What is needed is to combat the ‘love jihad’ propaganda, which is being done with unimaginable intensity and is vitiating social peace. The need for national ‘help lines’ and support systems for such isolated girls in painful relationships is the need for the hour.
The headline-grabbing case of the brutal violence against Mumbai girl Shraddha Walkar, who was murdered in Delhi by her live-in boyfriend and her body chopped into multiple pieces, has shaken the whole nation. It is a gruesome and utterly despicable crime.
Since the culprit is Aftab Poonwala, a Muslim, the unnecessary angle of 'love jihad' is being inserted by some people into the case in a bid to highlight the negative aspects of interfaith relationships, where Muslim men allegedly seduce helpless Hindu women to marriage with the aim of converting them to Islam.
Many of these relationships, marriage or living together, occur without the concurrence of parents or close relatives and friends. They cut off contact with the defiant girl who is left defenseless in an atmosphere where patriarchal notions are dominant and some men involved in such relationships resort to violence.
The women in such situations are disowned by their families and the communication between the girl and relatives/friends is cut off, leaving the girls more vulnerable. A section of the media plays up sensational and gory details of the crime, airs that repeatedly to attract eyeballs, compounding the social problem.
In the case of the Aftab-Shraddha case the uncalled-for communal twist not only shows the rising tide of divisive politics in India but also tends to hide the real problem of violence in such alliances. Prominent rights worker Kavita Krishnan points out that "The issue is not men from one community being abusive towards women from another community; making this the focus simply surpasses the actual cause.”
Toxic social media
Two tweets (translated from Hindi) summarize the propaganda which has been instilled into the social understanding. The first communal one by BJP’s Kapil Mishra states, “Bollywood, media, ads that promote false constructs like brotherhood, politics that is soaked in the blood of daughters, rich and upper middle classes drinking the poison of fake secularism, the sold police and the jihadi education model. Don’t blame daughters for murders like Shraddha.”
This second one, highlighting patriarchal thinking, is by one Tapan Das: “The biggest weakness is that we have not been able to keep our sisters and daughters within our grasp. They are left free to do what they want. If parents and brothers keep an eye on each and every sister’s/daughter’s movements, then I do not think anyone else will fall in love so soon. They will be caught in the net.”
This is just a sample of what is circulating in social media which is not only intensifying the prevalent hate but obfuscating the basic issue related to violence against women, more particularly those in interfaith and inter-caste relationships.
No empirical basis
'Love Jihad', a faux social construct, has been popularized in large sections of society by communal organizations. Love Jihad does not believe in the agency of women and girls being capable of taking their own decisions. This is part of the patriarchal ideology of religious nationalism. Politicians upholding Hindutva politics are now promising new laws for "protecting Hindu girls". Unfortunately, even Supreme Court judges are directing the government to do something about preventing conversions.
The 'love jihad' bogey was floated a few years ago from Kerala. The propaganda was that it aims at the conversion to Islam of non-Muslim girls as ‘sex slaves’ in terror networks in Syria, Afghanistan etc. The case of Hadiya Akeela Arunan marrying Shafik Jahan and converting to Islam showed how this propaganda was totally wrong. She was supposed to be a victim of 'love jihad', and part of a sinister plan to recruit Hindu women for ISIS. Hadiya stuck to her choices of her partner and religion right up to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the charges of state authorities as totally false. In a landmark verdict [in 2018] the Supreme Court upheld the right of Hadiya to marry outside her religion.
In recent months, the states of Karnataka, Assam, Haryana, Gujarat, all ruled by the BJP by itself or in coalition, have promised laws to curb ‘love jihad’; Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and, in recent weeks, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, have passed laws that criminalize conversion by marriage.
In its reply on 11 November 2020, the National Commission for Women (NCW) stated that “no specific data under the category of complaints related to ‘love jihad’ is maintained by the NCW,” indicating that there was no empirical basis to justify the charges of ‘love jihad'.
Documents provided in response to an RTI (Right to Information) request show that the Kerala Police too found no evidence of ‘love jihad’. This was in response to question from the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) to investigate the complaint it had received from the Syro-Malabar Church on 14 January 2020. In its complaint to the NCM the church had alleged, “It is a fact that 'love jihad' is happening in Kerala targeting Christian girls in a well-planned manner.”
What is needed is to combat the ‘love jihad’ propaganda, which is being done with unimaginable intensity and is vitiating social peace. The need for national ‘help lines’ and support systems for such isolated girls in painful relationships is the need for the hour. Seeing the total picture should make us realize the social nature of the problem and the need to overcome the communal propaganda.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)