Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

Jihad Against Love

Despite a fevered and fervent communal campaign, ‘The Meerut Girl’ shines a light on the fact that there’s only so much The Parivar—whether biological or Hindutvavaadi—can do.

Jihad Against Love
Jihad Against Love

The phrase ‘Jihad Against Love’ is Janaki Nair’s in The HinduWhy Love is a Four Letter Word. I can’t think of a better description of this sick, twisted, violent campaign, in which local Hindutvavaadi thugs ally with families desperate to control their young sons and daughters from—quite simply—falling in love. Families that have no qualms in violently separating their children from relationships outside their caste or religious community, often killing one or both of them. Such murders have come to be dubbed ‘honour killings’ by the English media, but a starker, more revealing term is suggested by Pratiksha Baxi—‘custodial deaths’. Indeed, the young people killed in such cases are in the custody, much like prisoners, of their own families.

If you haven’t had enough of tragic love stories, take a look at Perveez Mody’s book, The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi (Routledge, Oxford and New Delhi, 2008) for  heart-breaking accounts of of treachery and betrayal by parents, of their own children who fall in love with the wrong people, and the kinds of physical violence unleashed on rebellious couples by their own families.

The Hindutvavaadi campaign has an able ally in the Christian Right. A report in 2009 in The Times of India said:

‘Love Jihad’, a religious conversion racket which lures gullible girls by feigning love, has brought rivals Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Christian groups in Kerala together.

“Both Hindu and Christian girls are falling prey to the design. So we are cooperating with the VHP on tackling this. We will work together to whatever extent possible,” said K S Samson, an office-bearer of Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), a voluntary Christian association.

Samson said some days ago, CASA got to know about a Hindu family in a Christian parish where a school going girl was the victim. ”We immediately referred it to the VHP,” he said, adding the saffron outfit has helped them in many cases.

Note the plain description of the ‘racket’ by the reporter, as if it is a well established fact that it exists, rather than being a figment of the fevered imagination of Hindutva fanatics. Namita Bhandare notes that ‘Love Jihad’ was actually investigated in Kerala and Karnataka:

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.

We must link this Jihad Against Love to two related aspects:

First, the fact that all identity in our society, including the modern identity of citizenship, is produced and mediated by the heterosexual patriarchal family, and it is these identities that secure patrilineal inheritance and caste/community identity. Baap Ka Naam is critical for legitimate identity—Whose name do you bear? Whose property will you inherit?

BR Ambedkar had seen the potential of inter-caste marriage for what he called ‘the annihilation of caste’. In a famous passage first published in 1936, he said:

‘Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real remedy for breaking caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the solvent of caste’ (P 67).

Evidently, Ambedkar’s recognition of inter-caste marriage as potentially disruptive of caste identities is one that continues to be shared—and feared—over seventy-five years later, by the threatened and embattled institution of the patriarchal family. One might like to add that this potential arises not so much perhaps because marriage is a ‘binding force’ as Ambedkar believed, but because inter-caste/inter-community marriage poses a stark question mark over inherited identities.

However clichéd and commercialised and objectified ‘Romance’ may have become, however ultimately conventional and patriarchal the marriages it leads to may be—there is no doubt about the subversive potential of love. Love that refuses to be tamed within the rules of caste and community and heterosexuality, is terrifying for those committed to shoring up the tottering foundation of our society.

Marriages of this sort, when they result in religious conversion (and not all of them do), produce another level of anxiety and violent denunciation. As Charu Gupta puts it:

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. 

Religious conversion is an issue for whom, exactly?

The unquestioned basis of the entire discussion on conversions is the assumption that converting from one religion to another is essentially wrong, an act requiring justification. But why is religious conversion essentially different, in a democracy, from other kinds of conversion? When rival companies bid for candidates offering higher salaries and better perks, inducing them to convert from one employer to another, why is that not fraudulent? When political parties attempt to convert voters by wild promises, when Naxalites are wooed back into mainstream society by the State, when political ideologies—of the market or of Marxists, of feminists or of the Hindu Right—attempt to convert with promises of redemption and threats of various kinds, both material and spiritual—why are all these not fraudulent?

If by conversion we mean a total change of identity, I might point out that this is what a perfectly appropriate intra-caste and community marriage involves for most women—change of name (in many communities even the first name), place of residence, way of life, and in general, a complete restructuring of their sense of self.

Religion is after all, an identity assumed at birth, not one arrived at by every person after deep soul searching. It is fundamentally anti-democratic to force people to retain any identity against their will, and especially one assumed by the very act of being born. Nationality, caste, religion or even sex. The possibility of change is central to democracy. We have no option but to respect a decision to change any identity for a perceived better future, or—why not?—for love.

