In Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, lawmakers in 2020 banned religious conversion by marriage, which Hindu nationalists call “love jihad”—the idea being that Muslim men are luring Hindu women into forced marriages to convert them to Islam. Several other B.J.P.-ruled states have since enacted similar laws.
Muhabit Khan, a Muslim, and Reema Singh, a Hindu, are the kind of interfaith couple that these laws target. For years, they kept their relationship secret from their families, meeting in dark alleyways, abandoned houses, and desolate graveyards. Singh says her father threatened to burn her alive if she stayed with Khan.
In 2019, they married in a small ceremony with four guests, thinking their families would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the central Indian city of Bhopal to start a new life together in a different city.
“The hate has triumphed over love in India,” Khan says, “and it doesn’t seem it will go anywhere soon.”
This trend deeply concerns those who study Indian democracy. Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that whereas most countries grant voting rights gradually, India instituted universal adult suffrage from the moment of the country’s birth in 1947.
“That was a powerful symbol for the developing world,” Vaishnav says. “India has become a model for how you balance tremendous diversity with democratic practice, so for India to succumb to such backsliding is troubling.”