Interview: Mihir Srivastava

‘Love jehad a propaganda for electoral dividends’

Print edition : December 18, 2020

Mihir Srivastava. Photo: Raul Irani

“Love Jihadis: An Open-minded Journey into the Heart of Western Uttar Pradesh” by Mihir Srivastava and Raul Irani (Westland, 2020)

Interview with Mihir Srivastava, author of “Love Jihadis”.

Journalist Mihir Srivastava teamed up with photographer Raul Irani to write a hard-hitting travelogue that traces the roots of the disharmony between Hindus and Muslims. The book, titled Love Jihadis: An open-minded journey into the heart of Western Uttar Pradesh, holds a section of the mainstream media responsible for the hoax called “love jehad”. In a conversation with Frontline, Mihir Srivastava expressed faith in the core essence of Indians to remain united in spite of politicians’ divisive plans. Excerpts:

How did you decide on writing a book on love jehad?

When this term first surfaced, I filed a ground report from Meerut as part of an official assignment. I found three or four cases; two of them were affidavits prepared in connection with the so-called “love jehad” as described by the Sangh Parivar: Muslim men marrying Hindu girls. Interestingly, I found seven cases of Muslim girls marrying Hindu men. Meerut is a city of a million people. There will always be Hindu-Muslim marriages, not just here but all over the country. But no media was reporting it for what it is—merely inter-faith marriages. So along with Raul Irani, who is a photographer and a friend, I decided to travel to one of the most communally sensitive parts of the country and speak to people who were in the news for all the wrong reasons like love jehad, cow vigilantism, ghar wapsi, and so on.

Do you think a law around love jehad will affect inter-faith marriages?

If I may quote a couplet by Ghalib: Ishq par zor nahin hai ye woh aatish Ghalib/ jo lagaye na lage aur bujhaye na bane. [Love is a flame that cannot be controlled, oh Ghalib! It can neither be ignited nor doused] I have faith in the judiciary. Such a law cannot stand the test of constitutional validity in a court of law.

There will always be instances in the future, as in the past, where people will fall in love and marry as per their choice from both religions. The greatest Muslim ruler in India, Akbar, married a Hindu, Jodha Bai, who continued to practice Hinduism after her marriage to the Mughal emperor. Her palace is the biggest structure in the fort of Fatehpur Sikri, and the biggest room in her palace is a temple. Jahangir was Jodha Bai’s son.

Also read: Hoax of love jehad

We have a long list of famous Muslim men adopting Hindu names, like the Hindi actor Yusuf Khan who is known to the world as Dilip Kumar. Both Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan married two Hindu women each. Shahrukh Khan married a Hindu woman. What’s the big fuss about? I don’t get it.

Then what is the purpose of legislation on this?

The whole charade is from the position of insecurity. In my view, Hindus are more secure under the Narendra Modi regime than they ever were. There is no crisis. There is no threat. Hinduism is the only non-monolithic religion with more than a billion followers that has prospered since time immemorial, that has the ability to assimilate other influences without losing its core essence. It is a philosophically rich religion and I am a proud Hindu. Therefore it is doubly demeaning to me that Hindu women are being portrayed as docile and gullible [persons] who cannot resist “sensuous” Muslim men who lure and marry with the sole motive to convert them to Islam. This is simply not true. It is a comment on both Hindu men and women.

What is the ground situation in Uttar Pradesh?

Having looked closely at the cases in western Uttar Pradesh, I am glad. The rural Hindu girls can stand up to the pressure they are put under by their families, the police and the establishment. Take the case of Shallu, whose story I have covered in detail in the book. She was beaten up by her family, confined to her house for months, and was about to be killed when she ran away and took refuge in an all-women police station. After a year, she was produced before the Allahabad High Court. She stood before the judge and said that this man (Kalim) is my husband and I love him. She rubbished the charges of gang rape in which her husband too had been implicated. Today they live together in hiding to ensure their safety. It was heartening to see that Kalim’s family accepted Shallu despite all hell breaking loose.

Also read: UP love jehad ordinance

So is love jehad a phrase coined for propaganda?

Love jehad suggests that Hindu women are deceived into marrying Muslim men. It might have happened in one or two cases, but that happens in all other communities as well. There are already strong laws to deal with deception in marriage, but to say that it is rampant and needs a law is an exaggeration. Narendra Modi himself seeks support from Indians who live in the United States. They are U.S. citizens, not Indian anymore, but as they say, they are dil se (by heart) Hindustani. Their essence has not changed. My identity doesn’t change by signing a dotted line. Why don’t the Sanghis take a positive view of the so-called love jehad, that a liberal Hindu girl will go to a Muslim family and transform them for the better? Hindu girls are like Jodha Bai.

