Love and hate

Print edition : November 20, 2009
in Mangalore

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti members holding a demonstration against love jehad, in Mangalore on October 15.-R. ESWARRAJ

NEWSPAPERS across Karnataka had two important reports on October 22. The first was the story of the arrest, in Mangalore, of a 45-year-old serial killer, Mohan Kumar, who confessed to having killed at least 19 women (and counting as this story is being written). His modus operandi, which he used for well over five years, was chillingly simple. He lured young women with a promise to marry them and gave them cyanide pills after having sex with them.

The second story, relegated to the inner pages of most newspapers, was that the Karnataka High Court had ordered an investigation, to be conducted jointly by the Karnataka and Kerala police, into the love jehad movement the alleged conversion of young women to Islam after being lured into marriage by Muslim men.

The court order came after a petition of habeas corpus was filed by the parents of a girl who left home in August 2008 and converted to Islam. When presented in court, she averred that she had converted of her own free will. Despite her statement, however, the court linked the case with the cases of missing girls across the State and ordered the investigation to be conducted by the Director-General and Inspector-General of Police along with the Kerala Police. The girl, a resident of Chamarajnagar district in southern Karnataka, has been directed to live with her parents until the report is submitted on November 13.

While on the face of it the story of the serial killer and the court order did not have any connection, it was not very difficult for journalists in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada to draw a link. A Kannada daily with a large circulation in coastal Karnataka was one of the first to point out that one of the girls who had gone missing on July 17 in the area was one of Mohan Kumars unfortunate victims; Hindu right-wing groups had alleged that she was missing because she had been a victim of love jehad. This revelation heightened the irony of the court order, which linked the cases of missing girls in the State on the basis of the propaganda about love jehad.

An advocate who was present in court when the habeas corpus petition was being heard spoke to Frontline. He said: The girl was produced in court. She is in her early twenties and is a student of engineering. The girl openly stated that there had not been any pressure on her to convert and she had gone to a madrassa in Kerala of her own free will. In the morning judgment, the court also directed the advocate to present the Kerala High Court order of September 29, 2009. Thereafter the matter was adjourned until an appropriate report was submitted by the State government. In the afternoon session, the Assistant Advocate General filed several statements with regard to the cases of missing women across the State in the six months until June 2009.

The Kerala High Court judgment was later produced, and it was clear that the Karnataka court was influenced by this judgment. On a similar habeas corpus petition, the Kerala High Court had returned two runaway girls to their parents. However, the two girls in the Kerala case had stated that they wanted to go back to their parents. The girl produced in the Karnataka High Court, however, went to the extent of saying that even after the November 13 report she would continue to state that she had converted of her own free will.

According to Ravi Verma Kumar, a senior lawyer based in Bangalore, the premise of the habeas corpus petition was flawed as a petition of this nature could be heard only when a missing person was in illegal custody. In this case, the girl, who was an adult, had left home willingly, so there is no question of entertaining the habeas corpus at all. The petitioners advocate had claimed that the girl was living with a young man out of wedlock. Who is the Karnataka High Court to pass a moral judgment on the status of a relationship between two parties who are competent to contract, Ravi Verma Kumar asked.

He also said that the High Court order was an infringement upon the right to life (Article 21) and right of religion (Article 25) as guaranteed in the Constitution. He cited the 2006 Supreme Court case of Lata Singh versus the State of Uttar Pradesh, in which the court came down heavily on efforts to restrict inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, adding that the High Court order violated the Supreme Court order.

Many of the allegations of love jehad by right-wing organisations have come from Dakshina Kannada district, which is well known as the laboratory of Hindutva in the State. The manner in which this highly literate and prosperous part of coastal Karnataka has developed strained communal relations is well chronicled. A significant proportion of the population here consists of Muslims and Christians and the economy of the district is partly based on massive remittances from other parts of the country as well as from migrants in the countries around the Persian Gulf. The worrying inter-religious relations are a cumulative effect of sustained communal propaganda since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Such propaganda was effective because of the changes in the political economy of the region over the 1970s and 1980s, with poorer Muslims prospering from employment opportunities in the Gulf countries.

