Karnataka, the state where the term was first used publicly to decry a love marriage, has pushed it to the background since a police report found no evidence of such a conspiracy to target Hindu girls. But despite the huge numbers of ‘conversions’ cited, proof is not what this campaign is based on.
The ogre of ‘love jihad’ had already been given a life of its own in the inner sanctums of right-wing groups when, in August 2009, 18-year-old Silja Raj ran away with 24-year-old Asgar Nazar from Chamarajnagar, a small Karnataka town around 180 km from Bangalore.
The eldest daughter of a bakery owner in the town, Silja had met Asgar, a driver, briefly the previous year on the way to Chitarriparamba in Kannur district in Kerala with her family. Love had blossomed. After Silja’s father C Selvaraj resisted his daughter’s request to marry him, on August 8, 2009, they had eloped.
Initially, Selvaraj took a few Muslim friends from Chamarajnagar along to visit Asgar’s home in Kannur, hoping to request the boy’s family to allow him to take his daughter home. Asgar’s family, however, refused, saying the two were already married.
Over the next few months, as Selvaraj ran around for help to get his daughter back, it became the first publicly cited example of ‘love jihad’ in BJP-ruled Karnataka and perhaps the country. The love marriage was turned on its head and a concept that was already a reality for right-wing groups was now trotted out as an example of a widespread Muslim conspiracy to woo Hindu girls for conversion.
Five years later, ‘love jihad’ has travelled north, to Uttar Pradesh, where it has been officially made part of its politics by the BJP, and east, where Jharkhand has been hit by right wing-led bandhs over an alleged forced conversion. Any inter-religious marriage or affair now faces the risk of being seen as part of a conspiracy. Defined in RSS terms, it is a movement to convert “vulnerable” Hindu girls to Islam, to decrease the population of Hindus and increase Muslim numbers in the country. The latest issues of two Sangh mouthpieces, Panchjanya and Organiser, have their cover stories on ‘love jihad’, and talk about the alleged abduction of a Hindu girl in Meerut and the case of Tara Sahdev, a shooter from Jharkhand who has accused her husband of forcible conversion.
In Karnataka, where it all began, the High Court in November last year closed the investigations into ‘love jihad’ started by the Silja Raj case. The new Congress government’s advocate told the court “there are no cases of love jihad” and that investigations would be carried out if any cases were reported.
Appalled at the all-pervasiveness of the alleged conspiracy, a division bench of the court had ordered a CID probe in October 2009. The agency investigated cases of 21,890 “missing” girls between 2005-2009, and found that 229 girls had married men of other faiths, but conversion had occurred only in 63 cases.
The probe was prompted by a habeas corpus petition filed in the Karnataka High Court by Selvaraj alleging ‘love jihad’. The plea was handled by an RSS-affiliated lawyer Prasanna Deshpande and guided by the BJP government’s Sangh-affiliated assistant advocate general K M Nataraj.
The CID investigation first set to rest the Silja Raj-Asgar love marriage. In an interim report filed in the high court on November 13, 2009, then Karnataka director general of police Ajay Kumar Singh said, “There seems to be no prima facie evidence of ‘love jihad’. Silja Raj married Asgar out of her own volition.”
During the CID investigation, the police briefly returned Silja Raj to her parents. After its interim report debunked the ‘love jihad’ argument, the high court said Silja Raj was free to go anywhere she wished. She chose to go with her husband.
In a final, seven-page report on December 31, 2009, the CID police produced more damning evidence to junk the ‘love jihad’ theory. Then CID DGP D V Guruprasad told the high court “there is no organised attempt by any group of individuals to entice girls/women belonging to Hindu or Christian religions to marry Muslim boys with the aim of converting them to Islam”. The CID data also showed that girls and boys were marrying across religions. Of the 229 girls who had been reported “missing” between 2005 and 2009 in Karnataka and were part of an inter-religious marriage, 149 were Hindus who had married Muslim men while 10 were Hindus who had wed Christians; 38 Muslim girls and 20 Christian girls in this period had married Hindu boys; a Muslim girl had married a Christian boy; while 11 Christian girls had married Muslim boys.
