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‘Love Jihad’ Is The Love Marriage The Indian Right Loves To Hate

‘Love jihad’, so you never grow used to seeing it for the love marriage that it is, only because it involves a Muslim man and a Hindu woman and not vice versa. In this article, I want to dissect this rhetorical, mythical, emotive, insidious and strategically resurfacing propaganda of love jihad which is neither a new concept nor term.

Love Jihad Hides The Apprehension The Indian Right Has Towards Love Marriages

When it was first used in the late 2000s, I recall feeling a little upset but mostly amused by the sloppy label that was being used to camouflage (successfully, in hindsight) the age-old psychological discomfort that love marriages in general and especially inter-religious love marriages cause to Hindutva proponents. They have always been too scared of more and more people recognising and exercising their right to choose, especially when it comes to love and religion, both separately and together, and of how that might jeopardise existing dimensions (religious, casteist, sexist, familial, et al) of power structures at various levels.

Couple
Representational image.

Equally amusing was the otherwise second-rate political, semiotic and linguistic inventiveness of the right (apparently there’s a land jihad now and I won’t be surprised if they come up with education jihad or job jihad, come 2019) that the term represented.

I was naive in assuming that all Indians could and would see through it and more importantly dismiss the violent politics (ghar wapsi) being justified as reactionary to this allegedly organised activity which till date lacks any hard empirical evidence. Well, I’m not so amused now and hence, the article dismantling this construct. Mine is not the first and definitely not the best attempt, but if it makes even one person not dismiss the ‘love jihad’ campaign as a non-issue anymore, it would have served its purpose.

On a side note, I sometimes wish there existed an ongoing TV or web series objectively explaining the linguistics and semiotics of political marketing (especially of the morally lax variety) that any Indian could easily grasp irrespective of their level of education. I would love to see the Indian media questioning, truly analysing and not mindlessly amplifying the virality of slogans and buzzwords used by our politicians. Personally, it would make a fascinating watch owing to an interest in how that impacts electoral psychology but socially it would cater to a very pressing need.

The media needs to play a role in raising the standards of political campaigning by educating the voters and alerting the politicians to a possible rejection. I say this because for the first time the polarisation attempted at the macro level has had such an adversarial translation at the micro level.

The Bedeviling Of The Muslim Man (And Through him, Of The Community)

The fictitious historical and contemporary narratives which have been woven over the years to consolidate and position the spelt and unspelt stereotypes (highly problematic ones) that constitute love jihad are many. However, it is important to understand the creation and placing of the figures that are central to all narratives that are being used to worsen the Hindu–Muslim dynamics (the most basic campaign tactic that the incapable have held on to for ages) – the ‘Hindu woman’, the Muslim man’, the ‘Hindu man’ and the Hindutva universe. The brilliant research paper on ‘love jihad’ by Charu Gupta, a professor of History at Delhi University, explains a lot in detail. Summarising the four entities here:

1. The Hindu Woman – For the well-pronounced part she’s the sanctum sanctorum of the Hindutva universe and the target of the evil outsider, the Muslim man of the love jihad construct.
2.The Muslim Man – The supposedly evil, lusting villain and the bearer of virulent ‘otherness’. Possessor of a monstrous libido, he eyes Hindu women as instruments to accomplish his ‘mission’ (almost certainly invoking the image of an anti-social anti-national satyromaniac).
3. The Hindu Man – The valorous son of ‘Bharat Mata’ (quintessential nationalist), the home guard of the sanctum sanctorum (and hence of the dharma and the nation and its purist longevity) who is deemed as the rightful and exclusive owner, protector and definitely the obvious mate of the Hindu woman.
4. The Hindutva Universe – The fantasised Hindu State with Hindu purebreds (nationalists by way of birth) reinstating casteist hegemony generation after generation and with the non-Hindus (second class citizens) accepting to be on the margins.