It is feared that this propaganda will lead to an increase in communalism.

I doubt that. Not in the long run, but people are divided. This propaganda will certainly polarise votes and some will reap a good harvest in the elections. But the economic imperative between Hindus and Muslims is far stronger than any other imperative, 90 per cent of what Muslims produce is consumed by Hindus. The two communities are intertwined in their day to day existence for centuries. A communal fight cannot last beyond a few weeks. At the end of the day, everyone has to earn a livelihood.

The irony is that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was created to investigate terror cases and now it is muckraking marriages. And they, too, have found nothing to substantiate the love jehad bogey. Why are we made to believe that the Hindus are under attack when Mr Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister? Reporting from the ground, it’s evident that it is the Muslim community that feels targeted by the establishment and are fairly insecure. Elders in the family ask younger folks to lie low, go about their business without attracting much attention. They don’t feel confident that the state will come to their rescue and protect their fundamental rights.

Also read: The myth of love jehad

Having said that, inter-faith marriages are resisted by the families of both communities as they have inherent biases against each other. While growing up, most of us were told you can marry whoever you want but not a Muslim. I know so many friends who have Muslim partners, but they have reconciled to the fact that their families will never allow them to marry. There is no need for the establishment to step into people’s personal affairs. The fact that the two communities are different is a matter to celebrate, not to fight.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party is steadily moving towards the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.

Ideologies are like the blinkers on horses. The reality is far more nuanced. In a complex society like India, if you have biases, you can prove whatever you want by selectively reporting facts, even manipulating facts. The public discourse is guided by confirmation bias and selective interpretation of history to suit current political needs. I feel this whole charade is not only based on an inferiority complex but is also sexist and patriarchal, to say that a Hindu girl cannot make her own decision. Sometimes we may end up making a bad decision. But does that mean that the power to take decisions [should] be taken away from us? There are numerous instances of fraud in marriage, like there are cases of say, a rich Punjabi girl going to London or California to realise that the person she married is an alcoholic cab driver and not a software engineer. Deception in marriages has little to do with religion. There are existing laws to deal with deception in marriage. But in this whole episode, it’s the politicians who are deceiving people.

Why do you say that love jehad is a media creation?

The media portrays things in a certain way, manipulating reality. There is nothing such as love jehad on the ground but a propaganda for electoral dividends. Even the NIA couldn’t prove anything. In the process, a few young couples will be targeted and lives destroyed. They will suffer with their family in the media glare and the whole nation will watch the spectacle.

Also read: The love jehad bogey

In the U.S., everyone knows who the Fox News sides with and they don’t hide the fact. In India, no one professes their alliances but they continue reporting with a biased lens to benefit the establishment. What is happening right now in India is that the aggressor is being portrayed as a victim, and the victim is shown as someone with sinister designs, a potential threat.

So are Hindus “under threat”?

The Hindus dread the day when Muslims will be a majority in this country. And one way this will happen is as a consequence of all Hindu girls marrying Muslim men. By a conservative estimate, the whole process will take at least 1,500 years. It is ludicrous. Why are we paranoid about an eventuality that will never happen? Besides, converting for the purposes of marriage is more of a tactical move. It cannot change the way one was brought up or erase their emotional connections. Like I said, signing on dotted lines doesn’t change who I am, or will be.

Despite the divisive politics, you have maintained in the book that the syncretic culture of India is intact.

Yes. We, as a nation, are a collection of subnationalities and an example of unity in diversity. We are not inherently divisive, irrespective of the faith we follow. And the book recounts many such instances. There is this blind Muslim girl who memorised the Bhagavad Gita. She was rewarded by the Sangh Parivar. What if the opposite were the case and a Hindu girl started reciting the Quran? Recently an FIR was registered against Amitabh Bachchan and the Kaun Banega Crorepati television show team for “hurting Hindu sentiments” with the following question: “On December 25, 1927, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and his followers burned copies of which scripture?” The options were (a) Vishnu Purana (b) Bhagavad Gita, (c) Rigved (d) Manusmriti.”

My book is also a comment on the functioning of my fellow journalists , and the propaganda being carried out as a journalistic endeavour to mislead people into believing in a crisis that doesn’t exist.