari’ of Akbar’s times, Akbar had married Jodhabai as per Islamic traditions. At the time of ‘Nikah’, she converted to Islam and was named Mariam-uz-Zamani”.
(“Love Jihad History”, Hindu Jana Jagruti Samiti)
AT: The Mughal kings married Rajput women to try to secure and entrench the submission of specific Rajput lineages to the Peacock Throne. This was a political tactic and had little to do with religion. In fact, Akbar ran afoul of the ulama for marrying more than four women in contravention to standard interpretations of the Sharia. Many people today imagine the Mughals as evangelists, but this is simply a modern fancy. As premodern emperors, the Mughals did not convert so much as they had conquered.
MR: Another widely accepted argument is that “Jauhar” (self immolation) was invented & practiced by Rajput women to escape being “captured” by Muslim/Mughal men. What’s your take?
AT: “Jauhar” was a known practice among a certain group of elite women in premodern India. I would stress that this was an elite, and not a common, practice. Rajput women committed Jauhar to prevent capture from enemy armies — many of whom included Hindus in their ranks and in their leadership. The political division lines were relatively clear, whereas the religious ones were messy.
MR: The idea of the Mughal harem as a “problematic” space features in both right-wing and colonial narratives, often described as a place to keep Hindu women captive and such. The harem has been described by historians as something that was quite different from such narratives. Could you elaborate?
AT: The harem was where royal Mughal women lived; Rajput courts had women’s quarters also. In both cases, women lived with certain restrictions and enjoyed certain freedoms. But this strikes me a world away from what some groups are trying to achieve through the frenzied rhetoric of “Love Jihad”. They keep screaming about Love Jihad, but all I see is a “hate yuddh” where Hindutva followers endanger Indian women, minorities, and religious freedoms for everyone.
MR:Is there evidence to show that there were other kinds of mass conversions during the period, organised by the Mughals, if not as part of marriage? Additionally, despite the fact that the subcontinent has had multiple Muslim rulers before the Mughals, why is it that only the latter have faced such a concerted attack?
AT: The Mughals are smeared more often than other Indo-Muslim kings because people know the most — or think they know the most anyways — about them. Honestly, I think that few people could name more than a handful of pre-Mughal Indo-Muslim kings. I don’t see this being correct anytime soon since the Hindutva narrative prioritises ignorance about the past. Indo-Muslim history is a long, rich, diverse period of the Indian past; most people would be pretty surprised by much about this intriguing period of history.
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The Mughals never oversaw massive state-led conversions. They did not mind people becoming Muslim usually anyways (there are exceptions when they did mind). The obsession with imagined mass conversions of the past is a modern issue, which reflects contemporary anxieties and serves dark political ends. This false history fuels Hindutva attempts to strip Indians of religious freedoms, especially the ability to practice Hinduism in a wide range of ways and the ability to be or become non-Hindu.
MR: Sex starved, lustful and frustrated, animal like and barbaric, constantly courting innocent Hindu women into marriage — some of the tropes that Indian pop culture often uses to portray the Mughals and Muslims rulers in general. How do you think such narratives can be countered?
AT: Anti-Muslim tropes are rooted in the present, and so that is where we must begin. People need to identify and confront their modern biases, which is no easy task. Islamophobia is rampant in India and worsening; for many people, it is an acceptable prejudice. Folks need to want that to change and then engage in the hard work of cultivating anti-racism awareness, both for individuals and for society as a whole.
Once we lay the groundwork for seeing and attempting to overcome hate in the present, then we can turn to the past and learn about it rather than write our own biases onto it. There are many excellent historians who offer analyses of specific aspects of the Indian past, none of which support Hindutva hate. I suppose that returns us to the present. Folks need to let go of modern mythologies about the past and instead seek real historical knowledge. Until that happens, people are likely to find themselves tied up in knots about a fictional “Love Jihad”, all the while missing the stories and intricacies of the Indian past.
Audrey Truschke is Associate Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She is the author of two award-winning books: Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court and Aurangzeb. Her third book, The Language of History, will be published in January 2021.
Mukulika R is a member of the Editorial Collective at Indian Cultural Forum, New Delhi.
Originally Published in the ICF.