IN the first week of September, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which is considered to be the moral guardian of Hindutva politics, widely circulated an email with the heading “Some Facts: Muslim Man/Hindu Woman”. The email, a long one, went on to list 73 male celebrities who were Muslim and had married Hindu women.
It was not at all vituperative and provided details in a matter-of-fact manner. It even listed the names of their children, implicitly suggesting their Muslim identities. From film celebrities as old as the legendary director K. Asif and Muzaffar Ali to contemporary actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, it made a good archive of Muslim celebrities and their personal lives. A delight to the compulsive voyeur, the email does not spare even Hindustani classical artists Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan.
Sample this: “Doctor/Model Aditi Govitrikar, a Maharashtrian Brahmin, married Dr Muffazal Lakdawala. They had a daughter, Kiara, and a son, Zihaan. Govitrikar participated in and won the Mrs India competition under her post-marriage name, Sarah Muffazal Lakdawala. They are now separated. Dr Muffazal is now married to Priyanka, daughter of Maj. Gen. T.K. Kaul.”
In yet another not-so-implicit suggestion of the fact that Muslims can marry multiple times, it says:
“Classical vocalist Ali Akbar Khan married numerous times in his life. One of his wives was Rajdulari Devi, a singer herself. Their daughter Aneesa is married to TV producer Rajeev Chaudhary. Surprisingly, Ali Akbar and his Muslim wife Zubeida gave Hindu names to their sons, namely Ashish, Dhyanesh, Amresh and Pranesh. Out of these, Ashish declared himself to be a Hindu and separated from his Muslim wife, Firoza Dehalvi. Ashish’s children are Faraz (son) and Nusrat (daughter). Dhyanesh’s daughter Sahana is married to a Hindu (Mr Gupta). Dhyanesh’s son is Shiraz Khan.”
And in a direct reference to the Hindutva campaign of “love jehad”, it says: “Singer Sunidhi Chauhan, at the age of 18, eloped and married Bobby Khan, brother of choreographer Ahmed Khan. Her family never acknowledged the marriage and threatened to disown her. The couple fell apart in a year and she returned to her parents. She is now married to a Hindu.”
The email was circulated at a time when the Sangh Parivar was whipping up the campaign amidst the Hindu-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. A rumour that a Muslim boy stalked a Hindu girl was the immediate trigger for the riots, which killed more than 100 people, most of them Muslim, and displaced more than 50,000 Muslims from their villages. The Hindus, especially Jats, were of the view that Muslims either assault Hindu women or lure them to get married. In a communally charged environment, the Sangh Parivar projected the riots as the last resort to protect the honour of Hindu women.
The Sangh Parivar, in the last few years, has been mobilising the Jats against the Muslims in the name of honour. It called this campaign “Beti Bachao, Bahu Bachao” (Save your daughters). Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal famously declared: “When society could no longer bear the ‘love jehadists’ outraging the modesty and dignity of Hindu women and girls in rural and urban areas of U.P., the corrective movement in the form of the Bahu, Beti Bachao Mahapanchayat came into being.” “Love jehad”, the Sangh Parivar says, is a way for the Islamists to increase the population of Muslims so that they become the majority in India. “Muslims want to convert India into Dar-ul-Islam from what they now think as Dar-ul-Haram,” a senior VHP leader told Frontline .
Old rhetoric “Love jehad” is an institutionalised form of a much older but informal campaign. The concept emerged from this ideological campaign. The activists of the Sangh Parivar visit villages and hold meetings of elders in the Hindu community. Assuming that older people are opposed to romantic liaisons of any type, the activists claim that the madrassas are funded by terrorist organisations and Islamic countries to convert Hindu women. For this, the madrassas identify “good-looking Muslim young men” and train them to stalk Hindu women. They are also trained to dress in a contemporary way and are then given mobile phones and motorbikes, which they can use to pursue Hindu women. If the Hindu woman resists, the Muslim youth resort to rape, molestation or eve-teasing, the Hindu nationalists claim.
