'A Suitable Boy': What is 'Love Jihad'? Kiss 'hurts' Hindu sentiments, Netflix employees face criminal charges
Ahead of the six-part miniseries' release in the U.S., 'A Suitable Boy' has found itself mired in controversy and sectarian dog-whistling
Just ahead of its release in the U.S. and Canada, ‘A Suitable Boy’, the six-part BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth’s bestselling novel of the same name has found itself mired in controversy. The six-part series originally aired in the U.K. from July 26 to August 24. The series found a global release (excluding the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and China) on Netflix on October 23. And in India, where the story is set, problems recently arose.
The epic story is set in post-independence, post-partition India, with sectarian tensions in the backdrop and at the doorsteps of the country’s first democratic election. And during that, the story’s lead Lata -- who is on a journey to find a suitor -- falls in love with Kabir. At one point, in a secluded spot with a Hindu temple as the backdrop, the two young college students share a kiss.
And this is at the heart of the controversy. Not a kiss. But a kiss in front of a temple. And more importantly, a kiss in front of a temple between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. In India, in 2020, under the rule of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, this is an unacceptable proposition, whether on-screen or in real life.
Two Netflix officials booked
In the state of Madhya Pradesh on Monday, police registered a case against Monika Shergill, Vice President, Content (Netflix), and Ambika Khurana, Director, Public Policies (Netflix), for allegedly hurting religious sentiments because of this scene. The complaint was filed by Gaurav Tiwari, the national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha -- the youth wing of the ruling party. Tiwari demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series, and the removal of “objectionable scenes”, which he stated were also “encouraging love jihad”.
On Twitter, Tiwari wrote on Monday, “Finally My FIR against Netflix has been filed under section 295 (A) on Monica Shergill (VP Content) & Ambika Khurana (DPR, Netflix) over shooting kissing scenes under temple premises in ‘A Suitable Boy’ series. I thank MP Police & HM Shri @drnarottammisra Ji for the support.”
Finally My FIR against Netflix has been filed under section 295 (A) on Monica Shergill (VP Content) & Ambika Khurana (DPR, Netflix) over shooting kissing scenes under temple premises in ‘A Suitable Boy’ series.— Gaurav Tiwari (@adolitics) November 23, 2020
I thank MP Police & HM Shri @drnarottammisra Ji for the support. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/iQocFrALR0
Section 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code deals with “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. Persons found guilty of this may face up to three years in prison.
In addition to that, Tiwari said in a statement: “I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion.” He added, “This is also encouraging ‘love jihad’.”
What is ‘Love Jihad’?
‘Love Jihad’ is an Islamaphobic conspiracy theory spread largely by the Hindu right-wing in India that suggests Muslim men (a religious minority in the country) try to woo and convert Hindu women to Islam through trickery and false expressions of love. While this dog-whistle has existed for several years now, it gained new vigor under the rule of the BJP since 2014.
In fact, several states in India are now creating laws that punish ‘Love Jihad’. There is, however, no concrete evidence of there ever having been any conspiracy of this kind, to begin with. It remains, so far, only a way to target interfaith marriages.
‘A Suitable Boy’ is not the first piece of media to be attacked in the name of ‘Love Jihad’. Last month, a jewelry ad featuring a Hindu wife in a Muslim family received mass condemnation from Hindus across the nation. So much so, that even Muslim employees of the brand were doxxed and harassed and threatened online.
Unfortunately, it would seem that ‘A Suitable Boy’ may not be the last one either. Earlier this month, the central government announced that online streaming platforms will now come under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This has led viewers and filmmakers alike to voice concerns of censorship and government interference with art.
‘A Suitable Boy’ is set to premiere on December 7 on Acorn TV.