On March 29, the Supreme Court called the government of Maharashtra “impotent” and “powerless” for its inability to curb the love jehad rallies that are increasing across the State. Hearing a contempt petition, the court said that the action of the government against hate speeches amounted to “tokenism”.
“Hate is a vicious cycle and the State will have to initiate action,” said the bench consisting of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna. “The moment politics and religion are segregated, all this will stop,” they added. In response to the court’s rap, the Mumbai Police charged Raja Singh with hate speech under IPC 153-A(1)(a).
Starting from November 2022, some 50 “Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha” rallies have been held all over Maharashtra, organised by Sakal Hindu Samaj, a loose conglomerate of Hindutva and Sangh Parivar organisations. Several politicians and political observers Frontline spoke to believe that the rallies are being held purely with the objective of polarisation and to gain political mileage as the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly election and the 2024 general election come closer.
The first such rally was held in Parbhani district of Marathwada region on November 20, 2022. Interestingly, Parbhani district has a slightly higher population of Muslims than the State average. As per Census 2011, Parbhani’s population comprises 72.35 per cent Hindus and 16.69 per cent Muslims. The State figures are: Hindus 79.83 per cent and Muslims 11.54 per cent. Since that rally, many more have taken place in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, Satara, Kolhapur, Ichalkaranji, Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar, Latur, Solapur, and so on.
“Banners of the Sakal Hindu Samaj are proudly flaunted at these rallies, but the organisation does not seem to have any official recognition.”
The idea, however, had its birth in Ajmer, Rajasthan, where a rally was held on June 23, 2022, to support Nupur Sharma, the then spokesperson of the BJP who had made comments against Prophet Muhammad. Since then, rallies have been held across the country on different issues—love jehad, land jehad, forced conversions—all aimed at vilifying and villainising the Muslim community.
In November 2022, the rallies gained momentum in many States following the Shraddha Walkar murder case in Delhi on May 18, 2022. Right-wing leaders cited the murder as an example of the “dangerous” effects of love jehad although the accused, Aftab Amin Poonawalla, is not Muslim. Since Walkar hailed from Maharashtra, right-wingers from the State latched on to the case, painting it in communal colours.
All the rallies held in Maharashtra in the last four-five months have three things in common: the agenda, the speakers, and the overall character. The agenda is calling for a strict law to be implemented in cases of love jehad. In every rally, speakers raise the issue using derogatory words against minorities, especially Muslims.
T. Raja Singh was one of the most controversial speakers at such rallies. In his speech in Shrirampur, Ahmednagar, on March 10, he said that if a Muslim boy tried to marry a Hindu girl, he would be killed.
On March 19, he made similar inflammatory speeches in Aurangabad for which he was booked by the Aurangabad Police. When Frontline tried to speak to Singh, he did not respond.
Banners of the Sakal Hindu Samaj are proudly flaunted at all these rallies, but the organisation does not seem to have any official recognition. It seems to be an umbrella body of right-wing groups including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), Durga Vahini, and the Vishwa Shri Ram Sena. Keeping such a loose structure is typical of the Hindu right wing since it is hard to pin down perpetrators and charge them when many groups are involved. It also allows for deniability.
Sunil Ghanwat, the HJS’s chief organiser for Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, said they had organised five or six rallies in the two States. He said, “We feel the issue of love jehad is serious. It is a systematic attack on Hindu society. So, we have supported the cause of the Sakal Hindu Samaj.”
Shreeraj Nair, spokesperson of the VHP in Maharashtra, said his organisation supported the cause and was participating in the rallies. “We are not the organisers of the rallies. It is Sakal Hindu Samaj, a body of like-minded Hindus who feel the urgency of the problem,” he said.
“Love jehad and land jehad are the two most important issues for us. We are working on the ground and witnessing how Hindu girls are being systematically cheated in the name of love. Through the rallies, we want to make Hindu families aware of this threat,” Nair added.
Sanatan Sanstha, another right-wing outfit, had a similar stand. Chetan Rajhans, its spokesperson, told Frontline that their workers participate in the rallies wherever they are planned. He said, “We are concerned about the Hindu religion. The issue of love jehad is real. But we are not initiating the rallies.”
- Starting from November 2022, some 50 “Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha” rallies have been held all over Maharashtra.
- These rallies focus on different issues—love jehad, land jehad, forced conversions—all aimed at vilifying and villainising the Muslim community.
- The rallies are polarising society at a time when the political atmosphere in Maharashtra has turned toxic following the split in the Shiv Sena and the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in 2022.
- With major elections coming up in 2024, the BJP is probably trying to make an issue out of a non-issue for polarisation.
The name Sakal Hindu Samaj is based on a poem written by V.D. Savarkar, where he says, “Tumhi amhi sakal Hindu, Bandhu bandhu” (You and I are all Hindus, brothers all). The Marathi poem appeals to people from all castes and sects within Hinduism to unite as a community.
Interestingly, Savarkar had addressed the subject of interfaith marriage in an interview given to his ardent follower, S.P. Gokhale. He said, “I am not scared of marriages in Hindu community [inter-caste marriages]. But yes, I fear Muslim boy and Hindu girl marriage. This is political fear.”
But at the societal level, the reality can be different. In July 2021, in Maharashtra, Rasika Adgaonkar and Asif Khan decided to marry. When the invitation card of their wedding went viral, Rasika’s father, Prasad Adgaonkar, a jeweller from Nasik, received threatening calls. However, the couple went ahead with the marriage, and progressive people supported the family.
A year and half later, Rasika and Asif say they have no regrets and are very happy together. Prasad says, “I want to spread the message that where there is love there is no barrier of religion or caste or language.”
The rallies are polarising society at a time when the political atmosphere in Maharashtra has turned toxic following the split in the Shiv Sena and the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government in 2022.
Earlier this year, the Election Commission recognised the Eknath Shinde-led faction as the legitimate Shiv Sena, in a further setback for Thackeray. However, the situation helped Thackeray gain sympathy on the ground, and the rallies may also be aimed at countering that.
The writer and senior journalist Jaydev Dole said, “The timing of the rallies needs to be seen in relation to the upcoming local body elections and the Lok Sabha election in 2024. Recent surveys suggest that Thackeray, along with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, might be able to stop the BJP’s rise in Maharashtra. Given the nature of the rallies, we can say that the BJP is trying to cut through the sympathy wave for Thackeray.”
Love is free
While the BJP has denied a hand in organising the rallies, the chief spokesperson of the party for Maharashtra, Keshav Upadhye, said, “The Hindu community is coming together. It is not wrong to join a people’s movement in an individual capacity. Our party leaders are joining on their own. As a party we are concerned about the issues raised by these rallies.”
The most vocal of the BJP leaders in these rallies is Mangal Prabhat Lodha, Minister of State for Woman and Child Development. Speaking in the State Assembly on March 8, Lodha claimed that Maharashtra had seen more than a lakh cases of love jehad.
However, when Rais Shaikh, the Samajwadi Party MLA from Bhiwandi East, asked for data, Lodha’s Ministry said there had not been a single case of love jehad until now. Shaikh said, “BJP leaders are trying to propagate a false claim. Yet their own Ministry is denying any such cases. It means the BJP is trying to make an issue out of a non-issue for polarisation.”
When Frontline attempted to gather government data on interfaith marriages, it found that neither the office of marriage registry nor the State’s Women’s Rights Commission had consolidated the data on interfaith marriages inthe the State.
Sources said the Commission had now asked the marriage registry office to collect the data and submit it to the Commission as early as possible.