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Interfaith marriage creates tension in Ladakh
By Rinchen Angmo Chumikchan & Stanzin Dasal, Monday, October 9, 2017

LEH: The recent conversion and interfaith marriage of a Buddhist girl to a Muslim has created tension in the region, and has received mixed reactions from various quarters. A protest rally condemning the marriage was organised by the Ladakh Buddhist Association on September 8 and all the commercial units in and around Leh remained closed for a day.

People in our society still find it difficult to accept interfaith marriages and conversions remain the biggest cause of social discord in the region. When asked why an interfaith marriage between a Muslim and a Buddhist becomes a societal issue, Dr. Tsultim Dorjey,sociologist  said, “Since Islam is the second biggest majority in Ladakh, there is always a competition between the two, and they start comparing against each other. With the passage of time, these differences draw a strong line between the two communities and the fear of getting outnumbered comes in both the communities, which is a natural phenomenon. This is not only the case with Ladakh, it is all over the world. In the past, interfaith marriages did not create such tension in society as of now."

Case status

On September 15, a meeting with the entire religious organisation was held under the chairmanship of Deputy Commissioner, Avny Lavasa, and she said, “There was an order from the High Court in which it was directed that the police should not interfere with the private space of the two individuals. This created a challenge for us.”

She further said, “There is a fine line between social norms and individual freedom and we cannot intervene much in such cases. We are planning to conduct a meeting with the religious heads very soon.

Tsewang Thinles, President, LBA, said, “We have demanded the implementation of Anti-Conversion law in J&K, and the girl should be allowed to talk and meet her parents in front of a judge. Now we are planning to move a habeas corpus petition.
When asked about the implementation of anti-conversion law, Ashraf Ali, President, Anjuman Imamiya, said, “At this point, I cannot comment on it whether the law should be there or not because it has many implications which need to be studied.

PT Kunzang, Vice-President, LBA, said, “We demanded the formation of a high-level inquiry committee by the government to verify the reason behind the conversion. In Kerala, the National Investigation Agency investigated a case of conversion and submitted the report to the government proving that the conversion was on account of ‘Love Jihad’.”

Commenting about ‘Love Jihad’, Ashraf Ali said, “Words like ‘Love Jihad’ do not exist in Ladakh, and we should not discuss this kind of things as this will further encourage such negative activities in our society.”

Failure of system

Everyone fails to perform his/her duty, from the top to the bottom. Be it the filing of missing report or the serving of notice to the respondents within the stipulated time. The State Government has miserably failed in taking swift action. The misuse of social media platform by the so-called young educated people has further worsened the situation. There was no check on the irresponsible comments.  Many people operate social media through fake IDs on the social media, which needs to be checked.

Taking advantage of the ‘freedom of expression’, many people freely post irresponsibly on social media without caring about the consequences and the sentiments attached to such cases. Generally, we talk about moral values in our society but we need to look deeper whether we actually have these values left in our society.
Also, the religious heads of different communities lack coordination in this case. So far no meeting between the religious heads of Leh and Kargil has taken place and hence we have failed to find a solution. In this particular case, the Hill Council, Leh, has also failed to intervene; and on the other side, the politicians of Kargil have spoken on the issue.

Show of support

Following the protest, members of LBA alleged that the other three communities of the region failed to join the protest and show solidarity with the Buddhist community.

“Communal harmony in a society cannot be maintained by the efforts of only one group of the same faith, it needs the involvement of all religions striving for peace and harmony in a real sense,” said the LBA president.
When asked about the intervention of Anjuman Imamiya in the recent conversion case, Ashraf Ali said, but “We cannot interfere directly as this is the case of Kargil. But we are ready to facilitate a meeting between the LBA and the religious organisations of Kargil.”

Communal harmony

Ladakh, being an exemplary region in maintaining communal harmony, has many evidences to show close bonding between the communities but the real question is, Is it really practised? If not then, aren’t we living in a hypocrite society?

Sonam Phuntsog, historian and scholar, says, “Earlier also conversion took place but harmony between the communities remained intact, but unfortunately these days this kind of issue becomes very sensitive.”

He further says, “The family members play a very important role. We need to keep a watch on our children when they are away from home.  Most of the conversion from both the sides takes place when they don’t understand the concept of religion. From the very beginning, we need to make them understand the importance of one’s own faith.”

Terming the conversion and interfaith marriage a conspiracy, PT Kunzang, Vice-President, LBA, says, “The question is why conversion of faith becomes necessary for marriage or after marriage as in most cases Buddhist girls get converted to Islam”.

The Koran states, "You shall not marry Mushrik women (idolatresses or who ascribe God's attributes to other than Allah) unless they embrace the faith. A believing slave woman is better than a Mushrik woman although she may please you” Koran 2:221.

A non-Muslim is expected to take Shahadah oaths before the Nikaah. Shahadah is the declaration that there is no god but Allah and Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. In short, for other communities, conversion to Islam is a must.

