Raising a jihad against Love jihad

This was a propaganda device to help parents control or bully their daughters.

 |  4-minute read |   17-10-2014
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It was quite a scenario. A conspiracy crafted in madarsas across Uttar Pradesh where young Hindu women were romanced and enticed into marriage by young Muslim men. Then, the women were converted to Islam to increase Muslim numbers. “Love jihad” screamed members of the BJP in UP. “Love jihad” screamed newspapers and TV channels. Had a more insidious way to infiltrate Hinduism ever been discovered? Terrorism, yes. Invasion, yes. Wars, yes. Appeasement, yes. But love? Never!

Women across UP started complaining that they had been “romanced” and then forced to convert to Islam. The threat was real. The most horrible story of all was from a young Hindu woman in Meerut who taught at a madarsa. She was kidnapped, held captive in a basement with 40 other women and gang raped. She managed to escape and reveal this nasty plot.

The worst had now happened. Or had it? The usual hysteria erupted on social media and a massive electoral campaign was launched in UP, with BJP MP Yogi Adityanand using the issue of “love jihad” to push for the need to protect Hindus from the evil machinations of the love jihadists.

But for newspersons infected with minimal mandatory curiosity, where was the rest of the story? Gang rape requires a medical report, of which there was none. The police searched the madarsa premises and did not find 40 women hidden there. Several people were arrested but facts were thin on the ground. What had really happened? One woman retracted her complaint, saying the man she had accused of “love jihad” was her husband whom she loved and her parents had forced her to go to the police.

Meanwhile, the argument on social media became one between the saviours of Hinduism against the Muslim invaders versus the rest of society comprising “liberals, sickulars, syoodu-seculars, leftists”, Marxists, Muslims, non-patriotic Indians, the devil’s spawn and anyone else you would like to add to the list.

The BJP did not do as well as it had hoped in the UP by-elections. Senior members of the BJP distanced themselves from “love jihad” completely with Union home minister Rajnath Singh saying he’d never heard of it. The polarisation in UP which started this year with the Muzaffarnagar riots and continued with “love jihad” had worked once but did not work this time. But that is no guarantee that someone will not try it again.

The final collapse of this incredible conspiracy came this week when the young woman from Meerut said she was not gang raped, she was not enticed, she was in love with a Muslim man and gone with him of her own free will and that her parents had made her file this complaint, she was threatened at home and beaten up. She also said a member of the BJP had given her parents money – though Vineet Agarwal of the BJP says he gave them Rs 25,000 to help them.

So what started out as “love jihad” has turned out to be a propaganda device, a way to strengthen existing polarising fault lines in Indian society and help parents control or bully their daughters. You might even argue that it is the parents who practice “love jihad” against their children and standing in the way of romance and free choice. A bit, perhaps, like those friendly patriarchal khap panchayats who would like to save young people from the pernicious and dangerous idea of deciding for yourself?

Two problems stand out here. The first is a manufactured Hindu versus Muslim issue in order to foment existing fears. Even if young people are considering marrying someone from outside their traditional catchment areas, it does not mean that someone has concocted a conspiracy to lure them into this. The ease with which seemingly intelligent people believed in “love jihad” is itself astounding. The other is that of in the 21st century still relying on old cultural strangleholds to restrict young people and even using the law to do so. Moral policing – which exists in India’s big urban centres as well as its hinterland – is nothing more than an old system using bullying tactics to fight a changing world and as it happens, the Constitution of India.

Time to declare jihad against this sort of monstrous manipulation?


Ranjona Banerji Ranjona Banerji @ranjona

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media, politics and social issues.

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