‘Love Jihad’ campaign revived after a century to show women their place

Historians claim to have found elements of ‘Love Jihad’ in communal propaganda in 1920s. Hundred years later same forces have revived campaign to put fresh restrictions on women’s mobility

Allahabad High Court
Allahabad High Court


On 20th October 2020, the chairperson of National Commission for Women Rekha Sharma tweeted about “rising cases of Love Jihad”. Less than two weeks later on 31st October 2020, the Chief Minister of BJP ruled Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, announced during a by-election meeting in Uttar Pradesh that his Government “will work to strictly stop love jihad by formulating a stringent law”.

On 5th November the Chief Minister of BJP ruled Karnataka announced his Government’s decision to end the ‘social evil of Love Jihad’ by promulgating a law against it. On 17th November, the Home Minister of BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh announced that a ‘Love Jihad’ Bill will be soon introduced in the state assembly with provisions of five years rigorous punishment for violators. Just hours after his statement, the Home minister of another BJP ruled state, Haryana announced the setting up of a committee to draft a law on ‘love Jihad’.

It is quite evident from the above series of events that the BJP Government is aggressively pursuing its agenda of promulgating an anti-conversion law and thereby criminalizing inter-faith marriages and relationships. The term ‘Love Jihad’ has now become a potent tool in the hands of Hindutva movement to strengthen communal consciousness and propagating hate, anger and mistrust.

Also known as ‘Romeo-jihad’, the term ‘Love-Jihad’ was coined in 2009, by the then ‘fringe’ Hindutva groups like ‘Shree Ram Sene’ and ‘Hindu Janajagruti Samiti' in Karnataka, to push their theory of Muslim men out on a mission to seduce and allure Hindu Women in order to convert them to Islam and thereby increase their absolute numbers. This ‘theory’ initially was also supported by a few Christian organizations in Karnataka and Kerala. After a period of relative lull, this propaganda picked up pace after the victory of BJP in Uttar Pradesh in 2016. Immediately after Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister of UP, he announced the formation of ‘anti-Romeo Squads, whose objective was to target young men and women in public places.

In the aftermath of failure of Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement and with the Moplah rebellion of 1921, the Indian subcontinent saw the growth of communal politics and thereby of communal consciousness. With several re-conversion Sudhhi campaigns by Arya Samaj and counter campaigns by Muslims of Tabligh and Tanzim, North India saw a spate of riots from 1922 to 1926. This was also the period of growth of Hindu communalist organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

These organizations in order to build a unified Hindu political body opposed to Muslim ‘others’, started to propagate the narrative of ‘abduction’ of Hindu women by Muslim men. This narrative of ‘abduction’ was deeply entangled with the ‘re/conversions’ movement or suddhi campaigns and helped to sharpen the boundary of Hindus and Muslims community. Even today the narrative of ‘Love Jihad’ is being articulated in legal language around the theme of religious conversions evident from the recent ruling of the Allahabad High Court over the matter.

Charu Gupta, a Delhi University historian found an ‘uncanny’ resemblance between the ‘abduction’ narrative and conversion campaigns of Arya Samaj in 1920’s and the present day narrative of ‘Love Jihad’. Gupta, found a lot of tracts with provocative titles like ‘Hindu Auraton ki Loot’, ‘Hindu Striyon ki Loot ke Karan’ and several poems, doing rounds in the 1920s in present day Uttar Pradesh, which projected conversions/abduction as planned movement of Muslims to increase their numbers. These campaigns projected Hindu women as victims of Muslim abductors, thereby calling Hindu Males to organize and collect fight against them.

In the abduction/conversion narratives propagated by Hindutva organizations in 1920s’, as Gupta shows, the Muslim male was projected as ‘sexually charged, lustful and aggressive men’. This image of ‘Muslim male’ is present even today and informs the narrative around ‘Love Jihad’.

In a recently published book titled, Love Jihadis: An Open-Minded Journey into the Heart of Western Uttar Pradesh, journalist Mihir Srivastav and Raul Irani have brought out the story of one God-woman named Chetna Devi, leader of an outfit Akhand Hindustan Morcha, and her mission to “save Hindu girls from being ‘trapped’ by ‘sensuous’ Muslim men”.

Hindutva propagandists like Pushpendra Kulshrestha continuously asks his Hindu male audience to take their sisters and daughters on outings, picnic, cinema etc. so that they don’t fall for Muslim ‘puncture wallas’ who receive funds from Islamist groups to purchase designer clothes, mobile phones, vehicles etc. and buy expensive gifts to woo away Hindu girls.

‘Love Jihad’ forms an important component of communal discourse in Indian society, which according to Paul Brass are one of the chief reasons behind communal Riots. During the East Delhi riots, the narrative of ‘Love Jihad’ was an important component of Hindu mobilization and violence against Muslims. A forwarded Whatsapp message reads: “Wo apney chetra me ladies tailor ki dukaan kholengey ya chudi bechengey, aisey kaam karengey jissey mahilaaon sey unka sampark badh sake aur love jihad ko badhaya jaa sake”. (They will open up tailoring shops in our areas or sell bangles, they will do such jobs that will ensure that they talk more to our [Hindu] women so that love jihad can be facilitated).

How deep the narrative of ‘Love Jihad’ runs and how vicious it can get can be gauged from the backlash faced by an innocent Surf Excel Ad in 2019, which showed a pre-teen Hindu girl and a pre-teen Muslim boy playing Holi and the most recent Tanisq Diwali Ad which showed interfaith marriage. The Hindutva machinery accused both the advertisements promoting and propagating ‘Love Jihad’.

The concept of ‘Love Jihad’ like the earlier construct of ‘abduction/conversion’ is a product of seeing women’s body primarily as a child-bearing machine and as a marker of community/family ‘honour’. This formulation is specifically concerned with ‘numbers’ of Hindu and Muslims.

The neo-fascist thesis of Muslims overrunning Europe, apart from immigration is also based on the belief that Muslim men are luring White women. The epithet of ‘Jihad’ before ‘Love’, gives the impression of a clear and present danger; the word ‘Jihad’ invokes the imagery of terrorism which must be dealt with in the most ruthless and decisive manner.

Love Jihad not only demonizes Muslim men, but also deprives the concerned women of her agency and choice. The ‘Love Jihad’, propaganda specifically aims to curtail and limit the participation of women in public sphere. The mistrust and panic, which ‘Love Jihad’ propagates, only leads to the imposition of more restrictions on the mobility and social-interactions of Hindu women. It serves the twin purposes of demonizing and othering the Muslim male and at the same time controlling the Hindu female.

Despite several ‘official’ investigations conducted by NIA, State CID’s and police in several inter-faith marriages, no evidence of ‘Love-Jihad’ has been found. In one of the most high-profile cases of alleged ‘Love Jihad’, known as the Hadiya Case, the NIA did not find any ‘evidence’ of ‘Jihad’ and had to close the case in 2018.

‘Love Jihad’ is anti-Women, anti-Constitution and deeply Islamophobic as it criminalizes an entire group of people because of their religious identity.

(Views expressed are the author’s own)

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