Of course, the real reason for the Hindu Right’s obsession with religious conversion has nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of religion. The creation of a birth-based political majority is crucial for the project of Hindutva and for its definition of Indian-ness. If ‘others’ turn into the majority, their project to make Hindutva and the Nation coincide, falls apart. When Ambedkar decided to leave the Hindu fold along with large numbers of Dalits, who felt the most threatened? Not the orthodox Hindus, who thought it was good riddance. It was Savarkar and the modernist Hindutvavadis who reacted most sharply, understanding fully the importance of numbers for a modern politics of Hindutva.

And the nuts and bolts of this Hindutvavaadi project is the second aspect to which we must link the Jihad Against Love—what Paul Brass terms ‘institutionalized systems of riot production. The term ‘riot’ is a deliberate misnomer, suggesting spontaneous and unpredictable mass action. In fact, ‘communal riots’ in India involve, Brass demonstrated through extensive studies, carefully calibrated activities by people with precisely designated roles and responsibilities—informants, propagandists, journalists who produce propaganda as news. Brass noted two particularly important roles—that of ‘fire tenders’ who keep embers of communal violence alive by bringing to the notice of authorities, police and the public, situations known to be ‘sensitive’—genuine or bogus; and that of ‘conversion specialists’ whose job is to convert incidents with riot potential by inciting crowds, or by signalling already planted people to start the violent action.

Of course, Paul Brass only gives social science precision to what the poet Gorakh Pandey had sensed very clearly:

Pichhle saal dange hue, khoob hui khoon ki baarish
Agle saal achhi hogi fasal matdaan ki.

Last year there were riots, an ample monsoon of blood
Next year will bring a rich harvest during elections.

The pattern identified by Brass can be seen very clearly in UP before the by-elections of 2014. An outstanding series of investigative reports by Appu Esthose Suresh in The Indian Express revealed that there were over 600 ‘communal incidents’ since the Lok Sabha results of May 2014, 60 percent of which were near by-poll seats. A ninth of all communal incidents since May 16, 2014 have been Dalits versus Muslims, of which 70 percent were near by-poll seats!

Two major issues were identified by Suresh as triggering violence:

  1. Loudspeakers. Groups and political parties have transformed loudspeakers at places of worship into powerful instruments of communal polarisation, leading to clashes between Hindus and Muslims. In as many as 120 of the 600 odd communal incidents, the trigger for violence was seen to lie in a clash involving the use of loudspeakers. In many cases as we know, even when the issue is amicably resolved by the local groups, Hindutvavaadi outfits descend on the scene to ensure that no resolution endures.

  2. Elopements. Consider just one example—In Village Gaineridan, Police Station Jahanabad, on May 20th, a Muslim family took away by force their daughter, who had married a Jatav boy. Local BJP leaders demanded security for the Hindu family and the return of the Muslim girl to her husband, leading to tensions.

And compare it to BJP’s response in the case of Village Lisadi, Police Station Lisadi Gate, Meerut, where on May 30th, the local BJP leadership got involved after a Jatav girl eloped with a Muslim boy, to bring back the girl. 

Suresh sees the clashes between Muslims and Dalits as signalling “a fracture in the BSP’s once-potent social engineering experiment”, but in fact, does not the cause for these clashes signal precisely the success of that experiment? Young Dalits and Muslims falling in love—what could be a more potent potential ‘solvent of caste’ and community identities?

Charu Gupta has pointed out that this present Hindutva campaign against ‘Love Jihad’

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…

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.

It’s been a long hard battle of almost a hundred years for the Hindutvavaadis. And every step they take, it seems young people are several steps ahead of them!

Now, adding to the growing list of young people thwarted in love, tortured emotionally and physically, under tremendous pressure both from their families as well as from  the arms of the state, often the police—are the young woman whom I have called ‘The Meerut Girl’ and the man she fell in love with, Kaleem. The media reported improbable and fantastical tales of serial gang rapes and forced conversions in a madarsa, in the spinning of which, the hand of the institutionalised systems of riot production was very much evident. But now that the young woman has run away from home and sought protection from the police, the role of the local Hindutvavaadi outfit is very clear—in conniving with the family to arrest Kaleem, intimidate and victimize his family, and keep the young woman under house arrest under the careful watch of her family.

All India Democratic Women’s Association had visited the area when the news broke, and issued a statement at the time. In a new statement after the young woman ran away from the clutches of her family to the police, seeking protection, AIDWA states:

An AIDWA delegation had visited the hospital in Ghaziabad where the young woman was admitted on 9th August and had met her family members. We had issued a statement then in which we said that while we fully sympathised with the young woman who was in great distress and in bad health, there were serious discrepancies in her story and facts that had come to light about the reasons for her earlier hospitalisation, also conflicted with her statements. We had, however, said that her statement must be acted upon by the authorities until further enquiries were carried out. At the same time we condemned the way in which the BJP and its sister organisations were using the incident to inflame communal passions and using it as evidence of the ‘love jehad’ that they insisted was being carried out in UP and other parts of the country…

AIDWA expresses its grave concern at the fact that women face the greatest insecurity not only in public spaces but within their own homes. ‘Honour killings’ and the fear that they inspire are responsible for much violence and also for miscarriage of justice in many cases.

Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Women’s Association says in a Face Book post:

This woman had to run away from her home to protect herself and to be able to tell the truth about her love, freely. How right is Alok Dhanwa’s poem Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan, when it says

?? ?? ?????? ????? ?????? ????? ????? ???
?? ?? ?? ??? ????? ????? ??

‘How visible the shackles of the home become
when a girl runs away from home.’

After all, people run away from jails, that’s called ‘jail break’. What makes girls run away? They run away when homes become jails.

Journalist Neha Dixit had met the woman, whom she calls S, on August 30th at her home, but had ethically, not gone public with what would then have been a journalist’s dream scoop, because she was worried about S’s safety once the story broke. Now that S has come under the protection of the law, Neha writes:

S told Al Jazeera that she wanted “justice”.

“See, my life is over. Wherever I live, I will always be taunted about this whole incident. They say that my body and womb is impure, [but] now I want to have a face-to-face conversation with Kaleem to know what he wants. See, when you are in love with someone, you are equally responsible. If we are wrong, we both should be punished. Why should I let him suffer all his life for nothing?”

Fearful of “honour killing”, she said: “Had I not gone to the police, they would have killed me.”

She was insistent on her decision to marry Kaleem.

“Yes, I will. Religion does not matter. He had no problem with me continuing with Hinduism and visiting temples after marriage. Whose religion is bad? No one’s. It is us who have divided people as Hindus and Muslims but actually we all are one.”

And then there are 19 year-old Ayushi Wani and her husband Joseph Pawar, in his 20s, who had married in an Arya Samaj temple in Bhopal and run away to Gujarat, hunted down by the police after her family registered a complaint, with the police then declaring their marriage ‘invalid’, an act they have absolutely no locus standi to perform.

Alirajpur SP Akhilesh Jha told The Indian Express that he took the decision to declare the marriage invalid because it seemed like the best option at the time, given that 300-400 activists had surrounded his office and the threat of arson and damage to government property loomed large.

What would Jha have done if the crowd outside his office was protesting a death in police custody, or demanding action in a rape case against a powerful man say? If that crowd was growing violent, and he feared “threat of arson and damage to government property”? Lathis, rubber bullets, water cannons, actual bullets? Have the authorities ever hesitated to use any or all of these to dispel crowds of protesters?

But when has lathi-goli stopped young love! Deep in BJP MP Yogi Adityanath’s territory, journalist Seema Chishti found several Hindu-Muslim marriages, in which no conversions had taken place, both in powerful families and ordinary working-class families:

Adityanath had himself spoken to the police to “retrieve” Dipika Singh, now married to Dilshad Afsar. “A mobile bill of Rs 1.30 lakh in a month, some years ago, was the price we have paid to be together,” laughs Dilshad now. Dipika studied in a “convent”, a fact underlined several times in Basti, a place that has long been suspended between being a town and a city. She met Dilshad in college, where they studied together. Her parents did all they could to stall their marriage and involved the police, which brought in the Hindu Yuva Vahini. Their troubles continued till Dipika stood before the Allahabad High Court two years ago and said she wanted to stay with Dilshad. She is finishing her B.Com now and plans to pursue her masters. Dilshad is a lawyer. 

In 2011, a runaway lesbian couple from Khekada village in Baghpat, Beena and Savita, were granted police protection by an Additional Sessions Judge who recorded in a matter of fact way that the two women had married each other by signing an affidavit before a public notary in Gurgaon. Savita’s parents said they had disowned her and that villagers of Khekada were upset with the Gurgaon court for recognizing a lesbian marriage.  The couple’s case was to come up for hearing again on August 16.

Their counsel, Durgesh Boken, said another lesbian couple may get married after that hearing. “They are awaiting the judgment in this case. They are also from the same region,” Boken said.

What The Meerut Girl and Kaleem, Ayushi and Joseph, Dilshad and Deepika, Savita and Beena and tens of thousands of others teach us is this.

There’s just so much The Parivar—whether biological or Hindutvavaadi—can do.

Emotional blackmail, physical brutality and the chains of Duty in the armoury of the first; one hundred years of propaganda, violent politics and often, state power in the arsenal of the second; and what have they got to show for it? Blood on their hands, yes—think of the heartbreaking story of Ilavarasan and Divya, the Dalit man who married a Vanniyar girl, leading to caste violence in Tamil Nadu in 2013, and who was found dead in suspicious circumstances on a railway track. ‘After falling in love, I saw the reality of caste’, he said in an interview before his death.

But even in these terrible times, every single day, another young woman decides to risk her very life on the strength of a glance, another young man defies death for a smile.

Subversive youthful desire—it’s enough to cheer up the most jaded of middle aged anti-romantics!

This first appeared on Kafila


1. BJP man gave Rs 25,000 to kin of girl who alleged ‘love jihad’

2. Audio recording of interview with S by Neha Dixit


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