A fake rate card that incentivises Muslim men to marry Hindu women (rated according to caste) has been circulating on the internet since 2012. It was revived on social media in 2017 to support several arguments on the existence of ‘Love Jihad’, a term that accused Muslim men of deceiving Hindu women to get married to them and converting them to Islam. A series of fake news around this theme has led to stereotyping and attacks on interfaith love.
Love Jihad is a conspiracy theory that first gained popularity in 2009 through a poster campaign in Kerala that urged Hindu girls to be vigilant against Muslim men who would pretend to love them and marry them as part of a larger agenda of converting them to Islam. The poster appeared in the name of Sri Rama Sena, a right-wing outfit founded by Pramod Muthalik, a former member of the RSS, Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena. The campaign quickly gained popularity because of the inherent patriarchal fears of the families associated with inter-faith marriages, where women’s love is considered an unreasonable ecstasy. Another reason is that this popular campaign contributed to the suspicion that minorities are conspiring to increase their population in India through any means. The campaign resurfaced in 2020 after a shooting in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where a Muslim man allegedly shot a woman for refusing to marry him. A video clip was widely circulated, and protests erupted in the state against the unfortunate attack. Shortly after that, the state of UP issued an ordinance against forcible conversions. At the time of writing this case study, ten states have tabled a bill against forcible conversion in India. Haryana, the latest state to table the bill, had initially included the term ‘Love Jihad’ and later withdrew it due to disagreements within the ruling coalition.
A fake rate card that incentivises Muslim men to marry Hindu women (rated according to caste) has been circulating on the internet since 2012. It was revived on social media in 2019 and 2021 to support several arguments on the existence of ‘Love Jihad’.
(Screenshot from Alt news website:https://www.altnews.in/actor-koena-mitra-tweets-fake-love-jihad-rate-list/)
The people who shared different variations of the rate cards were several. Most of them are associated with handles that carry posts that support the ruling government. Alt news traces the recent shares to three prominent accounts. Twitter handle: Sanatani kids, Proud Hindu, and actress Korena Mitras handle.
The post by ‘Sanatani Kids’ was archived by Alt news, even though it is no longer available on Twitter. It is important to note that on the same page, ‘Sanatani Kids,’ has been sharing hateful content against the Muslim community even before this (screenshot given). For example, in the screenshot below, the page is claiming that the Muslim community monopolises particular employment. As noted in the earlier case study on ‘Corona Jihad’, even though the community is not named directly in some instances, it is evident from their other posts and obvious to the followers.
One can see similar patterns in another handle which carried a similar poster about the fake rate card. This version of the card says that it was made by the Popular Front of India (PFI) even though there is no name mentioned in the card except a flag which was identified to be of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’a Islamist militant group by the fact-checking websites.
(image credit: Alt News)
The actors, in this case, are either using their own identity or revealing their identity in the page descriptions. However, the page titles/ names of the handles misrepresent Hindu religion or its philosophy, claiming to represent all the different voices of the religion as a whole. It suggests an aspersive intent of influencing public opinion against the Muslim minority by falsely claiming Hindu representational names and identities. The social media platforms have reported and removed the specific posts that show their inauthenticity. There is no evidence to show the dependency; however, the misinformation’s effect benefits the majority parties in different states to have this misinformation in public.
The content carries a threat to inter-faith couples where the man is a Muslim. It implies a mal-intent to any inter-faith love. The language of fake news is to create hatred toward a particular community. Issues on parental disapproval of their children’s marriage, which were earlier an individualised reaction, are now fuelled as a ‘social issue’ by attaching an organised character to these relationships. This also provokes an organised response to this issue. The way it is presented as ‘leaked’ information masks the questions on its verifiability. The posts do not claim it as public and verifiable information but as something they managed to secure through difficult means. The content cannot be protected under freedom of expression because even if one has to believe that it is indeed ‘leaked’ content, the symbols and the names of the organisations are not matching and points out that it is indeed manipulated content.
The target audience of the content is people who already have biases against the Muslim community and are anxious about their daughters marrying a Muslim man. The platforms used are mainly WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. However, it is difficult to assess the reach as most of these contents have been removed from these platforms. It probably exists as WhatsApp forwards; however, there are no mechanisms to track its circulation. The re-surfacing of the content when some controversial incidents are associated with interfaith relationships and the mobilisations and campaigns around it indicate that the content is part of an ongoing campaign against it.
In India, under the existing legal system, one can get married under the provisions of religious marriages or an alternative law for secular marriages, the Special Marriages Act, 1954. Under this act, one has to give a one-month notice for the authorities to verify the couple’s identity documents, which usually means verifying it with parents who are opposed to the marriage. To avoid this, it is typically a practice that either of the partners convert to the other partner’s religion to get the marriage registered under the Hindu or Muslim marriages act. However, per the laws, amendments and ordinances passed since 2020, one has to give a two months notice to the district magistrate to verify the authenticity of the interest.
The legitimisation of the curtailment of women’s freedom to love
A story published in Reuters shows how the current campaigns and associated disinformation create an unfriendly legal system for women. Even though interfaith marriages are legalised in the country, women who approach the police for protection from their parents in the case of interfaith relationships are asked to return to the same abusive parents. It is also reported that there has been a drastic increase in the calls helplines supporting interfaith relationships receive.
Attack on Muslim men in consenting relationships
A report published in The Guardian reports the alleged murder of a Muslim man in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September 2021 for allegedly falling in love with a Hindu girl. Similar incidents are reported from the state of Karnataka, where a Hindutwa rightwing group attacked two students travelling together in a bus suspecting “Love Jihad”. A group of students from different religions were similarly attacked for the same reason. In Uttar Pradesh, 208 people arrested under the new ordinance between November 2020 and August 2021 against religious conversions were all Muslims.
The fake news in isolation may suggest that it is disinformation. However, the political campaigns around the essence of the particular misinformation indicate that it is one component of a larger campaign to criminalise interfaith love. There are news reports that suggest the hostility of the police towards women who are in love with Muslim women after the legislation passed to verify the intention of conversions. This way, the parties in political power are directly part of this campaign in which this particular disinformation is also an element. These aspects suggest that the specific misinformation is part of an influence operation to control and criminalise interfaith love.