By: Charu Gupta
“Love jihad” — a term floated by some Hindu organisations — has got firmly fixed on the agenda of the RSS and its rightwing affiliates like the Dharma Jagran Manch, even though the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP has formally dropped the phrase from its political resolutions. The last month has witnessed an aggressive, systematic campaign around “love jihad”, and in the coming days there are plans to hold continuous “awareness” rallies in UP against this alleged movement to forcefully convert vulnerable Hindu women to Islam through trickery and marriage. Portentously, this present movement has an uncanny resemblance in its idiom, language and symbols to an “abduction” and conversion campaign launched by the Arya Samaj and other Hindu revivalist bodies in the 1920s in UP, to draw sharper lines between Hindus and Muslims. This historical dimension brings out in sharp relief the orchestrated and fabricated nature of love jihad.
Romance, love and marriages, particularly those cutting across caste and religious boundaries, have always implicitly challenged certain customs and norms, and aroused deep passions. Simultaneously, religious conversions have traditionally been, and continue to be, one of the common expedients of those on the margins of Hinduism to reject hierarchies and reconfigure social boundaries. The inter-meshing of romance, marriage and conversions has often produced increasing worries, deeply politicised representations and everyday violence, framed around the bodies of women. When Hindu assertion reaches new heights, as happened in UP in the 1920s, and again is happening in the present scenario, the Hindu woman’s body particularly becomes a marker to enthrone communal boundaries in ways more aggressive than before.
The 1920s in UP witnessed a flurry of orchestrated propaganda campaigns and popular inflammatory and demagogic appeals by a section of Hindu publicists against “abductions” and conversions of Hindu women by Muslim goondas, ranging from allegations of rape, abduction and elopement, to luring, conversion, love and forced marriages, although the term “love jihad” was not used at the time. Drawing on diverse sources like newspapers, pamphlets, meetings, handbills, posters, novels, myths, rumours and gossip, the campaign was able to operate in a public domain, and to monopolise the field of everyday representation. Pamphlets with provocative titles like “Hindu Auraton ki Loot”, which denounced Muslim propaganda for proselytising female preys, and “Hindu Striyon ki Loot ke Karan”, an Arya Samajist tract showing how to save “our” ladies from becoming Muslim, appeared at this time. The love jihad campaign of today, too, is using similar tropes.
The tales of the 1920s and of 2014 have certain common strains. Both campaigns are critically tied to a number-crunching politics and claims of Hindu homogeneity. In 1924, a pamphlet titled Humara Bhishan Haas, published from Kanpur, constructed a picture of the terrible calamity of declining Hindu numbers due to increasing conversions of continued…