Hoax of love jehad

Love jehad demonises Muslim men as the 'evil' other

Print edition : December 18, 2020

Hadiya with her husband, Shafin Jahan, speaking to the media in Kozhikode in December 2018. The Supreme Court upheld their marriage in an order delivered in April 2018. Photo: PTI

Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri in September 2015. Photo: PTI

The campaign on love jehad has the political project of demonising the Muslim as the evil “other” and stokes Hindu anxiety of being demographically outnumbered in the foreseeable future.

If the much talked about love jehad has a history, it is almost certainly brief. It is a modern Indian metaphor for the alleged forced conversion of gullible Hindu women by Muslim men through a combination of trickery and marriage. It is alleged that those resorting to love jehad dupe and use women with the objective of augmenting the ranks of the Muslim community. It supplements the oft-repeated theory of Hindutva votaries that Muslims will outnumber Hindus in the foreseeable future. The concept not only raises the spectre of lustful, deceitful Muslim men but also deprives Hindu women of the agency of decision-making and reduces them to mere machines for reproduction.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised this issue often over the last decade or so. But it started getting sustained public attention with the ascension of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014. Speaking to Frontline, the illustrious historian Harbans Mukhia, an expert on medieval India, said: "Love jehad has about a five-year-old history. Nobody had heard of love jehad until recently. Love jehad is a fiction.” Of course, for a little under hundred years, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) members have been talking of abductions of Hindu women culminating in their conversion. In the pamphlets of the Hindu Mahasabha, Muslims were often portrayed as goondas and sexual assaulters. From the 1920s, Hindu revivalist bodies raised such allegations occasionally. Yet, until quite recently there was never anything more than a stray mention, a fleeting accusation. And never was the term “love jehad” used.

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The widely respected historian Bipan Chandra wrote in his work Communalism: A Primer (published by the National Book Trust in 2008): “Hindu communalism remained weak before 1947, and in fact, till 1984, possessing no real mass support. Hindu communalism did get aroused on the issue of the cutting of a peepal tree or the killing of a cow, or the selling of beef, or a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy...But these would remain local issues and would not sustain a prolonged communal divide." Modi’s victory in 2014 and the run-up to the byelections in Uttar Pradesh a little later in the same year changed all that and brought about a sustained communal divide.

Allegations of love jehad have gained traction since then. Around the same time, there were numerous instances of lynching of Muslim men. Beginning with Mohammad Akhlaq’s lynching in September 2015, assaults on Muslim men accompanied by unsubstantiated allegations of cow slaughter continued through Modi’s first term as Prime Minister. With each assault, the image of the Muslim man as beef-eating, lustful and treacherous was reinforced.

Bollywood myth-making

Giving the idea a touch of history, even if completely spurious, were film-makers from Bollywood. There was the much talked about Padmavat, which showed the early 14th century Sultan Alauddin Khilji as a bloodthirsty and lecherous ruler desperate to lay his hands on Rani Padmavati of Chittor. That Khilji is known in history books for his administrative acumen and economic reforms was completely cast aside in the endeavour to project a Muslim ruler as a ravenous, treacherous man. The message was, always, Khilji then, common Muslim men now.

Soon this fiction of Khilji and Padmavati was transported into the realms of social discourse. The Hindutva votaries’ purpose was achieved. In the mind of the common Hindu, or at least many of them in northern India, a Muslim male was not to be trusted when it came to women. Within no time, allegations covered the distance from being specific to general, from a particular, localised incident into a global conspiracy.

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The noted historian Dr Charu Gupta analysed the mindset behind the love jehad campaign in her paper “Allegories of Love Jehad and Ghar Wapasi: Interlocking the Socio-Religious with the Political”: “In more forceful ways than before, stereotypes of ‘lustful’ and ‘licentious’ Muslim men were strengthened, with new contours added in 2014. Some Hindutva spokespersons stated that ‘love jehad’ was a characteristic Muslim activity, and constructed the Muslim male as a rapist and an abductor. Lecherous behaviour, skill in luring Hindu women through false promises, a high sexual appetite, a life of luxury, and religious fanaticism were all portrayed as dominant traits of the male Muslim character.”

