Let me put this in context (especially for the non-Christians reading this). A Christian undergraduate girl recently went missing from Delhi. On enquiry it turned out that she was in Abu Dhabi and had eloped with a boy that she was romantically involved with, against the wishes of her parents. However, what preceded this confirmation was the usual hullabaloo of what has come to be recognized derisively as the ‘whatsapp university’.
Social media was ripe with pictures of this girl with a huge ‘Missing’ tag attached to her forehead. These messages were forwarded and stories were posted on Instagram by Christian youth who in their good faith believed that this girl was kidnapped. While, the reaction of the members of Christian community at large at this juncture could be pardoned on the grounds of their good intention to help find a girl who was presumably missing; what followed was a classic case of institutionalized islamophobia.
The moment it was revealed that the boy was a muslim, the vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities shot a letter to the home minister of India claiming that Christian girls were ‘soft targets’ against ‘Love Jihad’; the hon’ble member cited this girl’s example.
Thereafter, the Delhi Syro-Malabar Youth Movement (DSYM), the youth wing of the Diocese of Faridabad-Delhi decided to organise an event/session ostensibly titled “Challenges of Christian Youth in Delhi NCR”. The message accompanying this announcement explained that this event was being conducted because the organisation supposedly acknowledged “changes within our surroundings, concerning our youth” and proceeded to further accentuate that this session was being conducted to “respond to the threat”. The ‘threat’ at the moment has still not been defined but whenever this author has queried whether it included the alleged cases of love jihad, he has met a wall of silence. This first message also referred how this session would help by helping “to sense danger’, “to seek help” and “spread awareness”.
This official announcement was followed by an explanation by the President of DSYM referring to “facts happening around” – a veiled reference to ‘love jihad’. He then further made it clear by stating that the whole reason for this session is to prevent Christians from getting “manipulated” and from preventing them from “taking wrong decisions”. He concluded with a pledge, “let’s not make it happen again”.
Three days later when the grapevine had gone berserk regarding the subject of the session. The director took a more moderate stance by announcing that it would be an “interactive workshop” and would “not make any judgements”.
These official announcements were followed by a never before seen frenzied activity by the church elders. Parish priests were quick to paint this as a necessary and mandatory session while parents decided that the girl mentioned above could be used as a figurehead for anything with potential vile. The youth (a significant number of whom are well above the age of majority) felt the brunt of an organised religion’s persuasiveness and consequently a chunk of them are being forced to attend the event under the church community’s pressure. There is no formal diktat to attend the event, of course. However, the writing is clear on the wall, especially for girls. Either attend the event or risk facing ostracization from a tightly knit community, and end up being labeled under the myopic lenses of closet bigots as a potential threat.
This session is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it treads on matters deeply personal which while the church in its capacity as a religious organisation can give spiritual advise on but never a material guidebook. The church or DSYM doesn’t have the right to define ‘love’. If the church is so obsessed with labeling this particular love story as jihad due to a christian girl’s conversion then it risks the numerous hindus who converted to Christianity after marriage to be called as part of ‘missionary activity’. Second, this would adversely affect its claim to be an organisation that imbibes a secular fabric; the theme of the session borders on potential communalism, sectarianism and islamophobia. The church and DSYM risks being labeled as ‘urban khap panchayats’.
Finally, what is astonishing is the hypocrisy of the youth who have actively shared this. These are the same individuals who have put social media posts against casteism, hindu fundamentalists, mob lynchings and religious intolerance. These individuals have decried intolerance by every religion but for their own. Let John 8:7 ring true in these judgemental ears “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Times like these calls for unity among the people and not sessions that has the potential to create religious faultlines based on unverified allegations and hysteria.