By Sandeep Joshi
November 9, 2014
"Love jihad is being treated more like a subterranean issue by the saffron groups, since love knows no boundaries, any kind of censorship will not work on the group."
Since the Muzaffarnagar riots last year, the sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh has been in the grip of a fear psychosis. Every crime in the region, comparatively more developed than the rest of Uttar Pradesh, gets communal overtones. Social harmony is in a shambles as trust between Hindus and Muslims has reached its lowest ebb. Most affected are youngsters as friendship between a girl and a boy of different religions is being seen with a sense of doubt, thanks to the “love jihad” activism of the saffron vigilante groups.
Though marriage between Hindus and Muslim is not new in the region, “love jihad,” a term coined by the Sangh Parivar to paint courtship of Hindu girls by Muslim boys as a ploy for conversion, is vitiating the social environment and fuelling communal tensions.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been repeatedly blaming Muslim clerics and “madrasas” for promoting “love jihad.” The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even unsuccessfully made it an election issue in the recently concluded Assembly by-elections. Though the BJP has since decided not to openly rake up this controversial issue, other offshoots of the Sangh Parivar continue to harp the same old line.
“Strangely, every Hindu-Muslim marriages are seen as cases of ‘love jihad,’ leading to tensions and communal polarisation … It sometimes lead to aberrations,” says Muzaffarnagar-based social activist Shandar Gufran.
In a recent bizarre case, a Hindu woman lodged a case with the Meerut police alleging that she was abducted, gang-raped and forcibly married to a Muslim man after her forced conversion. All saffron organisations were up in arms, forcing police to take action against her husband’s family.
But within a few weeks, she backtracked from her earlier statement, and said that she had willingly eloped with her “lover” and later married him. But a bigger controversy broke out when the media published photos showing a local BJP leader handing over money to the girl’s family, which led to further trading of charges and counter-charges.
“Though every case of Hindu-Muslim marriage raises eyebrows these days, it is in western Uttar Pradesh that the reaction is more vocal. It can be attributed to the strong presence of “Khaps” (sub-groups within Jats) in the region that are deeply rooted in their culture and traditions; marriage outside the community is a ‘no’ and outside the religion a strict ‘no no.’ It is this strong feeling that leads to cases of ‘honour killings,’ yet another cause of worry,” Mr. Gufran says.
But Charu Gupta, historian and Associate Professor of Delhi University, says “love jihad” is an emotive issue which is linked to women and family, and, therefore, has a more universal appeal. “Despite this, we are seeing a spurt in inter-religious and inter-caste marriages. It proves that ‘love jihad’ is a bogey raised with elections in mind with right wingers trying to polarise voters on religious lines,” she says.
Noting that “love jihad” is being treated more like a “subterranean issue” by the saffron groups, Ms. Gupta feels that since love knows no boundaries, any kind of censorship will not work on the ground. “I see a major challenge being posed by women themselves, particularly Hindu women, who do not care about the issue. A large section of society has remained indifferent to the issue of ‘love jihad,’ and gradually we will see people, particularly women, subverting it,” she says.
Similarly, Mr. Gufran avers that with the proliferation of social media and youngsters’ longing for progress and development, the issue of “love jihad” will never thrive in society. “Today’s youth want to be progressive … For them choices of career and marriage are two most important things. All these are issues to polarise voters which have a very limited shelf life,” he adds.
An interesting aspect of the ‘love jihad’ controversy which Arvind Shukla, a Meerut based social activist points out that there are almost equal number of Hindu boys eloping with Muslim girls and neither the media nor the Hindutva groups have talked about it “as it would puncture the myth they want to propagate--- that of a well organized ‘Jihadi’ groups which fiancé Muslim boys to lure Hindu women in order to finally convert them.”
He says that several Muslim girls elope with Hindu men but the Muslim society has never come up with “Hindu conspiracy theory to make convert Muslim girls and increase the population of Hindu community”.
“The Hindu right has been talking about Muslim conspiracy to dominate India by breeding and having more babies. Given the fact that there are equal number of Hindu boys eloping with Muslim girls, Muslims have never done politics over the issue and has been tolerant enough about it, “adds Mr. Shukla.
He refers to a recent case of anti-thesis to ‘love jihad’ in the western UP town of Bijnore in which a 22-year-old Muslim woman eloped and married a Hindu man and converted her religion.
While the police was trying to locate her, the woman submitted an application to Allahabad high court stating that her relatives were threatening to harm her and her Hindu husband.
Shukla points out that there was no violence or politics by the Muslim politicians or the clergy in the case. Taking up the instance of “tolerance” of Muslim society, Shukla says, “Just a small clash broke out as the girl’s relatives tried to forcibly separate her from her husband when she arrived in the Bijnore court. That’s about it”.
"Muslims are stereotyped by the Hindu right as radical fundamentalists but look at this instance. Isn’t it a proof that they are much more tolerant than the Hindutva brigade? The Hindu right would have gone berserk had the girl been Hindu,” says.
Shukla refers to the case which grabbed headline as “Meerut Love jihad” case as “simple case of love affair” between a girl and a boy from neighbouring villages.
Shukla terms the outrage of Hindutva groups over cases of love affair between Muslim men and Hindu girls as result of the anxiety of Hindutva patriarchy because of its “loosening grip over Hindu women who want independence and freedom to interact with men and choose their life partners as per their wishes”.
(With inputs from Mohammad Ali)