While on the other hand, the seventeenth century ruler of Ladakh, Jamyang Namgyal, married Gyal Khatun, daughter of the Shi‘a ruler of Khaplu.  She remained a Muslim till her death.  This clearly indicates that interfaith relationship should be based on mutual respect for both faiths and marriage should be solemnised without imposing religious conversion.

The family members have approached the police to register a complaint about their missing daughter and a team was also sent to Jammu to investigate the whereabouts of the girl. Later, the police officer present in Jammu spoke to the girl and refused to file a report.

A legal document of conversion circulated through social media shows that she filed an affidavit before a Court in Karnataka to formally become a Muslim.  She got converted to Islam and was sworn in front of Sheikh Mahboob, BA, LLB on April 28, 2016.

The document reads,” I declare that I am a Buddhist by birth and now I strongly confirm to reiterate that I have embraced and revert back to  Islamic faith in consultation with Islamic scholars on 22 April, 2015. Therefore, I have embraced Islam giving up my former Buddhist faith on 22 April, 2015.”
But the document does not have the signature of the witnesses which further poses a question mark of the authenticity of the document.

In an article titled, 'I am Saldon, I am Shifah' in Indian Express, her statement said, "I choose to be both. It saddens me that my marriage and spiritual choice are misused to stoke fear and hatred."

She further says that “I have married Syed Murtaza Agha because I love him. There is absolutely no other reason. The accusation that I have been “lured” or “coerced” is an insult to my ability to think for myself.”

It further reads, "The LBA’s statement is not only false and concocted, it is a brazen attempt to suppress and threaten a woman who has shown the courage to follow her heart."

“It is the responsibility of the state government to present the timely notice to all the respondents including SSP Leh and Kargil, Chief Secretary, Director General Police and the parents through the J&K Attorney- General. But, unfortunately, they didn’t get any prior notice regarding the marriage and notice was presented one day after the issue was raised in Leh”, PT Kunzang said.

The LBA has alleged that the whole machinery of the State Government is involved in this conspiracy.
According to the LBA, there were 96 cases of conversion till 2003. But the Anjuman Imamiya does not have any record of the conversions.

Ashraf Ali says, “We do not keep any record as it is not important for us as conversion took place from both the sides but the numbers can vary. We on organisational front discourage interfaith marriage and conversion. Different religious communities should act responsibly to tackle these kinds of sensitive issues.

“Unfortunately, the concept of religion has changed over the years; now the people are taking it as an identity rather than understanding the real concept. The paradox is that we are caught in a vicious circle.”

He further said that there was a need for introspection in every community and we need to figure out the reason behind the conversion and find a viable solution. Unity among the communities is very important.

Analysis:

The recent conversion has received a mixed reaction from different quarters. But it is evident that the consequences of conversion and interfaith marriage will fall upon the whole society, not just on those who seek to convert to Islam or marry Muslims.

This is not the first time that conversation has taken place; there are many instances of conversion in Ladakh. In 2012, four families including 23 people from Padum, Zanskar, converted to Islam due to “discrimination” in society.  And in the year 2016, one more Buddhist girl converted to Islam and got married. The LBA has informed that this year nine Buddhist girls were brought back.

According to experts, “Throughout history, women have been considered as a commodity due to which many wars took place. And in Ladakh, polyandry happened because of economic reasons. On the other side, females play a very important role in the building of a society as women are very closely tied to fertility and it contributes to increasing the population.”

Conversions have taken place from both the communities but the numbers vary as in most cases Buddhists get converted into Islam, and not the vice-versa. Very little is known about the statistics as we lack accurate data on the conversion from both the communities which further makes it complicated to justify.

The recent conversion case has not only sparked communal tension but has also resulted in snatching the livelihood of many people from Kargil who were working in Leh. Social media was turned into a battleground. We talk about the rights of an individual but what about the rights of all other innocent people who are getting affected by the decision of two people?

However, interfaith marriage becomes an issue only when it is Buddhist vs. Muslim. But many Ladakhi people have got married with non-locals, and those were never an issue.

Dr. Tsultim Dorjey, sociologist has found that the level of resistance in Buddhist families on foreigners is the least, while a non-local (Hindu) is on the second level. With Muslims, you have the most resistance as this creates a lot of tension between the communities and the society as a whole. The low caste people remain the last preference.

With the passage of time, less acceptance and tolerance among the people can be seen and due to which tension among communities increases.

In Ladakh, Shia communities refuse to eat food cooked by Buddhists and the mere physical touch of a non-Muslim is considered to be polluting. This further poses a question about the acceptance of Buddhist girl in a Muslim family after marriage.

Lack of options available to pursue higher education further makes our youngsters vulnerable to these kinds of exposures. Most of our youngsters go out of Ladakh which creates a cultural gap.  And children do not inculcate the importance of their own faith and moral values. Parents and religious heads can play a very important role in this, and an effective coordination needs to be there. 

The agreement that was signed by all the communities after the 1989 agitation is violated by both the sides. It is high time we looked for the loopholes in our society
 
                   
 
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