Selective projection

The love jehad campaign thrived on the stereotype of the Muslim man that the Hindutva brigade propagated. Prof. Harbans Mukhia observed: "There are two beautiful stories of fiction on cross-religion marriage or alliance. At least one of them is sought to be passed off as history. One is of Alauddin Khilji and Rani Padmawati where Khilji lusts after her. It was fiction created by Malik Mohammed Jayasi [and repeated in the film Padmawat]. It is another matter some people consume it as a fact today. The other fiction is not talked about. It is about a Rajput prince of Jalore. Alauddin attacked him a couple of years after attacking Chittor in 1303. Khilji's daughter falls in love with the prince. Alauddin tries to dissuade his daughter, but she does not get dissuaded. So, there is a battle between Khilji and the prince of Jalore, in which the prince is killed. Then Alauddin’s daughter immolates herself. She commits Sati. It is recalled by Padmanabh in Kanhadade Prabandh, a 15th century Marathi book. All the talk of love jehad being a challenge for Hindu society for a thousand years is part of a political project. Rani Padmawati falls into the political project, the Jalore prince does not. So that gets ignored.”

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It is a campaign that aims to not only mark out Muslims as the evil “other” but to also unite Hindu society beyond the divisions of caste and class. Hindus are constantly asked to be vigilant, and men are asked to defend the honour of their women who are projected as sitting ducks for abduction, rape, marriage and, ultimately, conversion to Islam. From 2014 onwards, love jehad was presented as a critical danger to the existence of the age-old Hindu society through a series of street corner meetings in western Uttar Pradesh, handbills, and posters stuck at vantage points in small towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Love was no longer a personal affair. The community, society, political parties and even the state could now step into an inter-community relationship. The foot soldiers of the ruling dispensation and also the legislators of the BJP furthered the agenda.

The firebrand BJP leader Sangeet Som, never tired of spreading dubious history, held a mahapanchayat in Sardhana, Meerut, against love jehad before elections to 11 Assembly constituencies in 2014. “We are concerned that the youth of a particular community are being trained, with the involvement of terror groups, to lure Hindu girls, and then marry them in order to convert them," he said. It was alleged then that Muslim youth were getting foreign funding to buy expensive clothes and mobiles to woo Hindu girls before finally converting them at the time of marriage. During an interaction with the press in February 2015, BJP spokesman Chandramohan said: "This is part of a global love jehad that targets vulnerable Hindu girls who are entrapped and forced to convert to Islam.”

By 2020, Som was emboldened enough to ask the Hindu youth not to wait for the police or law to take action. “You must teach the love jehadis a lesson. Danda uthhao ya joota [pick up a stick or a shoe], but teach these love jehadis a lesson. It is up to the Hindus to protect their sisters and daughters," he said in early November while interacting with his voters on social media.

Also read: The myth of love jehad

Som was not alone. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yodi Adityanath vowed, in an election meeting on October 31 ahead of a byelection in Uttar Pradesh, to bring a law to curb love jehad. “I warn those who conceal identity and play with our sisters’ respect, if you don't mend your ways, your Ram Naam Satya [Hindu funeral procession chant] journey will begin,” he thundered. A few days later, he decided to frame an ordinance against love jehad. His government approved a draft ordinance to curb religious conversions for marriage, often described as love jehad by BJP leaders. The approval for the draft of the ordinance came hours after the Allahabad High Court ruled, in the last week of November, that the right to choose a life partner "irrespective of religion" is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty.

The case of Hadiya and Shafin

In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin Jahan of Kerala. In Shafin Jahan versus Ashokan K.M., a three-judge bench assessed Ashokan's allegation that Shafin Jahan had duped his daughter Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan) into marriage and that she was forced to convert to Islam. The court found the allegation to be false.

