By Slok Gyawali
10 September 2014
LOVE JIHAD’ is the new political buzzword in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) ahead of state assembly by-elections scheduled for 13 September.
The idea that Muslim boys feign love to seduce hapless Hindu girls and forcibly convert them to Islam has gained traction in communities already simmering with mutual mistrust.
Muslims have accused Hindu organisations of drumming up the issue of forced conversion of Hindu women in a dangerous bid to divide the electorate along religious lines.
Communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims has deepened since riots engulfed the city of Muzaffarnagar in western UP in August 2013 over allegations that a Muslim boy sexually harassed a Hindu girl. This localised clash between two teenagers escalated into free-for-all violence claiming 62 lives and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
In a country that is hypersensitive about its patriarchal notions of honour, disrespect towards woman-folk is an effective rallying call.
The tragic case of a girl allegedly gang-raped and converted into Islam in Meerut on 3 August is being upheld by the Hindu right wing as a classic example of 'love jihad'.
Several Hindu groups, including the influential Hindu voluntary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the World Hindu Federation (VHP), have joined together to form new organisations to check the growing rate of conversions in UP; the first being formed in Meerut – the Meerut Bachao Manch (Save Meerut Front).
‘Patriots will support our crusade against ‘love jihad’ that is leading this country to another partition,’ said Surendra Kumar Jain, national spokesperson for the World Hindu Federation.
On 10 August RSS organised a week-long ‘Rakhi drive’ to counter ‘love jihad’.
Tying someone a Rakhi around their wrist symbolises a bond of protection, love and responsibility towards the other. Girls tie them on their brothers who in turn pledge to protect them.
Another organisation, Akhil Bharitiya Vaishya Ekta Parishad, a group formed by Vaishyas – or the traders, a caste credited with the spread of Hindu culture – is prohibiting schoolgirls and teenagers from using cell phones.
'Such things [as mobiles and the internet] lead young minds to fall into the "love jihad" trap… We have no option but to take precautions,’ says national president Sumant Gupta.
Between 16 May 2014 - when the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) swept to power in New Delhi — and 25 July, there have been police reports of 605 communal clashes in UP. Four hundred occurred in or around the 11 state assembly constituencies set for by-elections on September 13.
Regional parties, including the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and the Samajwadi Party, have accused the BJP of fanning communal disharmony in a desperate bid for electoral gains. Members of the BJP, who have since been elected as MPs, previously held ten of the 11 state assembly seats that are up for grabs.
The state assembly is India's second tier of government, but all Uttar Pradesh elections are closely monitored because the state has the largest number of seats at the Indian parliament and its election results can often determine an outcome at general elections.
The party is looking to consolidate its position in the state assembly after it swept 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats from UP in the May general elections.
But experts, including Dr. Kamal Mitra Chinoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University, suggest that the scope and intensity of these recent riots indicate that traditional party affiliations are being restructured with the 2017 UP assembly elections in mind.
One key alliance that has eroded communal trust in the region, especially in Western UP, Chinoy believes, is the erosion of trust between Muslims and Dalits. These are UP’s two economically and socially disadvantaged, or, as they are known in India, ‘backward’, communities.
Splitting of this alliance has allowed the Hindu right to create a broad platform based on religious rather than ethnic or caste lines. It’s created a massive, unified Hindu voting bloc.
While the BJP has not mentioned ‘love jihad’ in its official by-election agenda, its campaign leaders have candidly evoked the issue of forced conversion of Hindu women.
‘In our state, 71 of 100 crimes are against women,’ claimed UP BJP Chief Laxmikant Bajpai, adding, ‘it is shocking but true that 99 per cent of the accused in these crimes are Muslims. The UP government (led by the Samajwadi Party) is defending 'love Jihadis' while victims are murdered or harassed by the police.
Muslim clerics say the accusation of systematic forced conversions is BJP’s false propaganda. Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahal of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) told says: ’There is no movement such as "love jihad" being carried out by Muslims… there had been a couple of incidents of conversion for marriage but the entire community cannot be put in the dock over them.’