The murderous riots in Muzaffarnagar last month are said to have been precipitated by rumours of smart young Muslim men,wearing jeans and dark glasses,wielding expensive cellphones,luring innocent Hindu girls into unholy matrimony. These young men have been called love jihadists or love romeos. The propaganda about love jihad crudely,but effectively,argues that Muslim men are waging jihad in India through so-called love marriages. The proponents of love jihad see this as a strategy by Muslim fundamentalists to lure Hindu and Christian girls into their literal arms,thus swelling their numbers in a demographic war.
Astonishingly,the bogey of love jihad has been lent credence by the courts and the police in some states,suggesting the infiltration of these institutions by saffron warriors. For example,the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti in Dakshina Karnataka district of Karnataka claimed in 2010 that 30,000 young women had been duped by love jihadis. In the same year,the Karnataka High Court observed that a case involving a 23-year-old woman who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man had national ramifications concerning security,besides the question of unlawful trafficking of women. The court even ordered the woman be restored to her parents while the police investigated the case. The Karnataka police,on its part,traced 332 of the 404 missing girls who were missing in 2010. The majority of them were Hindu girls who had eloped to marry Hindu men. One of the girls who was said to have been a victim of love jihad had,in fact,been murdered by her Hindu lover.
The Kerala High Court had ordered an inquiry in 2010,but the state police found no evidence of love jihad and no organisation named Romeo Jihad that was executing this so-called Muslim fundamentalist exercise. Yet the media and various sections of the Hindutvavadi groups such as the Bajrang Dal,the VHP,and the ABVP have mounted a sustained campaign against this grand Muslim conspiracy. This is seen as one more manner in which they,Muslims,seek to outbreed us in our own country.
Love jihad is born out of a long,productive history. In 1909,UN Mukherji had written a book titled Hindus: A Dying Race,which had a lasting influence on many publications by the Hindu Maha Sabha,the parent organisation of the RSS. This book seemed to meet a widespread demand,going into many reprints. It held enormous appeal to Hindu communalists,anxious to create a monolithic Hindu community,in the face of Muslim demands for separate representation. Riddled with inaccuracies,and wild,baseless predictions of the future,the book whipped up anxiety about Muslims in an attempt to bind diverse,and often antagonistic,castes into one Hindu community. It provided,as political scientist PK Datta noted,demographic common sense functioning as a trope for extinction. Also,fundamentally,the Hindu communalists believed and continue to believe that a nation is defined culturally as a Hindu nation,just as Muslim communalists believed in the purity of an Islamic Pakistan.
There was another flame stoking these fears among Hindu communalists the tragic figure of the Hindu widow. Forbidden remarriage among the upper castes,she was at once responsible for the dying of the Hindu race,and an enticement for virile Muslim men. Fitting neatly into this gendered anxiety was the communalisation of the issue of abduction of Hindu women. Indeed,there was an epidemic of rumours of such abductions before the Gujarat carnage in 2002. Thus,patriarchy,nationhood,and violence against women were and are embedded in discourses on numbers,inscribing on reproductive womens bodies anxieties about the future. The politics of genocide is deeply imbricated in creating demographic anxieties.
Martha Nussbaum,professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago,has noted that the creation of virulent masculinities is perhaps a part of the project of nationalisms of the European variety. Israel and India,she notes,are emulating and constructing this notion of virulent masculinities and directing it at Muslims,classified in colonial discourse as martial races. Israel,of course,sees its population drowning in a sea of over-breeding Arabs. Those scoffed at as feminine or too intellectual set out to recreate themselves in colonial mirrors,creating a style of masculinity that is associated with his oppressor in the past. This too was responsible for the horrors of Gujarat as these new males wreak murder and rape,annihilating the female both in themselves and in the Other.
The rumours of love jihad are thus clearly political tools to play on and create patriarchal anxieties in communities used to the idea that a woman belongs to a community,and that by profaning a womans body,a community is shamed.
*Rao is a doctor,specialising in public health. He is a professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health,Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi. He is the author of From Population Control to Reproductive Health: Malthusian Arithmetic
by Mohan Rao