The allegations of the Sangh Parivar-affiliated right-wing groups like the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagaran Vedike couldn’t be proved despite the CID making public appeals to refer such cases for investigation. The CID even approached Sri Rama Sene leader Pramod Muttalik, who had launched a ‘Beti Bachao Andolan’.
Following the CID probe and the BJP’s slipping ground in Karnataka, the issue of ‘love jihad’ has been largely relegated to a fringe issue in the state — only to spring up in states where the BJP and Sangh Parivar are looking at harvesting votes.
In Uttar Pradesh last month, the Sangh kicked up a storm with plans to include ‘love jihad’ in the BJP’s official agenda at a state executive meeting in Vrindavan. Although the party dropped the plan, it spoke of “largescale conversion and rape” of Hindu girls by Muslim men.
Various Sangh Parivar-linked organisations, including the VHP, Hindu Jagran Manch, ABVP and the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, are joining hands to set up new fronts, particularly in western UP, to fight such alleged conversions.
According to a magazine — Bharat: Darool Harab Ya Darool Islam — printed and circulated by some BJP and RSS workers in western UP after the Muzaffarnagar riots, incidents of girls falling prey to ‘love jihad’ between 2008 and 2011 in western UP numbered 1,611.
Rajendra Singh Pankaj, the VHP central secretary who laid the foundation of the Bajrang Dal with Vinay Katiyar in 1984, claims that more than 1,400 cases of ‘love jihad’ had come to his notice in the past 30 years, and that cases had started rising around three years ago. According to him, “20 to 50 cases of love jihad are reported from districts of western UP every month while at least 10 such cases come to notice annually in the rest of UP”.
However, even he admits, “We were successful in saving the girls from the clutches of Muslim youths in almost 80 cases, but only 5 to 7 per cent agreed to revert to Hinduism.”
Even before the term ‘love jihad’ was coined, the Bajrang Dal ran a ‘Bahu-Betiyon ki Izzat Bachao’ campaign. Says Charu Gupta, Associate Professor of History at Delhi University, “In the 1920s, Hindu girls were converted to Islam after their abduction. There was no word like ‘love jihad’ then.” She says the word was used for the first time in Gujarat in 2007 and then in Kerala and Karnataka in 2008-09. By 2009, it was being heard in northern India, with the maximum cases alleged in western UP.
Muttalik, a former Bajrang Dal member, claims to have been instrumental in coining the term and says it first featured in discussions in Hindutva groups from around the year 2005, when there was a spike in terrorist activities across the country.
“I felt that apart from jihad, there could be land jihad, financial jihad, political jihad and love jihad. That is how the word became popular. In love jihad, fanatic boys are encouraged to attract young Hindu girls outside ice-cream parlours, schools, colleges and theatres,” says Muttalik.
Muttalik claims there have been more than 3,000 cases of ‘love jihad’ in Karnataka, but ask him about specifics, and he falters. “There is an organised effort to demoralise the Hindu community,” he says.
Says Professor Mohan Rao of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Social Sciences, “The love in ‘love jihad’ signifies control of women’s sexuality and freedom, something which khap panchayats often do, and which works in our patriarchal society.”
Rao notes that it also helps the BJP consolidate the Hindu vote behind it, dissolving caste divisions, by appealing to a common anxiety regarding Muslims. Delhi-based lawyer M R Shamshad also links the concept to gender politics. “It’s an artificially created issue, meant to incite passions.” Pointing out the legal recourses available, he adds: “There’s no need to raise rubbish like love jihad. Persons of two different faiths can marry each other under the Special Marriage Act, and continue to practise their individual faiths. If one person starts forcing the other person to convert, one can file a suit under the Domestic Violence Act.”
A senior CID officer of the Karnataka Police is also surprised at the ‘love jihad’ claims. “When no evidence has been found in Karnataka after such recent investigations, why is it being raised in other parts of the country,” he asks.
