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The phrase 'Love Jihad' has been bandied about for many years now, triggering sporadic bursts of outrage and causing consternation among government officials and administrators. The phrase was first coined to describe coerced religious conversions in relationships involving people of different faiths. Over the years, there have been many such cases, with some gaining prominence as violent retaliatory measures were also taken.

Now however, the term has morphed somewhat, with many on Twitter dubbing unrelated examples of inter-religious unity as being examples of 'Love Jihad'. Jewellery brand Tanishq's ad depicting a Hindu woman who had married into a Muslim family for example triggered a massive backlash with many calling for people to boycott the brand for "promoting love jihad".

As the topic comes under additional scrutiny, several state governments have announced that they are contemplating legislation against "Love Jihad". At the end of October, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had said that the government would work to stop such relationships "by formulating a stringent law". He is not alone. The Karnataka and Haryana governments have also announced that they are mulling a similar move, and on Tuesday, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that the state would soon bring in a law to "counter the problem."

But these decisions pose an interesting conundrum. In many cases, it is difficult to define the concept and scope of "Love Jihad", with allegations and counter allegations muddying the efforts to ensure justice. Thus far, the term does not come under any specific Indian law.

A far bigger challenge, however, is the fact that the government does not seem to be in possession of much data on the issue. Soon after NCW Chief Rekha Sharma met Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to discuss "Love Jihad", among other issues, an RTI post indicated that the NCW had "no specific data under the category of complaints related to love jihad".

But while this can be dismissed as perhaps being misleading, far more conclusive are the statements made by Union Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy in reply to a written question in Parliament in February this year. According to a PTI report that quotes him, the term 'Love Jihad' is not defined under the extant laws and no case of 'Love Jihad' has been reported by any of the central agencies.

He said the Article 25 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. Various courts, including the Kerala High Court, have upheld this view.

"The term 'Love Jihad' is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of 'Love Jihad' has been reported by any of the central agencies," he said in reply to a written question. The minister, however, said two cases from Kerala involving inter-faith marriage have been probed by the National Investigation Agency.

Over the years, there have been many cases where initial allegations of "Love Jihad" have been debunked at a later date. This includes the Hadiya case or the allegations about the prevalence of 'Love Jihad" in Kerala.

With not much clarity over the issue itself, it is unclear whether the laws will be successfully implemented. Another matter of concern is the fact that the authority to monitor personal lives, or make an inter-faith union a punishable offence, provides law enforcers with an inordinate amount of power that can easily be misused. Since the states made their respective announcements, similar sentiments have been echoed by many in the country, both lawmakers and ordinary citizens.

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Free Press Journal