By Heeba Din:
We live in times when a marital discord becomes a national agenda wrapped in communal colours, presented as a threat to the existence of a particular community, and that too in a country which has such vibrant history (pun intended) of communal discords.
Not a recent phenomenon, but a prolonged propaganda of “Love Jihad” fed by the Sangh Parivaar & VHP, also known as ‘Romeo Jihad’ since the past decade, is increasingly becoming a strong vocal point for right wing activists including members of the ruling national party BJP (the mere thought of which should set the alarm bells ringing). Love Jihad is the name given to the alleged activity (the allegations are mostly by members of the sangh parivaar) under which young Muslim boys/men lure and target non Muslim girls for conversion to Islam by feigning love.
The use of this highly communal construct not only points to the grievous trend of communalisation of the situation but also the patriarchal repression of women tagged with the battle for honour, matched with empty headed machoism which allows for men, and in this case groups like the Sangh Parivaar, to decide who a woman should choose as her better half, and legitimise it using religion.
With the surfacing of the recent case of the national shooter Tara Sahdeo’s marital discord with her husband, alleging forced conversion and brutality, and the back drop of the Meerut gang rape case, the issue yet again grabbed the headlines when members of BJP accused the Akhilesh Yadav government of supporting these Love Jihadis & announcing to tackle the issue as its official agenda in the state campaign of Uttar Pradesh for the upcoming elections.
“For every Hindu converted, 100 Muslim girls will be converted as retaliation,”Â were the words of Yogi Adityanath, the face for the BJP election campaign in Uttar Pradesh. Caught in a political storm for the very same words during his hate speech video which surfaced recently, Yogi Adityanath, while calling the video a cut and paste job, still says he won’t tolerate what is happening to Hindu women in the name of love jihad. While the ruling party BJP has cleverly not used the term love jihad in its political strategy for the elections in UP, nonetheless, it has raised concern over what it calls the baiting of Hindu women by Muslim men into love and marriage to force them into religious conversion.
Sadly, even the higher echelons of our Indian judiciary have befallen to such lexicon. In 2009, acting upon the complaints by the parents alleging abduction & forced conversion of two women who had eloped with two Muslim men, the Kerala High Court ordered a probe into what it called ‘the nationwide racket of Love jihad’.
The systemic and aggressive campaign against inter—religious romance and labelling it as Love Jihad has seen the emergence of many radical campaigns and organisations. One such organisation is ‘Namomanta’, which was floated just before Lok Sabha election, and has advised all women feeling cheated by their husbands on the matter of conversion to be in touch with the organisation. “We shall keep the identity hidden and work for their rescue from these jihadiats who have used the sacred platform of marriage for conversions”, said Sanjay Seth, convener of the organisation.
The rakhi drive by RSS members in the western UP belt is another such obnoxious move. Calling it an awareness campaign, the members urged people to stand up and protect their religion. “Each RSS worker from west UP has been asked to tie at least 100 rakhis each in both rural and urban areas. Rakhis would be tied to both men and women. People will also be urged to protect girls from ‘love jihad’,” said RSS’ regional pracharak and in-charge of Dharm Jagran (west UP), Rajeshwar Singh.
Adding up to this bizarre list is the setting up of the victims of Love Jihad helpline by right wing Hindu organisations. Announced in 2012, this helpline will apparently take up activities of educating young Hindu women likely to fall in the trap of Love Jihad, provide legal help for their parents and rehabilitate young Hindu women desiring to return to Hindu Dharma.
The creation of Facebook pages like “Beware of Love Jihad” with a following of near to 10,000 people is proof of the alarming trend with which such obnoxious thoughts are being perpetuated and legitimised invoking religion and sentiments of women’s honour and dignity.
While this flurry of the orchestrated propaganda of Love Jihad campaigns have been doing rounds recently, UP, in 1920’s, witnessed the same inflammatory dialogue fed to large section of societies by the Arya Samaj and other Hindu revivalist bodies. TheyÂ used pamphlets, posters and newspapers to propagate such agendas. Pamphlets with provocative titles like “Hindu Auraton ki Loot”, which denounced Muslim propaganda for proselytising female preys, and “Hindu Striyon ki Loot ke Karan”, an Arya Samajist tract showing how to save “our” ladies from becoming Muslims, appeared at this time. The love jihad campaign of today, too, is using similar tropes. UP has always been a highly politicised state, with communal tensions on rise, the angle of love jihad doing rounds just before the assembly elections also raises fingers to the polarisation tactics and vote bank politics being played in the state.
Yes, forced conversions are a crime, but portraying them as mass conversions and one community’s agenda will only brew hatred and divide the country on communal grounds. Also, the very fact that labelling inter—religion romance and marriages as part of a jihadist move to reign supremacy of numbers and garbing them as forceful conversions does nothing but further aggravate the situation. The inter-meshing of romance, marriage and conversions has often produced increasing worries, deeply politicised representations and everyday violence, framed around the bodies of women. Women are represented as commodities to be fought over and killed for, which, in the process, strengthens the patriarchal structure, taking away the right to choose from women, with nobody willing to ask and accept what the woman really wants.
Though Love Jihad seems to take the limelight at the moment, issues like honour killing, dowry, child marriages and female foeticide are the major issues that need to be tackled. TheÂ blatant myth of Love Jihad, never proven, echoes in the nooks and corners of our country, side-lining the real issues that should be addressed.