Senior leaders of the Bharatiya JanataParty government in Karnataka have said that they will make a stringent law against “love jehad”, following the lead of other BJP-ruled States such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa stated at a public event that “in the name of love jehad, conversions are happening. Young women are being lured by money and love and converted. We are going to end this in Karnataka.” Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai also said that love jehad was a “social evil” and “we [Karnataka] would like to have some protection”. Other leaders such as BJP national general secretary C. T. Ravi, who was elevated to that post recently, have spoken about the State’s intention to bring in a law banning “love jehad”.
The senior BJP leaders’ aggressive stance at this point is strange considering that there have been no reported cases of love jehad in Karnataka. The use of the term itself is a misnomer and is a neologism of the Hindu right-wing echo chamber that has made its way to common parlance. While the term itself is not defined under law, there have also been no egregious or sensational cases of forced inter-religious marriages in Karnataka that have led to either party converting to Islam that could, possibly, be construed as instances of love jehad. This does not prevent Hindu right-wing propagandists from reiterating constantly that thousands of girls have been lured or kidnapped and converted to Islam in the State.
Sri Rama Sene’s role
Although there have been no proven cases of “love jehad” in the State, Karnataka’s role in creating the trope of love jehad is well known. It was Pramod Muthalik, the long-time leader of the Sri Rama Sene (SRS) in Karnataka, who first used it sometime in 2005. Muthalik is notorious for the aggressive Hindutva positions he takes, and, according to journalists w ho have followed his career, his rabid statements have often discomfited even the BJP leadership in the State.
Speaking to Frontline, Muthalik explained how he came up with the term: “It was sometime in 2005 when a 65-year-old Muslim man kidnapped a poor 19-year-old Hindu girl in Savanur in Haveri district. When she went missing for three months, I investigated the case and met the parents. At that time, I had learnt that the word ‘jehad’ was used by Muslims to mean ‘holy war’ [ Dharma Yuddha in Kannada]. There were many cases like this, and realising that it was a ‘huge conspiracy’ [Muthalik used the words shadyantra (conspiracy) and kutantra (cunning strategy) in Kannada to describe this] realised that this was a form of jehad and I called it ‘love jehad’.”
Muthalik added that he even wrote a book about the issue in 2008 and his organisation created awareness about love jehad through CDs that were distributed. “At the time, everyone made fun of me, but now when reality is there in front of us, laws are being made, and I welcome that. The Bajrang Dal and the SRS have ‘rescued’ around 3,000 Hindu girls in Karnataka from Muslims in the past 20 years. Of them around 1,500 had been forcefully converted to Islam,” he said.
Once introduced in the Hindu right-wing space, the phrase began to be used freely in the coastal Karnataka districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi by 2009 by fringe organisations such as the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti which has links with the Sanatan Sanstha. Coastal Karnataka is often described as the laboratory of Hindutva in the State (see “ Communal cauldron ”, Frontline , September 30, 2016) and it is no surprise that the love jehad bogey spread like wildfire in the region where instances of “moral policing” are rife. The rise of its usage coincided with the BJP’s first term in the State when it came to power on its own strength. The region’s proximity to Kerala also added to this canard as Muslim men from Kerala were accused of luring Hindu women.
High Court’s intervention
In October 2009, the term “love jehad” began to be discussed more widely when the Karnataka High Court took cognisance of a case following a habeas corpus petition by the parents of a girl from Chamarajanagar district and ordered an investigation into “love jehad” (see “ Love and Hate ”, Frontline, November 20, 2009). The police report submitted to the High Court at the end of the year stated that “there is no organised attempt by any group of individuals to entice girls/women belonging to Hindu or Christian religions to marry Muslim boys with the aim of converting them to Islam”.
A police official who was part of the investigating team told Frontline on condition of anonymity: “The scope of the probe was expanded [beyond the case of the Chamarajanagar girl] to include cases of missing girls, and we found that religion was not an issue at all. There was nothing like love jehad in the approximately 300 cases that we looked into, and marriages had taken place across religions. We also examined the trafficking angle and didn’t find anything. Girls and boys of legal marriageable age had eloped because of parental opposition as they were in love. Who can stop two young people in love? They don’t see religion, caste, class, nothing. It was as simple as that.”
In April 2016, there was another case of purported love jehad that turned out, once more, to be a flop. A Muslim man called Shakeel was about to wed a Hindu girl called Ashitha—both of them were 28 years old at the time—in Mandya, the main town of the district which bears the same name, when Hindu right-wing organisations got wind of the proposed marriage. Protesting in front of the girl’s house, they demanded that the marriage be called off as it was a case of love jehad, forcing the father, who had joyously endorsed his daughter’s choice, to make a complaint with the police. The marriage took place in the neighbouring city of Mysuru eventually and, according to local resident Mohammed Valiullah who helped organise the wedding, “It took place with police security which the then [Congress] government had provided, and people like the journalist Gauri Lankesh stood like a rock by our side against Hindu groups who had accused Shakeel of love jehad.”
Communalism in coastal Karnataka
While allegations of love jehad have never been proven in Karnataka, this has not prevented vigilante groups from policing friendly relations among young people across religions and accusing them of love jehad. This is more vivid in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts where primitive tropes of “the virile and good-looking Muslim man who lures Hindu girls” can often be heard in candid discussions with leaders and cadres of Hindu right-wing organisations. For authoritative data on this aspect, it is best to turn to 75-year-old Suresh Bhat, who has been meticulously documenting communal incidents in the region for almost 15 years now. According to Bhat, who is associated with the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Communal Harmony Forum), 216 incidents of moral policing have taken place in coastal Karnataka by “Hindu vigilantes” between 2010 and 2019. In this region, where Hindu communalism has engendered Muslim communalism, 62 incidents of moral policing have taken place in the same period by “Muslim vigilantes” as well.
Perusing Bhat’s notes culled from a variety of newspapers and online sources in different languages for each event, one gets an idea of how absurd these incidents of moral policing can be. For example, describing an event that took place on March 4 this year, Bhat has written: “Two students of different communities hailing from the same village and travelling daily in the same bus to their college were apprehended by members of some Hindutva groups and handed over to the police at the KSRTC [Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation] bus stand in Puttur [a town in Dakshina Kannada district]. The reason? The boy and the girl were sitting next to each other and conversing. The Hindutvavadis accused the boy of carrying out ‘love jehad’. Later the police summoned the parents of the students to the station and the students were sent home along with them.”
In Karnataka, unproven allegations of love jehad by members of the Sangh Parivar have turned out to be red herrings which have done nothing beyond substantially increasing hatred against Muslims and deepening the already fraught inter-communal relations. Beyond this bogey, there are of course many cases where two consenting adults from different faiths have married. Anecdotal evidence suggests that while there are cases where both husband and wife have chosen to follow their own ancestral faith or abandon it altogether after marriage, it is more common to find the wife converting to the husband’s faith rather than vice versa, thus locating the act of conversion in traditional patriarchal norms rather than in some elaborate conspiracy.