How inter-faith marriages invite media interest or ire depending on bride’s religion in India

While the world is battling the Covid pandemic and its after-affects, especially, its impact on economy and jobs, the issue of inter-faith marriages continues to dominate India.

The hypocrisy of large sections of media in creating scare and propaganda about inter-faith marriages, calling them ‘Love Jihad’ or a conspiracy if a Muslim groom marries a Hindu girl, has led to numerous criminal cases, arrests and couples facing harassment apart from separation.

Surprisingly, the vernacular media has no qualms in openly supporting the right-wing propaganda. They laud when a Hindu man marries a Muslim woman.

But, if a Muslim man marries a Hindu woman, newspapers immediately term it ‘Love Jihad’ and publish reports until the right-wing vigilante groups are on the streets or at police stations, putting pressure on families and authorities.

Due to such pressure, often cases are registered and youth are arrested. Laws have been introduced and amended to make it difficult for inter-religious marriages.

Surprisingly, newspapers celebrate any wedding when a Hindu groom marries a Muslim girl. The newspaper clippings of India’s two largest circulating Hindi newspapers, show how the same media that smells conspiracy and terms any inter-faith marriage as Love Jihad, if the groom is Muslim, takes a totally different stand.

When Hindu man marries a Muslim woman, the papers write that the ‘wall of religious divide’ has fallen. Otherwise, they want touch action, even arrest of groom and handing girl back to her family.

Shouldn’t media — TV channels, newspapers and news sites, have a some sense of propriety and an effort to adhere to a code of conduct while practicing journalism!

Mostly, the same papers and their reporters feel any marriage that has a Muslim groom and a Hindu bride, is part of a large-scale agenda to ‘take Hindu girls away and convert them’.

Unfortunately, this is the mindset and theory propagated by right-wing groups. However, mainstream media, the composition of news rooms, and its journalists’ bias has brought us to a situation that these theories are not just believed but journalists throw objectivity out of the window and present fiction, rather, than focusing on facts.

If you want to seriously write about inter-faith marriages, you can get annual figures of your district, but no newspaper would even do this much. Most of them just peddle propaganda, theories and conspiracies.

Not information from data regarding marriages under Special Marriage Act, records in the Collectorate. But the level of journalism is such that any marriage in which it’s a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy, it angers journos too, and they on their own start mentioning that it is a case of ‘Love Jihad’, though the term has no legal basis.

India’s investigating agencies have said it that there is no such concept and even a Union minister made it clear in the Parliament. However, the right-wing agenda continues. A ‘Hindu girl going to a Muslim boy’ is taken as a case of ‘defeat’, irrespective of the fact that many Muslim girls too marry Hindu boys.

Just see how without data or statistics, propaganda makes people believe that there are more marriages and ‘our girls’ are being snatched. And, all such theories, conspiracies get legitimized through newsrooms in regional papers. If you’re in a newsroom, you have a responsibility.

In a society, where there are people from diverse sections, there will always be some inter-faith marriages. If you even want to debate it in a secular state, at least, talk on figures. But this is not even mentioned in papers.

The journalists become representative of not just a religion, they take upon themselves the task to do moral policing, act like right-wing fringe and flag-bearers of majoritarian fascism, blaming Muslims and creating this shameful perception that ‘Muslims deliberately lure Hindu girls’ or as if ‘Hindu girls are eager to go to Muslim boys’ (sic).

More than politicians, it’s the local media that is responsible for communalizing, spreading poison and hate. Strange it may seem to an outsider, but this entire campaign and propaganda against inter-faith marriages gets real push from media.

In fact, most of the times, even if politicians want to avoid after a couple of days, the guys with the mike would insist and still ask the same question again & again, coming across the politician at his bungalow, at a meeting, on way to a public event, at Airport, or anywhere else.

There must be certain parameters, some sense of basic decency and impartiality. Media groups that sell papers in millions, should be objective and fair, not allowing their papers to be misused for spreading gutter-level propaganda.

Worse, many main stream journalists have become agents of right-wing propaganda machinery. The result is that there is friction among the communities over such ‘issues’, more curbs on couples, lack of freedom to youngsters and damage to the social fabric of the society.

Shams ur Rehman Alavi is a journalist for over two decades, reporting from Central India.