Love jihad in Kerala: Is a section of Christians in the state crying wolf to appease the BJP?

Church heads often issue pastoral letters to warn young Christian girls against falling prey to extremists feigning love.

ByK A Shaji

Published Sep 14, 2022 | 10:00 AMUpdatedSep 14, 2022 | 10:00 AM


The Central government and the Supreme Court have ruled out the existence of the so-called “love jihad” in Kerala. A section of the Church in the southern state, however, does not agree.

Instead, it shares the Sangh Parivar’s theory of “love jihad” and issues frequent edicts to keep teenage girls in Christian homes out of harm’s way.

The latest warning came in the pastoral letter the Archdiocese of Tellicherry issued last week, urging girls to be cautious against extremist elements trying to snare them by feigning love.

In the letter issued as part of the Eight-Day Lent, Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplani also urged the community to revamp programmes to make teenagers aware of, and equip them to evade, “love traps” set by extremist elements.

The letter, issued without any apparent immediate provocation, appeared more like an extended version of the bogey of “love jihad”, manufactured in Kerala by Sangh Parivar elements and exported nationwide to fuel Islamophobia.

Government agencies, including the National Investigation Agency, had earlier probed and dismissed conspiracy theories regarding interfaith marriages involving young Muslim men.

The Church and ‘love jihad’

The Roman Catholic Church, however, has been following the unsubstantiated “love jihad” theory. Pamplani is the latest among Catholic bishops in Kerala to issue a pastoral letter at regular intervals, sympathising with parents whose daughters had apparently fallen into the trap of religious extremists.

In September 2021, Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt sparked a major controversy in Kerala when he raised the issues of “narcotic jihad” and “love jihad” while urging the laity to be wary of extremists using narcotics and fake love to lure Christian girls.

At least half-a-dozen bishops have issued pastoral letters over the past four years, accusing “jihadis” and extremists of feigning love and subjecting Christian girls to exploitation, forced religious conversion, and terrorist activities.

The pastoral letters on “love jihad” were rubbished by the laity, civil society and mainstream political parties — except the BJP-RSS — for their exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims, which aimed at creating divisions between ordinary Christians and Muslims.

Interestingly, Bishop Pamplani’s letter came without any provocation. There was no recent controversial inter-religious marriage involving a Christian girl and Muslim boy in the state.

The Joysna-Shejin case

Earlier in April, the Thamarassery diocese had made the “love jihad” cry after Joysna, a Christian girl from an affluent family, and Shejin, a leader of the ruling CPI(M)’s youth wing DYFI, got married.

The issue did not snowball into a major row as the party stepped in and termed it a “secular marriage” between an educated Christian girl and an atheist party worker who was born to Muslim parents.

Bishop Pamplani, in his letter, referred to a 2016 incident. Two Christian girls — Nimisha and Sonia Sebastian — had embraced Islam to marry Muslim men and landed in ISIS-controlled Afghanistan to fight for jihadi groups.

The bishop made the reference even after investigating agencies had clarified that their marriages did not fall under the definition of “love jihad”.

According to rights activist and social observer J Devika, a sizable number of Syrian Christians in Kerala hold Islamists as enemies.

“They are least concerned about the Sangh Parivar targeting their community members elsewhere in the country. With even the BJP government’s investigating agencies failing to substantiate claims of love jihad, many Syrian Christians believe it is a reality, which is part of organised attempts of political Islam to convert educated women from other faiths in the guise of love. The bishops are just reflecting the prevailing mood of pro-Sangh Parivar elements in the community,” she said.

‘Church against inter-religious marriages’

Writer and social critic MN Karassery felt that there are deliberate attempts by the church leadership to denounce inter-religious marriages, viewing them as preparing the ground for Islamic fundamentalism to flourish.

The frequent pastoral letters have put the Left parties in Kerala in a Catch-22 situation. The CPI and CPI(M) have been promoting inter-caste and inter-religious marriages as part of their ideological commitment.

They must, however, keep the Church leadership in good humour as part of their efforts to expand their mass bases. The CPI(M), which won a second consecutive term in power for the first time last year, has already acknowledged the shifting loyalty of Christians as a crucial factor that had favoured the party.

Deepika, the mouthpiece of the Catholic Church, meanwhile, went a step ahead.

“Inter-religious marriages involving Muslim youths are not just a Christian concern. Noble people hailing from all religions should think about it. Innocent Muslims are now paying the price for extremists who promote such marriages,” it said in an editorial in April this year.

Some Churches not concerned by ‘love jihad’

According to the previous Census, Christians form 18.38 percent of Kerala’s population. Of the 6,411,269 Christians in the state, 70.73 percent are from Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara Catholic, Malankara Orthodox Syrian, Jacobite Syrian Christian, CSI Syrian Christians, Mar Thoma Syrian, St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India, Chaldean Syrian, or Malabar Independent Syrian churches. A bulk of them claim to be converts from upper-caste Hindu Brahmins and Nairs.

These churches consider “love jihad” a reality, and urge the believers to be on vigil against Muslim men luring their girls by faking love.

Meanwhile, Latin Catholics, who form around 13.3 percent of the Christian population, are not raising allegations of “love jihad”. The Latin Catholics are believed to be the descendants of Scheduled Caste and fishermen communities, who had converted to Christianity during the colonial period.

Pentecostals, Church of South India (CSI), and other Protestant groups such as Lutherans and Calvinists form 5.9 percent of the Christian population in Kerala. They, too, rubbish “love jihad”.

Political observer A Jayashankar opined that the majority of believers in the mainstream Christian churches are proud of their “purity” and direct conversion from upper-caste Hindu communities.

BJP and Kerala’s Christians

“They are not averse to the BJP-RSS. They feel that getting closer to the Narendra Modi government, by snapping all ties with Muslims, would benefit them,” Jayashankar added.

A few weeks before the 2021 Assembly election, Kerala Congress (Mani) supremo Jose K Mani made an open statement expressing deep anguish over Kerala’s recurring “love jihad” episodes. Catholics form the largest support group of this regional party.

Kerala Congress (Mani) switched loyalty to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front last year and is now the third-largest constituent in the LDF government. When Mani made the “love jihad” comment, the CPI(M) had then defended him by blaming the media of misquoting him.

The BJP, meanwhile, has been viewing “love jihad” as an opportunity to grab a share of the Christian vote bank in the state. The party cannot establish a foothold in Kerala without the support of Christians, as minorities form almost half of the state’s population.

(These are the personal views of the author)