The myth of 'love jehad'

U.P. becomes the first State in the country to pass an ordinance on ‘love jehad’

Print edition : December 18, 2020

Yogi Adityanath , Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. In August, he directed the Home Department to prepare a plan to stop incidents of love jehad. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Riot victims at a relief camp in Loi village of Muzaffarnagar in December 2013. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad identified love jehad as the main reason for the violence and urged the government to enact a law to curb the activities of “love-jehadis”. Photo: PTI

Anti-Romeo squad on duty outside a women’s college in Varanasi, a 2017 picture. Photo: PTI

Uttar Pradesh has become the first State in the country to pass an ordinance on ‘love jehad’. The roots of hate can be traced to the seeds of discord sown much earlier.

The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is appearing to be more and more dystopian. Uttar Pradesh has become the first State in the country to pass an ordinance on “love jehad”, which is at best a conspiracy theory of the extreme Right. It suggests that Muslim men are on a quest to convert Hindu women to Islam and marry them with an aim to drastically transform the demography of India.

Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of Muslims in India, about 38 million according to Census 2011. By problematising inter-religious marriages, the new ordinance threatens to widen the gulf between Hindus and Muslims in the State. While the ordinance does not specifically mention the term love jehad, Yogi Adityanath has made his intentions clear. In a byelection rally in Jaunpur on October 31, he threatened: “I warn those who conceal their identity and play with the honour of our sisters and daughters, if you don’t mend your ways, your ram naam satya journey [chant during a Hindu funeral procession] will begin.”

The militant monk-turned-Chief Minister is known for his vitriolic speeches. He has often drummed up communal passions through rabid statements. His pet projects, even before he became the Chief Minister, were love jehad and gau raksha (cow protection). He supported the so-called anti-Romeo squads who were out “to protect the honour of Hindu girls”.
Also read: Rabble-rousing Yogi

In August, Yogi Adityanath directed the Home Department to prepare a plan to stop incidents of love jehad as incidents of rape and murder came to light from Meerut and Lakhimpur Kheri. In Kanpur, after 14 cases of so-called love jehad were reported to the police by families of the girls over inter-religious marriages, a special investigation team (SIT) was set up. Significantly, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a militant offshoot of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has always been vocal about the “menace of love jehad”, accompanied the families. Even during the Muzaffarnagar riots that rocked western Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, the VHP, in its press releases, identified love jehad as the main reason for the violence and urged the government to enact a law to curb the activities of “love-jehadis”. Along with allegations of conversions and forced marriages, the SIT in Kanpur was asked to probe foreign funding, role of Islamic organisations and anti-national activities.

‘No basis’

Reportedly, the SIT concluded that there was no basis for any of the allegations. There was no conspiracy, no backing of any organisation or funding from abroad. However, in 11 of the 14 cases, the police found grounds for the application of charges under Sections 363 (kidnapping) and 366 (kidnapping or inducing a woman into marriage) of the Indian Penal Code. In at least eight cases, the victims were minors. In three cases, where the women were above 18 years of age, they told the police that they had married out of their own free will. With no conspiracy or love jehad angle found, the police filed charge sheets for minor infractions of the law and sent the accused to prison.

While these incidents might have precipitated the Yogi Adityanath government’s resolve to firm up a law that would entrench the Hindu-Muslim polarisation further, the reasons of the current identity warfare go back much earlier. Hostilities between the two communities have been increasing over the years as evidenced in the reporting trips made to various parts of the State. Every Hindu or Muslim interviewed has admitted that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was the fissure in history that led to the downfall of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (phrase used to describe the Hindu-Muslim cordiality in north India). While Muslims became increasingly wary of Hindus, the Sangh Parivar worked overtime to “awaken” Hindus by pushing them to adopt overtly religious symbolisms.

Muzaffarnagar riots

The Muzaffarnagar riots were yet another turning point in the relations between the two communities, especially Jats and Muslims. More than 50 people were killed and 50,000 displaced in the riots in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections that brought the BJP to power with a resounding victory. In western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP managed to grab all the seats chiefly because of the acute polarisation that took place following the riots. It is to be noted that in May 2013, Amit Shah, who was then BJP general secretary, was made in charge of the BJP unit in Uttar Pradesh. It was under his guidance that the party decided to take up the issues of “communal” rapes and “love jehad” in a big way.

The trigger was the killing, in August 2013, of a Muslim boy by two Jats, Gaurav and Sachin,for alleged harassment of their sister. The two boys were killed, apparently in retaliation. This, in itself, was not absolutely unusual in the crime-prone region of Muzaffarnagar. But it snowballed into one of the worst communal clashes witnessed by the region. It was exacerbated by large congregations of Muslims and Jats, despite the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (preventing public gatherings), and the circulation of a fake video that claimed to capture the killing of the Jat boys.

A mahapanchayat was organised by thousands of Jat farmers in the wake of the murder of Gaurav and Sachin. The panchayat had the Sangh Parivar’s tacit support. As it ended and people started to go home, violence broke out. It lasted for the next few days. Apparently the authorities did not try to contain the violence.
Also read: The bogey of love jehad

Even after the violence abated, the sense of fear and alienation of the survivors was palpable. It was enhanced by organised social and economic boycott of Muslims. The social fabric of the villages was shred beyond recognition. Many men testified to reporters and fact-finding groups that when they returned to their villages after the violence ended, they were told to shave off their beards if they wished to live in the village. People also reported similar heated exchanges in buses and public spaces. Three young men were killed when they went to work in their fields. Sporadic incidents of sexual assault were also reported. Survivors recounted intimidation and boycott in employment as farm labour or in economic activities such as hawking or door-to-door selling of cloth and other goods.

