If there was one narrative that evoked mass interest in West UP -- the communal lab of Bhartiya Janata Party before 2014 general elections -- it was ‘love jehad’.
People narrated spicy tales about how Muslim youths, wearing vermillion tika on their forehead and red thread around their wrist, hoodwinked vulnerable Hindu girls and converted them to Islam after marriage.
‘Love jehad’ had triggered the Muzaffarnagar riots, polarising society into Hindus and Muslims, with the BJP ‘harvesting’ the ‘fruits’ in the 2014 general elections.
Three years later ‘love jehad’ is not a poll issue at all even in the season of love.
While ‘triple talaq’ finds mention in BJP’s manifesto for Uttar Pradesh, ‘love jehad’ is missing. Even the hardliners avoid discussing it, though in private conversations they raise Hindutava to polarise society.
Chetna Sharma of Hindu Vahini is angry with the BJP for dropping ‘love jehad’ from their political discourse. “Girls are getting trapped but BJP is not bothered. They are trying to project a secular face,” Sharma said.
Fabricated or otherwise, the issue continues to haunt the psyche of people. However, it does not excite or incite them into brawls. The easiest way for Hindus and Muslims to settle scores is to target the weak spot -- young girls -- as even the administration prefers ‘settlements’ to ‘punishment.’
Social activist Shahid from Lohari village says, “You visit any Hindu home around noon and you will find the lady of the house worrying for her college or school-going girl.”
Nothing has changed as politicians never wanted a solution. And now the political parties that had taken a high moral ground have fielded the faces of ‘love jehad’, communal clashes and riots.
Ravindra Singh, father of 18-year-old Gaurav, who along with his cousin Sachin, were killed by a violent crowd in Kawal town of Muzaffarnagar in the much publicised case of ‘love jehad’ is a saddened man today.
He and his wife had not fully recovered from the loss of their only son when the major ‘instigators’ of subsequent Muzaffarnagar riots, got into public space -- contesting the impending elections.
Singh, who is still fighting a legal battle, says the issue of ‘love jehad’ may have vanished in the thin air but their (instigators of riots) very presence in the electoral arena hurts him.
‘I have two daughters and I feel insecure,’ he says. So for his security and survival he is supporting the BJP while trying to create awareness against ‘love jehad’.
In a nutshell, allegations of a Muslim boy stalking a Jat girl had triggered large-scale violence with both Muslims and Jats holding mahapanchayats to protect their daughters after ‘love jehad’ had taken three lives – Shahnawaj, Gaurav and Sachin -- on August 27, 2013. Thereafter, complete mayhem followed.
The wounds are still ripe, pouring fresh oil on them are the candidates -- Sangeet Som, Kadar Rana’s wife Sayyeda Begum, Salim Rana, Nawajis Alam Khan, son of Amir Alam Khan. All of them were in the forefront of organising mahapanchayats and making provocative speeches.
Veteran MLC from the teacher’s constituency in Meerut, Om Prakash Sharma, spills the beans, “The genesis of the entire trouble was the increasing cases of molestation of girls ever since this government came to power and its refusal to register complaints and initiate action against the gunda elements. The parties that propagate Hindu nationalism obviously took advantage to polarise their vote bank. Some of them were already raising the issue of cow slaughter in rural areas.”
Demographically, west UP is packed with three dominant castes, mainly Jats, Jatavs and Muslims. And though the area has been infamous for Jat and Jatav clashes, the two aggressive communities -- Jats and Muslims – have, by and large, lived peacefully and were the backbone of Rashtriya Lok Dal from the days of Charan Singh.
But ‘love jehad’ led to deep animosity between Muslims and Jats, which even time may fail to heel.