There have been frequent communal riots in the region since the riot of Suratkal in 1998, in which nine people died. Many of these disturbances were sparked by cases of inter-communal fraternising by young men and women. There have been attacks by vigilante groups of all religious persuasions over the past few years. In 2009, at least 15 cases were reported of young people being attacked while talking to girls or boys of other religions. Hindutva vigilante groups have also taken upon themselves the task of defining the cultural space in which Hindu women have the freedom to operate. The pub attack in Mangalore in January led by the cadre of the Sri Rama Sene is the most notorious case in point.

Students of The Government Composite Pre-University College in Dakshina Kannada district's Panja village. The ABVP has slapped a "ban" on the burqa on college campuses.-SUDIPTO MONDAL

More recently, communal policing has reached undergraduate colleges across the district, which is an educational hub. The student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), has been particularly active in this moral policing, restricting the social space for the meeting of students from different communities even in classrooms. Pattabhi Somiahji, a lecturer in English at the University College in Mangalore, said: Over the past few years the seating in colleges is happening in a certain segregated manner, with Hindus and Muslims sitting in separate parts of a classroom.

The allegation of love jehad in the region is not of recent origin only the phrase is new and has caught on very fast. It was first used by a Kannada evening tabloid on September 7 while reporting on certain incidents in northern Kerala and linking them up with incidents in Dakshina Kannada. After this, the evening supplement of a mainstream newspaper picked up the phrase. By early October, prominent Kannada newspapers were using the phrase without really conducting any serious investigation into the validity of the allegations.

Gopal Hosur, the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Western Range (which means he is responsible for the policing duties in the four districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada and Chickmagalur), told Frontline that not a single police complaint had been received from the region about Muslim youth luring non-Muslim women in order to convert them to Islam.

The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) has been leading the propaganda about love jehad. In a press release dated October 15, the HJS announced a massive protest against love jehad. In this vituperative public document, the HJS described Muslim youth as sexual wolves who were on the prowl for Hindu women and announced the formation of a self-defence womens wing called Ranaragini. It also claimed that roughly three women fell victim to love jehad every day in Dakshina Kannada district and that more than 30,000 women had been converted to Islam across the State. Interestingly, the HJS press release lists the Sanatana Samstha as an allied organisation. The Samstha is the prime accused in the case relating to the blasts that took place in Goa on October 16.

Morality TV and Loving Jehad

M.B. Puranik, a senior VHP leader in Karnataka, explained to Frontline how love jehad works. Muslim boys are usually idle and are loafing 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. On being asked whether this did not appear like a perfectly valid consensual romantic liaison, he responded, 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? (Incidentally, over the past one year various Hindutva groups have run a consistent campaign against allowing Muslim women to attend educational institutions wearing burqas.) Puranik went on to add that Muslims were being trained by schools that specialised in love jehad and that these organisations were funded by Al Qaeda.

Senior police officers in the State, however, have denied that there is any organised conversion racket of the love jehad sort in the State. One of the few people to have taken these allegations seriously is State Home Minister V.S. Acharya. He has ordered an inquiry by the Criminal Investigation Department into the allegations, though he refused to order a judicial inquiry, as demanded by the Opposition parties in the State, into the communal riot in Mysore in July which claimed three lives. (The riot began after the carcass of a pig was found in a mosque; later, investigations pointed an accusing finger at the Sri Rama Sene.) When churches were attacked in Dakshina Kannada last year, Acharya described the attacks as a response to the religious conversions that were supposedly being conducted by Christians.

Still, young people belonging to different communities in the coastal districts continue to meet and socialise. Of course, such meetings are common in most parts of the country, but in Dakshina Kannada a boy and a girl belonging to different communities run the risk of being publicly humiliated and beaten up if they meet in public spaces.

That young people here still reach out across communal boundaries shows that the propaganda of hate has not been a complete success.