Irfan Engineer

Love Jihad Campaign and the BJP:

The fact that the term “love jihad” was coined much later shows that it is by way afterthought. Though a massive attack and campaign was mounted during the Usha Bhargav case in Jabalpur in 1961 and Hanif-Varsha case in Bardoli in 1998, and in many other cases, charge of “love jihad” was not levied. The attacks on interreligious marriages were on usual ground of abduction and rape, which is normally resorted to by parents of the woman who decides to choose her life partner.

As the term jihad was popularized by media to signify terror attacks alleged to be carried out by SIMI or Indian Mujahideen or such organizations, a clever Hindutva mind borrowed the term to stigmatize interreligious marriages particularly those involving Muslim man and a Hindu woman. Jihad, many Islamic scholars have argued, means to strive or to struggle, and is struggle with self to control one’s ego, desires, greed, negative emotions like jealousy, fear that leads one away from God’s path etc. However, thanks to medieval Muslim rulers and numerous politically motivated organizations misusing Islam on one hand and the media on the other hand, they popularized jihad to be some sort of war against non-believers including terrorist attacks. Jihad was linked to stigmatize interreligious marriages first in Kerala only a couple of years ago and the term was later exported to Northern Karnataka where HNOs extensively campaigned against Muslim boys and Hindu girls dating.

Though the HNOs in Karnataka aggressively propagated against interreligious courtships even exaggerating the incidences and attributing motives on part of Muslim youth, their real target was individual liberties and freedom of choice, particularly of the women to chose their life partner. In fact they were opposing dating and courtship itself among the young people and imposing a code where son and daughter are expected to obey the parents in all decisions pertaining to their lives, including choices of life partner. The campaign against marriage by choice of siblings became immensely popular among the elders in the community. However, achievement of the campaign using the term “love jihad” was that even the university students, who normally support interreligious marriages, were mislead to oppose it. When our organization – the CSSS had organized a workshop in an upcoming university for their students, this writer was surprised by the opposition encountered to interreligious marriages.

UP Elections

The BJP won limited seats in the UP Assembly. For the 16th Lok Sabha elections, BJP identified UP is a crucial state if it had to come to power. Babri Masjid issue did not attract the electorate. The HNOs were therefore actively propagating and problematizing interreligious interactions between young people. The campaign was extensively taken up in the Jat dominated Western UP where communities are particularly sensitive about “honour” of women and where khap panchayats are fairly strong. Jats and Muslims once enjoyed good relations and fought together for the Independence right from the 1857 rebellion. In fact the muley jats that inhabits Muzaffarnagar are recent converts to Hinduism. Jats and Muslims together were the backbone of the Bharatiya Kisan Union of Mahendra Singh Tikait and politically supported both the communities politically supported Charan Singh and later Ajit Singh. A steady and sustained anti-love jihad campaign for a couple of years helped polarize the communities on religious lines. As the 16th Lok Sabha elections were approaching and winning a couple of seats in UP for the BJP was crucial to win the General Elections. Aggressive propaganda commenced to polarize the electorate. All issues were tried. The issue that helped most in stoking anti-Muslim feelings was Muslim boys and Hindu girls courting each other or Muslim boys teasing Hindu girls, though boys of all castes and communities tease girls irrespective of their religion and have misogynist attitudes and nurture patriarchal culture.

Muzaffarnagar is one of the most developed and prosperous districts in UP. The rate of industrial development is faster in than many other districts and towns with sugar, steel and paper as major industries. With prosperity, education is growing as well. Due to increasing education among young people, there is increased co-mingling across gender, religion and caste. This leads to increased conflict between old cultural norms and traditions, particularly of strict rules of exogamy and endogamy in arranging marriages, and new sites of socialization which affords anonymity and makes it difficult to enforce caste and community norms in traditional ways. The khap panchayats of various castes were struggling to re-impose restrictions, particularly on young women. The propaganda of love jihad therefore struck a sympathetic chord among the elders of the Jat community and politicised the issue of feudal order and honour of women. Continuous propaganda fuelled to anti-Muslim sentiments and ultimately leading to Jat-Muslim riots in Septenmber 2013 which in turn further polarized the situation. Muzaffar nagar riots further polarized the communities along religious following and the BJP reaped rich electoral benefits. The BJP is hoping to repeat its electoral victory in UP Assembly by-elections, and hence is pursuing anti-love jihad campaign to keep the communal pot boiling at least till the UP Assembly by-elections in the 11 constituency necessitated by the MLAs getting elected as MPs. There is nothing more to it.

Caste, Gender and anti-love jihad of the HNOs:

Campaign by the HNOs against “love jihad” is not simpliciter opposition to abduction and rape or even seduction of Hindu woman by Muslim men, but it is opposition to “mixing of blood” between various castes and between the two communities. Caste system prohibits intermarriages to perpetuate hierarchical social division based on birth. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in his essay on “Castes in India” feels that prohibition of intermarriages or endogamy is the essence of caste. Ambedkar writes, “Caste in India means an artificial chopping off of the population into fixed and definite units, each one prevented from fusing into another through the custom of endogamy. Thus the conclusion is inevitable that endogamy is the only characteristic that is peculiar to caste, …” (emphasis as in original). Caste based hierarchies cannot be perpetuated without controlling women’s sexuality.

