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News reports on national shooter Tara Shahdeo’s marriage to Ranjeet Singh Kohli, or Rakibul Hasan Khan to use his real name, do not make for easy reading. According to Shahdeo, Khan duped her into marriage in July, lied about his religion, then beat her and set his dogs on her to force her to convert to Islam. Khan and his mother have now been arrested and the truth, hopefully, will emerge and justice will be served.
Any abuse is inexcusable. But Shahdeo has found unlikely support from the Hindu right that views her marriage as part of a ‘love jihad’ — a conspiracy where Muslim men apparently snare innocent Hindu women into marriage. The purpose apparently is to seduce these women, force them to convert, and then abandon them after making them produce hordes of children.
Love jihad envisages a plot where legions of men are recruited and trained in the art of seduction and deception. The idea defies common sense. If there is a plot, who are its leaders? Where are these camps held? Has any meeting been documented? Have our Intelligence agencies or police ever stumbled upon this sinister design? Where is the proof?
There is none. But so seductive is this idea, that investigations were launched under court instructions in 2009 in Kerala and Karnataka. Karnataka CID found no evidence, while the Kerala Police ended up registering a case against the website, Hindu Jagruti for spreading hatred and false propaganda.
With by-polls scheduled in September and assembly elections in 2017, BJP leaders have seized upon love jihad in communally-charged Uttar Pradesh. At a state executive meeting this month, they called it a ‘threat’ to Hindu girls. And the party’s appointed star campaigner, Yogi Adityanath — who promises 100 converts to Hinduism for every one to Islam — told Barkha Dutt on NDTV he would not ‘tolerate what was happening to Hindu women in the name of love jihad’.
But other parties can hardly claim the high moral ground. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s comments on BJP MP Hema Malini’s film roles portraying inter-faith relationships are despicable but not less so than Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad’s tweet questioning her marriage and the marriage of other senior Muslim BJP leaders with Hindu women (presumably not part of ‘love jihad’). Elsewhere, the Congress has remained ominously silent on the issue. Moreover, Yadav’s failure to stem the state’s deteriorating law and order situation has only lent credence to the allegation that his administration is soft on Muslim criminals. This in turn provides fuel to Hindu right-wing groups who mutter about taking on the responsibility of protecting ‘their’ women. Ahem!
Ironically, those who believe in a theory of love jihad are hardly champions of women’s rights. They are not promoting freedom of choice or propagating inter-faith, inter-caste or inter-community marriage. They are, in fact, saying that Hindu women are so devoid of judgment that they need protection lest they get ensnared by unscrupulous Muslim men. What they are advocating is khap panchayat-style control where women are passive victims to be watched and monitored. As seen in the Mangalore pub attacks by the Sri Ram Sene, it takes little for a campaign like this to spill over to general vigilantism of all morality — or morality as defined by the Hindu right.
Love jihad propaganda inflames communal passions and leads to hardening stands in an already polarised environment, made more fragile by social media and viral rumours. Instead of conciliation, you have a redrawing of religious and community lines where each side views the other with suspicion and unease.
Clearly, this nonsense has no place in a modern society, no place in a country where the prime minister talks of development while his lieutenants whip up the lowest primeval fears to win votes, and no place in a land where women are seen not as people to be empowered but controlled. If the BJP is to be seen as the party of a modern nation, it must stamp out this propaganda. Or produce evidence.
The views expressed by the author are personal