Unraveling Secularism: The Rise of Islamophobia and ‘Love Jihad’ in Modi’s India

KOLKATA, India — The election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 marked the death of religious freedom in India. 

In his eight years in power, Modi has been widely successful in his promotion of a Hindu nationalist agenda, threatening the secular fabric of the nation. His party’s blatant and open expression of Islamophobia is extremely alarming.

“There is [definitely]anti-Muslim sentiment from the BJP, there has to be,” claimed Mohit Roy, a local BJP leader. “We are seeing the demographic and cultural infiltration of Muslims in India. If I was to say I don’t have [anti-Muslim sentiment], I would be lying.”

Mohit Roy’s statements are deeply troubling and indicative of where Muslims in India stand: as scapegoats for the country’s troubles. The prime minister and his party exploit anxieties related to the perceived Muslim takeover of the Hindu population, facilitated through acts like ‘love jihad,’ to advance their agenda.

‘Love jihad,’ a term coined by the political and religious right, describes a phenomenon in which Muslim men forcefully convert and marry Hindu women. Nationalist groups claim that these conversions have become a tool utilized by Muslims to alter the demographics of the country and to establish an Islamic state. 

Kolkata native Shan Ghoshal owns ProjectHinduKush, a website that propagates the idea of an ongoing genocide of Hindus both in India and overseas. He considers involuntary religious conversions to be one of the most widespread instances of violence in the nation.

According to individuals like Shan Ghoshal, monetary incentives are provided by religious leaders in the Muslim community to their adherents who successfully commit acts of ‘love jihad.’  

“There’s a price tag for it,” said Ghoshal, explaining the motives behind ‘love jihad.’ “The cash reward is better for victims of higher caste and [Muslims] believe that if they convert Hindu women, they’ll go to heaven.” 

However, despite assertions like these, India’s National Investigation Agency has found no proof to support the existence of such a phenomenon. The Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Krishna Reddy, told the Parliament in February 2020 that “no case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.” 

Furthermore, documents provided in response to an Rights to Information request by Article 14 show that the Kerala Police too found no evidence of ‘love jihad’ when asked to investigate complaints by the National Commission for Minorities. 

According to police, sporadic cases of deceitful behavior by unscrupulous men are not evidence of a broader conspiracy or a larger plot. It seems that accounts of ‘love jihad’ are merely misrepresentations of regular consensual relationships.

For example, Muskan, a 22-year-old who was born into a Hindu family, and her Muslim husband Rashid went to register their marriage in the Uttar Pradesh town of Moradabad in December 2021. 

Her husband was accused of violating the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, better known as the ‘love jihad’ law that outlaws conversions and calls into question inter-religious marriages. He was subsequently thrown in jail and the young woman was put in a state-run shelter home. 

“In most cases we found that a Hindu girl and Muslim boy were in love and had married against their parents’ will,” said state police chief A.L. Banerjee. “These are cases of love marriages and not ‘love jihad.’”

Even though there is substantial evidence refuting the existence of ‘love jihad,’ this “fringe extremist theory” has been brought into the political mainstream by far-right Hindutva groups in India. 

‘Love jihad’ is an example of disinformation slowly and steadily spreading hate against Muslims, tainting the Hindu majority’s perceptions. Anti-Muslim disinformation is persuasive, especially for anyone seeking confirmation of their hatred and deep-seated prejudice. 

The implementation of these laws encroaches upon an individual’s freedom of religion and right to interreligious marriage. It serves as a blatant example of government overreach driven by the administration’s prejudices and animosity towards a marginalized population. This law is motivated by the notion that through conversions, Muslims will gradually overpower the Hindu population in India.

However, the plausibility of this occurring is unclear, as Hindus have consistently accounted for 85% of the population over the past 40 years. The BJP under Modi’s leadership has cultivated a deep sense of Hindu victimhood by taking advantage of apprehensions surrounding ‘love jihad’ and the growing presence of Muslims in the nation.  

The propagation of baseless beliefs and unfounded fears by Hindu nationalist organizations reduces any likelihood of peaceful coexistence between the two faiths. 

But perhaps that’s the point. That there is no desire or intent to coexist. 

“[Hindus and Muslims] have been trying for 1,400 years and it hasn’t worked,” said Ghoshal. “India becoming a Hindu Rashtra guarantees peace for everyone and the right to practice religion [as one]sees it.”

This raises concerns about the fate of the more than 172 million Muslims currently residing in India and their ability to freely exercise their religion. Due to accusations of ‘love jihad’ and the fabricated fear of Muslims overpowering the Hindu population, Muslims are encountering significant challenges.

Since the Modi government came into power, there has been a significant surge in hate crimes motivated by religion, measured by an overall increase of 30%. The situation is even more alarming when observing that Muslims have been the main target in over 78% of these incidents, according to India Spend Initiative’s Hate Crime Tracker. 

Although the Indian Constitution enshrines principles of secularism and religious freedom, it seems that they are not being implemented fairly in the case of the Muslim population. 

But singing to the tune of the BJP, Shane Ghoshal explains that the current government’s actions are very much intentional and thought through. 

“A state can never be secular. In the preamble of our constitution, the secular word was added in a non-democratic manner by [previous prime minister]Indira Gandhi. It was a dark day for Indian democracy,” says Ghoshal. “Secularism just isn’t the flavor of India.” 

Shan Ghoshal’s perspective on the subject sheds light on the delicate state of India’s secular fabric. In the face of rising Islamophobia and divisive narratives like ‘love jihad,’ the future of religious freedom and co-existence in the nation hangs in the balance. 


Sarra Hussien

Sarra Hussien (she/her) is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Political Science and Psychology and the current president of Glimpse from the Globe. On campus, Sarra is a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, serves as the Assistant Director of External Relations and Under-Secretary-General of Programming for USC’s Model United Nations team, Assistant Director of External Finance for Moot Court, Director of Design for Glimpse from the Globe, an undergraduate researcher for the Near Crisis Project, Associate Editor for Southern California International Review, and a member of the Thematic Option Honors Program. She is specifically interested in democracy, global conflict, and human rights as it pertains to the Middle East and Africa. When she is not writing, she spends time with friends, naps at the beach, and checks things off her LA bucket list.