Love Jihad And Hindutva Patriarchy

Love jihad is as much, if not more, about Hindutva patriarchy as it is about vitriolic anti-Muslim sentiments in action. This is validated by the oppressive and repugnant ways in which the campaign leaders urge the Hindu samaj (society) to ‘rise up’.

The basic assumption is that the Hindu woman is a cow (as her self-proclaimed protectors and they feel ‘inspired’ to harass, beat up and even kill and burn Muslim boys and men on the suspicion invoked alone by their identity). It is assumed that she has no self, is highly vulnerable and needs someone to make decisions for her and needs to be protected regardless of whether she agrees or disagrees with the obsessive security detail that she’s held captive to and forcefully domesticated using.

No measure is too extreme when it comes to protecting her whether that’s preventive (denying internet, cell phones, access to content showing interfaith couples or positioning Muslim men like men of any other community because they’re all plain savages like the cannibalistic Khilji of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, right?) or curative (forced reconversions, the real and undisputed coercive flipside of alleged forced conversions, through mass shuddhis or notorious yoga centres ‘rehabbing them’ and paving their way back, restoring the sanctum sanctorum).

Defying her protectors (family and Hindu men) and dharma (nation, the Hindutva synonym for nation, since all non-Hindu natives should be on the margins as per them and take on the singular identity of the nation than contribute towards a pluralistic one) makes her the wretched one who’s rightly condemned to the deceit (impregnation with the false promise of a marriage or rape) and abuse (sex slavery, rape, polygamy, making her function as a child bearing machine to outdo the Hindu numbers using Hindu wombs) of the Muslim man.

This is the tip of the iceberg that begins revealing itself when you check any right wing (right wing) blog or website on the subject (they list the likes of Sharmila Tagore as victims of love jihad), talk to the people in the villages of UP, listen to the speeches of not some leaders of the fringe but holders of constitutional positions (UP CM or even PM Modi) during campaigns (rewind to 2014 LS elections or 2017 UP elections). All this is being used to openly justify not just growing vigilantism but rearing of highly dangerous right-wing militancy by organisations like the VHP and many others. I urge you to google for yourself. I can’t even begin to imagine the vitriol that’s been circulated offline over the years.

Religious Conversions And Choice Of The Individual

Hindutva proponents say they don’t have a problem with conversions but with coercion. Slightest examination of their arguments, mindset, ways (highly coercive themselves) of ideological propagation and of the alleged cases, uncovers the truth. Repeated high decibel crying and lying in newsroom debates has created an atmosphere of suspicion where shouting ‘love jihad’ at a couple has become a legitimate basis to begin incriminating the Muslim man and torturing the Hindu woman if she refuses to give up on him until cleared by the court.

Like most people watching Mirror Now’s prime-time on love jihad a few days back, even I didn’t know that Faye D’Souza was married to a Mr Gokhale until a panelist took the liberty of addressing her as Faye Gokhale (fast forward to 43:51) in his nasty tirade, self-exposing his non-acceptance of Faye choosing to stay a D’Souza despite being married to Gokhale, after which she rightly gave him a piece of mind. This instance is reflective of an individual who believes in the saffron ideology and their hard felt desire to control individual identity (especially of Hindu women and non-Hindu women marrying Hindu men) and their complete disregard for individual choice. Whether the marriage of a Faye D’Souza and Mr Gokhale results into Faye Gokhale or not is Faye’s choice just as whether it results in a Mr D’Souza or not is Mr Gokhale’s choice. Neither of which can be a state directive.

Whether a man from religion A and a woman from religion B choose before or after marriage that one of them converts to the religion of the other or both of them choose to convert to a third religion or for that matter even become atheists, all remain cases of individual choice, and collectively only the couple’s lookout, not their families’, not their communities’ and certainly not the State’s. A marriage is a unique communion and like for all other aspects of one’s life, it should rightly lead to an evolution of our spiritual selves as well and whether that comes as a religious or irreligious choice cannot be political diktat in Indian democracy!

Image source: YouTube snapshot
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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