In UP too, IG (Law and Order) AK Sengar says that the police have never used the term ‘love jihad’ in their reports and they investigate cases as per sections of the IPC. “Investigations find different stories in different cases. But we have never found any particular pattern that can establish any such conspiracy being claimed by various organisations,” he says.
The Sangh, though, has its own measures. Muttalik has authored a book of instructions on how to prevent Hindu women from “becoming victims”.
VHP Aligarh district president Siddharth Mohan says they have a network that informs them about such cases and that he approaches girls involved with Muslim youths with the help of the Sangh’s women’s wings. He claims to have intervened in one such case just a week ago, involving Aligarh Muslim University students.
“We address the girl as bitiya,” says Mohan. “I tell her Muslim youths only use girls to increase the population of Muslims. We watch such girls for at least a month.” Since 1989, he claims to have convinced 14 girls to revert to Hinduism after conversion to Islam through marriage, though nine Hindu girls refused to revert. He also claims to have ‘prevented’ 57 Hindu girls from marrying Muslim men they had fallen in love with.
BJP Aligarh mayor Shakuntala Bharti is another self-styled ‘love jihad’ buster in UP, and alleges she sees at least four to five cases every month. Based in Bareilly, former state president of Hindu Jagran Manch Gulshan Anand claims to have successfully ended such affairs in “nearly 50 cases”. Anand and his supporters involve a relative, and forcibly get the girl into a car. Then they take the girl to the police.
In Gujarat, spearheading this campaign for a long time was Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi, then in the Bajrang Dal and now serving a life term in the Naroda Patiya riot case. His organisation, Navchetan Sangathan, would “rescue” Patel girls who had married outside their community and bring them back. By 2006, he claimed to have “rescued” over 700 such Hindu girls.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, couples who had entered into inter-community marriages were one of the targets of the riotous mobs. With Bajrangi behind bars, the VHP’s campaign against ‘love jihad’ has scaled down. Currently the VHP headquarters in Ahmedabad is ‘sheltering’ a 26-year old girl, Jyoti Rami, who was reportedly cheated into marriage by a Muslim man. Police in Gujarat, though, have been instructed by the state government not to comment on ‘sensitive’ alleged ‘love jihad’ cases.
Meanwhile, in Karnataka’s Chamarajnagar town, an air of sadness hangs in the modest Selvaraj household. Five years later, the family is yet to come to terms with Silja Raj’s marriage. “We know she is well. We know she has a child and suffered a miscarriage recently. We know she is being looked after well by her family, but our ties with her were severed the day she chose to leave us. We changed all our phones,” says Selvaraj.
He wishes though that it hadn’t turned out like this. “My intent in pursuing a case to get her back was only to show that there were people who cared for her. It was not about ‘love jihad’ or religion or anything. Many of my Muslim friends are angry with me about the way the case was projected.”
‘It’s only love when you are in love’
Ahmedabad: Amid the 2002 riots in Gujarat, the daughter of a Hindu policeman and the son of a Muslim labourer fell in love. Sandhya Mahadik alias Naseem Bano, 27, and Guddu Qureshi, 31, are now the parents of four.
After the 2002 riots, the couple had almost given up on each other. Guddu lost his mother and sister, their home was destroyed. Naseem hunted for Guddu all over, before tracing him to the Shah Alam camp. “I wore a burqa to meet him. Once VHP and Bajrang Dal workers beat up Guddu. They pushed me and said, ‘You are a Hindu girl, are you going to produce a Muslim’s child?’.” Almost a year after the riots, Guddu and Naseem decided to elope, and later got married. Naseem’s family has not accepted her decision still. Only her mother talks to her.
Naseem doesn’t regret any of it though. “I keep rozas and offer namaaz. I don’t know why people call it jihad. It’s only love when you are in love.”
Inputs by Ujjwala Nayudu, Satish Jha & Irena Akbar