The killing of Nikita Tomar, a young Hindu girl in broad daylight, within the field of a CCTV camera in Haryana’s Ballabgarh on 26 October is a barbaric crime, both in terms of its audacity and its motive. It is an unvarnished act of unmitigated evil that needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. More importantly, we need to delve deeper into this incident to ascertain the genesis and significance of such gruesome misdeeds and their impact on society. Was this purely a crime of passion? And what was the warped message that the perpetrators of this crime wished to send out to society?

Cut to the chase, the killing of Nikita Tomar stands out as a classic example of despicable patriarchy mixed in with an unhealthy dollop of fanaticism. Patriarchy or male self-entitlement subscribes to the concept that a female must willingly subjugate herself to the power of the male. Failure to conform to this distorted norm means punishment to a varying degree. Nikita Tomar paid the price for her independence with the ultimate penalty. Acid attacks directed against women too serve the same purpose, though lacking in the religious angle.

The impact of such motivated violence on society is profound. It carries an element of fear psychosis; it engenders an atmosphere of coercion in which young women are held mentally hostage. They cannot think freely or act independently and are forever second guessing the consequences of their actions: Will they be killed or will somebody disfigure their face with corrosives? Such incidents remind us of the retrogressive nature of our society despite the trappings of modernisation that we flaunt.

What is even more disturbing about the Ballabgarh incident is that it has not garnered the degree of national attention or condemnation that such a vile anti-social murder must evoke. Compared to the Hathras rape case, the response has been certainly muted. Political parties and the otherwise raucous media have been muted. Is it because there is little political mileage to be obtained from reporting such a scenario of a girl from the majority community being killed? The thought is disturbing. When we continue to categorize crimes by the identities of those involved rather than the validity of the case, we cannot truly reform the ills that plague our society.

To treat this as a pure crime of passion without other overtones is to miss the woods for the trees and an analysis of the Ballabgarh incident will be incomplete without addressing the issue that has gone by the name of “love jihad”. It is common knowledge that a Hindu-Muslim inter-faith marriage is usually preceded in the majority of cases by the conversion of the non-Muslim (boy or girl). This is the elephant in the room that we need to address before singing high paeans to the nobility of inter-faith unions and castigating people who question the motives in many such marriages.

An editorial in a leading newspaper avers: “The use of such vocabulary (love jihad) to describe interfaith relationships is insidious. It is a reflection of bigotry and patriarchy and has tremendous inflammatory potential. Indian society must embrace relationships across class, caste, and yes, religion, for there is no more effective way to integrate communities, develop empathy and understanding, and deepen national unity.” Certainly true. Love is a beautiful thing which needs to celebrated, but only as long as it is not clouded by factors like race, caste or religion. I have never been able to comprehend why a person in love should change her/his religion to get betrothed. The excuse that some people willingly convert to get married to the person they love is poppycock; traditional and societal pressures force people to do so. If love is really genuine and each individual loves the other for who she or he is, then conversion should not be offered or accepted by any of the parties involved. The notion of inter-faith marriages as examples of inter-religious amity is a farce when it is preceded by a mandatory conversion. The mother of Amitava Kumar, the writer who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim girl put it bluntly when she admonished her son: “Please do not glorify your marriage as one between a Hindu and Muslim; it was a marriage between a Muslim and a Muslim”.

Islam does not accept a conversion done solely for the purpose of marriage as the 2014 judgement, in the case of Smt. Noor Jahan Begum @ Anjali Mishra & Anr. v. State of U.P. & Ors. states: “Thus conversion of religion to Islam, in the present set of facts, of the girls without faith and belief and at the instance of the boys, solely for the purpose of marriage, cannot be said to be a valid conversion to another religion. These marriages (Nikah) are against the mandate in Sura II Ayat 221 of the Holy Quran.” Indian Constitution makes provision for inter-faith marriages without the need for conversion via the Special Marriage Act of 1954. It is an Act of Parliament of India enacted to provide a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party. Love is a beautiful emotion that needs to be celebrated without the hassle of extraneous factors. The Indian Constitution provides inter-faith couples with an avenue to do so. Then why do so many inter-faith couples not avail of this provision? Resort to the secular provisions provided by law to inter-faith couples is the panacea to this contentious issue.