The survivors’ confidence to return home was shaken because of the very low numbers of arrests from the majority community. The non-governmental organisation (NGO) Aman Biradari concluded that this reflected “regrettably low political and administrative will to ensure legal action against those who indulged in hate mass violence in September 2013”.

Subsequently, by early 2019, the trial courts let off most of the riot accused. Forty of the 41 cases ended in acquittals as the prime witnesses had turned hostile. Apparently, the survivors had been intimidated into silence by the aggressors. The only conviction was in the murder case of Gaurav and Sachin. The sessions court sentenced the seven accused—Muzammil, Mujassim, Furkan, Nadeem, Janangir, Afzal and Ikbal—to life imprisonment.
Also read: The myth of love jehad

Meanwhile, people such as Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana and Sanjeev Balyan, who were accused of instigating the violence, rose to powerful positions in the Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi governments. Sangeet Som is the BJP legislator from Sardhana in Meerut. Suresh Rana from Thanabhavan was made a Cabinet Minister in the State government, while Sanjeev Balyan, a Member of Parliament, became Union Minister of State for Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries. (“Muzaffarnagar riot cases: Subverting justice”, Frontline, September 13, 2019.)

In a recent virtual interaction, Sangeet Som advised the Hindu youth to follow a tit-for-tat policy on love jehad. “You must teach the love jehadis a lesson. The police and the law will take its own course and we cannot wait endlessly for this. Danda uthao ya joota [pick up a stick or a boot], but teach them a lesson. It is up to the Hindus to protect their daughters and sisters,” he said.

Fanning the flames

No sooner had the riots begun to subside than the BJP continued to fan the flames of love jehad. The Hindu Janjagruti Samiti described love jehad as a “war declared by jehadis against Hindus and Christians through the medium of deceptive love”. It went on to suggest that “it has been observed that fanatics are setting traps at places like coaching classes, schools and colleges, mobile charging centres, beauty parlours or spa centres, etc., to draw girls in their net”. Under the title “Ruthless facts of Love Jehad: Planned methods of luring Hindu girls” on its website, the organisation has listed ways in which Muslim boys are said to lure Hindu girls. The list includes loitering around schools and colleges on two-wheelers, contacting on the mobile phone, giving prizes to jehadi boys in cultural programmes to impress non-jehadi girls, Internet, taking the help of jehadi girls to lure Hindu girls, arranging a fake incident and coming to the rescue of a Hindu girl, adopting Hindu etiquettes, utilising occasions like Valentine’s Day, participating in garba (folk dance of Gujarat) during Navratri festival, hypnotising, use of some special medicines for brainwashing Hindu girls, and vashikaran (black magic).

Mihir Srivastava, in his book Love Jihadis, refers to Akhand Hindustan Morcha, a far-Right group led by Chetna Devi, as listing population jehad, rape jehad and land jehad alongside love jehad. “She trains women and children in weaponry, including bows and arrows, swords and even guns. Such training centres are called akhadas,” says Srivastava, adding that Chetna Devi is one amongst the many religious leaders the region has produced.
Also read: The hoax of love jehad

Such right-wing propaganda has provoked small-scale communal tensions and violence. In April 2016, according to a report titled “A Narrowing Space: Violence and Discrimination against India’s religious minority” by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) & the Minority Rights Group International, Hindu extremists attempted to prevent an inter-faith marriage held with security arrangements.

In May 2017, following news that a Hindu woman and a Muslim man had eloped and married, there were attacks on the homes of Muslims living in Nandrauli in Sambhal district of Uttar Pradesh. This led to an exodus of Muslims from the village to nearby areas.

The BJP’s 2017 Assembly election campaign was peppered with references to love jehad. Following its electoral success, the police formed the so-called anti-Romeo squads. The Bajrang Dal organised a campaign called Bahu lao, beti bachao (bring the daughter-in-law and save the daughter) to encourage Hindu men to marry non-Hindu women, which found resonance in some States like West Bengal.

It is interesting to note that the BJP reaped rich electoral dividends in Uttar Pradesh from a political idea that germinated in the southern States of Karnataka and Kerala much after it was all but forgotten there.

The ordinance in the State came weeks after the Allahabad High Court overturned a previous decision that religious conversions for the sake of marriage are unacceptable. The court said that it did not see the couple “as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who out of their own free will and choice are living together peacefully and happily [for] over a year”. The court ruled that similar interferences in personal relationships “would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals”.
Also read: 'Love jehad a propaganda tool for electoral dividends'

But such pronouncements hardly have a bearing on demagogues such as Yogi Adityanath who steamrolled the ordinance disregarding all criticism. The new ordinance, which needs to be approved by the Assembly, provides for a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine for men found to have converted a woman’s religion solely for the purpose of marriage, or by use of force, coercion or misrepresentation. It also gives the state the power to nullify any marriage found to have been carried out with the sole intention of changing a woman’s religion.

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