Though the anti-“love jihad” campaign appears to be campaign against an “enemy community” having evil designs, it is also simultaneously a campaign to strengthen control over Hindu women and assert patriarchal authority by the men of the family and community. The family and the caste decides where they should get married following the exogamous gotra (prohibited degree of matrimonial relations) considerations and endogamous norms, economic status of the families, agreement over dowry etc. The khap panchayats enforce these norms and dealing violent and immoral punishments to those who cross these boundaries, which include sexual assault on the woman involved and murder, which ironically is called honour killing. The khap panchayats have drawn the limits – lakshman rekha – which confine the young women of the community and include not travelling after sunset, unless accompanied by a male relative, not carrying mobile phones, restrictions on internet usage, dress code to be followed and places to be visited. The Muslim community and the khap panchayats impose same restrictions on the women of the community. The anti-love jihad campaign finds ready and willing support among the men in particular and elders in general having daughters in the family as it is a backhanded campaign for restrictions on women’s movements impacting their education, participation in livelihoods, access to family assets, liberties and choices.

HNOs’ anti-love jihad campaign not only targets the ‘enemy community’, it also targets the women of Hindu community by imagined incidences and exaggerated claims as in all other campaigns. Without substantiating, according to the campaign, there have been 25000 cases of Muslim boy-Hindu girl marriage in Kerala alone since 2006! Social media, print media and violence is deployed to repeat the inflated figures and so widely broadcasted that it is accepted as factual position. This creates a situation where Hindu women themselves submit to the restrictions imposed by the men of the community and see them as protectors. However, Hindu women need to be protected from Hindu men as well, just as Muslim women face marginalization and oppression from Muslim men as well. Female foeticide, dowry deaths, sexual assaults by men within the family and close relatives, teasing, pawing and pinching in crowded places, stalking, denying inheritance, discriminating in every field, domestic violence, matrimonial disputes etc. are but a few examples. The HNOs are not known to have taken up the cause of gender justice and security of women from the men of the family they belong to.

Indian Democracy and interreligious marriages

The HNOs want us to believe that there is something devilish about young people getting attracted to each other, developing friendship and choosing their life partners. Will the 100 “smart cities” that PM Modi wants to develop practice gender and communal segregation? If communities inhabit together, they interact, including young people and attractions are natural. Interaction between followers of different religions and cultural traditions in fact helps people understand themselves better and learn good things from each other. Interaction not only enriches all cultures, it also produces interesting cultural diversity. Urban cities provide spaces for such interactions be it neighbourhoods, markets, educational institutions, recreation spaces, work places, public transports, and common struggles to improve quality of life and better environment. Such spaces make segregation of communities and gender extremely difficult if not impossible. Young people will explore the world afresh and unlearn the prejudices and limitations of previous generations and look at the world with their own perspective.

Indian Constitution gives rights to citizens to profess, practice and even propagate religion of their choice and have individual liberties and right to exercise their choice within the confines of law. While the communal elite want those rights to be vested in the elite of the respective community and to impose uniform, homogenous and hegemonic culture that restricts liberties of individuals. The khap panchayats and communal elements want to negate the liberties and choices which individuals are vested with in a democracy.

The people of India emerging out of colonial rule gave themselves a democratic constitution with a vision of social justice, pluralism and embracing diversity. The Constitutional vision, unlike the khap and communal vision was to allow the individual freedom to choose and fashion their lives, including their life partners. Therefore, in 1954, Special Marriage Act was enacted for two individuals, whether belonging to different religion, caste, linguistic or ethnic group or not they could solemnize their marriage without any religious or traditional rituals with mere vow to accept each other as their life partners. While the Hindu Nationalist view, as indeed of other communal and caste elite, is to invade and fetter individual liberties and monitor choices of individuals and set up organizations, institutions and mechanisms to force communal and parental choices on people. Gujarat Model empowering the revenue officials to invade personal choices of life partners. Affording liberal choices would steer India towards a stronger democratic country with rich diversity.

To achieve this goal, we will have to build robust educational institutions which encourage students to critically explore the world. The educational programmes should not be confined to schools and colleges but to the sites where feudal hierarchies are asserting and essentializing religion and caste identities. Education and knowledge comes from the sites of struggles to change the world and to empower the marginalized. We must ask the younger generation – the aspirational generation which was mislead to vote for those who put restrictions on individual choices – What would they want – India that is marching towards democracy and liberating the marginalized or feudal hierarchies investing in perpetual supremacist and hegemonic claims, conflicts and stigmatization of the other. I have no doubt that the aspirational generation would choose the former.