Hadiya had converted to Islam before she completed her studies as a medical student in Coimbatore. She met Shafin Jahan later, and she was 25 when the couple married. Her father filed a writ petition before the Kerala High Court contending that her husband had forced her to convert. Shafin was also accused of having links with extremist Muslim organisations. The High Court ruled in Ashokan’s favour. It annulled Hadiya’s marriage and granted Ashokan custody of his adult daughter. Hadiya then approached the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court overturned the High Court order, holding that as an adult Hadiya had the freedom to make her own marital choice. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which was asked to investigate the case, found no evidence of love jehad.

Ghar Wapasi

The Sangh Parivar’s “ghar wapasi” programme progressed parallelly with the love jehad campaign, but with not half the media attention. Days after the new government assumed power in 2014, there was the first reported incident of ghar wapasi in Agra. In December that year, the Hindu Jagran Samiti claimed to have converted 50 Muslim families. The families were apparently promised a house each by the Centre. Later, a delegation of the Uttar Pradesh Minorities Commission found that the families reconverted to Islam soon afterwards.

Things did not change after Modi started his second innings. During the pandemic, there were instances of poor Muslim families being converted in Haryana and Delhi. Again, the families were said to have been offered pecuniary benefits. They, too, later reverted to their old faith.

Incidentally, Modi himself talked about ghar wapasi in a veiled manner at the BJP National Council meeting in Kozhikode in 2016. Recalling party ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay, he said: “Fifty years ago, Pandit Upadhyay said, ‘Do not reward/appease Muslims, do not shun them but purify them.’ Do not treat Muslims like vote ki mandi ka maal [vote bank]. Unhe apna samjho [regard them as your own].” The underlying assumption was that Muslim were Hindus who had strayed and needed cleansing.

Also read: The bogey of love jehad

The historian Aditya Mukherjee told Frontline: "Ghar wapasi, Beti Bachao, Bahu Lao [promoted in Bengal, with the idea of marrying Muslim girls to bring them into the family as a daughter-in-law and protect your Hindu daughters] and love jehad are all interconnected. These campaigns run parallel to each other. The supposed love jehad is about protecting Hindu girls to avoid depletion in the number of Hindus and ghar wapasi is about adding to the ranks of Hindus! They feel that Hindus are weak, they are divided, whereas Muslims are strong, powerful and sexual predators. So, on the one hand, Hindus have to be united to protect their daughters, on the other, Muslims are projected as habitual assaulters. It is also a part of the alpha male theory under which women need protection, and they are incapable of taking own decisions."

Recalling the Nuremberg laws framed during the height of Nazism in Germany under which Jew men could not marry non-Jew women, he said: “It is all a part of fascist strategy. We can see all the tools and expression in place in India at the moment. Like creation of a mythical past, creation of victimhood in the majority. Then there is sexual anxiety that a minority or some minor group is threatening you. It is part of a pattern. Love jehad is very much a part of this pattern.”

Dr Charu Gupta told this writer: “This violent movement against love had multiple layers; it simultaneously attempted to invoke Hindu male prowess, promote images of an ‘evil’ and ‘licentious’ Muslim male, fabricate fears of declining Hindu numbers, construct a homogeneous Hindu identity and Hindu nation over a sharply caste- and class-divided society and reinstate familial patriarchies. At the same time, it also exposed grave anxieties and fears over women’s independent and individual expressions of love, desire and intimacy."

Kidnapping, elopement, forced conversion in the years gone by, love jehad now – this is the thrust of the campaign. The two stereotypes on which it is constructed are of the villainous Muslim man and the vulnerable Hindu woman incapable of defending herself or making her own choices. The distrust of minorities is woven into an overarching patriarchal world view. The Supreme Court rebuffed such a mindset in the Hadiya judgment. So did the Allahabad High Court this November. The question is: Will the Hindutva hardliners see reason?

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