The activists also falsely claim in front of the village elders that the police records are full of cases of sexual assault involving Muslim men. M.B. Puranik, a senior VHP leader in Karnataka, told Frontline in 2009 how “love jehad” worked: “Muslim boys are usually idle and loaf about near colleges and malls and work in mobile shops, and they lure girls. When a Hindu girl comes to a mobile shop to get her phone recharged, these boys get hold of her number and start calling her and trap her in their ‘love jehad’.” He had elaborated: “I agree that this may be consensual, but Muslim women are usually in burqas and they do not have freedom. Why do these boys target our women who have freedom?”
Once brainwashed, the villagers are fed the old Hindutva rhetoric that stereotypes Muslims as cow slaughterers, reproductive machines who do not believe in family planning, criminals and black-marketeers. The Sangh activists even go on to say that Muslims believe that consummating their relationship with kafirs, referring to Hindu women in the Indian context, will lead them to jannat (heaven). This is then backed up by the theory that an increasing Muslim population is a threat to Hindu identity.
That Muslim men are virile and lustful is an old Sangh Parivar’s campaign, but the term “love jehad” first surfaced in 2007 in the Dakshin Kannada district of coastal Karnataka and parts of northern Kerala, both well-known laboratories of Hindutva. It was used by the Sangh Parivar organ the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), which was leading the campaign in these areas. It used the term in its websites, and Hindutva leaders frequently cited it in public gatherings. Subsequently, the term “love jehad” got legitimised by a 2009 Karnataka High Court order, which asked for an investigation into the “love jehad movement”. This order was in response to a habeas corpus petition filed by the parents of a girl who had left home and had willingly converted to Islam.
Love affairs between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman were subsequently criminalised by repeated rumour-mongering claiming that Hindu women were murdered once the marriage was consummated. The HJS, on its website, described Muslim youth as “sexual wolves” who are on the prowl for Hindu women. It also claimed that around 30,000 women had already been converted to Islam in Karnataka alone. In Dakshina Kannada, it claimed that roughly three women fell victim to “love jehad” every day.
The “love jehad” campaign was instrumental in precipitating the Muzaffarnagar riots, and the Sangh Parivar is celebrating its success as the RSS’ email suggested. What is significant, however, is that this campaign has lost its sheen in south India but is working well in north India. The Sangh Parivar’s tactic was to introduce it in rural areas, where the notion of honour is supreme. Not surprisingly, it is working well in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, regions infamous for honour killings. The Sangh has thus successfully married its concept of love jehad with the feudal-patriarchal society of agrarian north India.
The RSS’ email also delineates the essence of “love jehad”—that it offers no agency or independence to women; that women will need to be protected; and Hindu honour is inextricably linked to their women’s honour. “‘Love jehad’ is nothing but a figment of communal imagination to be used to tighten patriarchal controls and create a fear of the ‘other’. No fascist project can be complete without tightened control over a woman’s body, her sexuality and agency, which makes for ethnic, cultural, racial and national purity. Women’s bodies, for them, represent porous borders—and the ‘love-jehad’ project is part of the project of sealing borders,” says Mona Das, a political science professor at Delhi University.
With blatant lies under its surface, the Sangh’s campaign of “love jehad” has a filial relationship with the notion of Hindu victimhood, its fundamental political standpoint. In the context of the Muzaffarnagar riots, a Sangh activist told The Hindu : “For the first time, Jats and Muslims are fighting each other. This is a great achievement. Jats have begun thinking like Hindus first. If more Hindu castes fight with Muslims, it will be better for us. The BJP will benefit.”
“Love jehad”, as it has unfolded in north India, also points towards its upper-caste prejudices. It appeals to the sentiment of landed caste groups of a region, to the affluent who value their “honour”, and to those who are devoid of love. “Love jehad”, a vitriolic concept, is the new moral police in our backyard.