Assam government’s move to crack down on “marriages by deception” heralds the resurfacing of the love jihad bogey, after a long gap. Leading jewellery brand Tanishq was forced to pull an ad depicting an interfaith baby shower, after a virulent social media hate campaign in recent days took offence at its message of communal harmony and syncretism. Police have failed to arrest those who viciously trolled and threatened Tanishq staff in multiple cities. Without support from authorities, it may be unfair to criticise Tanishq for buckling down.
The essential failure is of the law and order machinery. But what are things coming to, if a feel-good ad promoting communal harmony, essential for national integration and hence welcome, brings out the shock troops of hatred and fear, even as the law and order machinery stands by and confers impunity on the lawbreakers? Policing and justice delivery failures give oxygen to societal divisions just as they do to crimes against women. Neither social harmony nor development is facilitated by such a communally polarised atmosphere, as businesses will be scared to invest when law and order frequently breaks down and hatemongers rule.
The Assam crusade appears to be spearheaded by senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who joined BJP in 2015 after a long stint in Congress. Sarma claimed an “emerging trend” of Hindu girls being “deceived” by Muslim boys. Such political machinations with societal sanction do end up intruding into marriage between consenting partners, as happens regularly with eloping adults who are forcibly separated by families and vigilante groups. Adulthood implies reaching the age for taking full responsibility of life choices. With elections nearing, Assam government could have focussed on women’s safety, where interventions will uplift all women, instead of political dog whistles. NCRB data indicates Assam has the highest crime rate against women and a persistent human trafficking problem.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.