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Netflix case highlights India's Islamophobic campaign against interfaith marriages

STREAMING corporation Netflix has become embroiled in India’s campaign against so-called “love jihad” after a scene in its hit serialisation of classic novel A Suitable Boy angered officials of the far-right ruling party.

A police case has been filed against two of the company’s top executive for India over a scene in which the story’s protagonist Lata, a Hindu, kisses a Muslim suitor.

It comes in the week that India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, passed a “Hitler-like” law restricting interfaith marriages and slapping jail terms of up to 10 years on anyone found guilty of using marriage to “convert a woman from one religion to another.”

The law says that couples belonging to two different religions need to give two months’ notice to a magistrate before marriage – which critics say will expose such couples to violence by extremists objecting to interfaith unions – and give the magistrate power to veto the marriage. “Blood relatives” of the bride will be able to file objections if they believe the purpose of the marriage is to change her religion, with the burden of proof on the couple to prove that it isn’t.

It follows similar laws in states Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, forming part of India’s ruling Hindu chauvinist BJP party’s drive against “love jihad” – the supposed use of marriage by Muslims to convert Hindu women. 

BJP officials have claimed that this is an organised campaign funded by foreign organisations, though a police probe in Uttar Pradesh failed to find any evidence of this. A court in the state dismissed an objection to an interfaith marriage on Tuesday, declaring that “interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice.”

The state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk, has warned Muslims “playing with our sisters’ respect” to desist or “your Ram naam satya” (“the name of Ram is truth,” a traditional Hindu funeral chant) journey will begin.”

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Brinda Karat said the law has echoes of the prohibition of marriage between “Aryans” and Jews in Nazi Germany.

The case against Netflix India vice-president for content Monika Shergill and director of public policies Ambika Khurana has been filed in Madhya Pradesh following a complaint from BJP youth leader Gaurav Tiwari that A Suitable Boy is promoting “love jihad.”

The state’s Interior Minister Narottam Mishra said he had asked officials to investigate if the kissing scene “hurt religious sentiments” and said their initial conclusion was that it did.

Social media giant Facebook was accused over the summer of waiving its hate-speech rules in India in order to avoid offending the government, with leading BJP officials using the platform to call for Muslims to be killed among other hate crimes.

Netflix has declined to comment on the attack on its officials.

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