Recently, Yogi Adityanath, Bharatiya Janata Party MP, and the party’s star campaigner in Uttar Pradesh which is getting ready for the forthcoming by-polls in September, made a passionate plea to his supporters to fight what some Hindu right-wing groups refer to as “love jihad” — an alleged conspiracy by Muslim men to entice, marry and eventually convert Hindu women to Islam.
News reports claimed that he demanded that his followers, predominantly men, take a pledge to “convert 100 Muslim women into Hindus for every Hindu woman converted into a Muslim.” Following him, senior BJP leader Uma Bharati also urged leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities to come together and find a solution to the issue.
The re-emergence of a campaign against “love jihad,” which was first reported a few years ago in parts of Kerala and coastal Karnataka, has surprised intellectuals and journalists alike. Just a few years ago, they had debunked these allegations with hard facts. Yet, they have again been forced to demand that pro-Hindu groups “furnish credible evidence that Muslims engage in ‘love jihad.’” Even recently, prominent Kannada writer Sara Aboobacker demanded hard evidence in the case of at least “five victims” of “love jihad.”
Resurrecting a non-issue
How was the Hindu Right successful in resurrecting a non-issue and converting it into a political issue a second time round? The answer lies in the fact that while Hindutva groups define the problem as an ideological one, the response has largely been non-ideological and objective, striving to disprove the hypothesis.
In a polarised society, the campaign seems to have derived its exchange value by combining conservative ideas masked as a defence of a Hindu woman’s right to religious freedom. It constructs a vindictive, conspiratorial Muslim “other” — one who is out to convert the world to his faith — while making the assumption that Hindu women are incapable of thinking for themselves. But it makes one valid criticism: women in our country are mollycoddled and are often forced to conform to the religious and cultural beliefs of their adopted families. This must stop.
The concept of “love jihad” is certainly not an Indian invention. Almost simultaneously, a cruder version of the campaign is being promoted by neo-fascist groups in Europe. A look at the Facebook page of the British far-right group, Britain First, a breakaway faction of the British National Party, would reveal how immigrant men, especially those practising the Muslim faith, are being portrayed as rapists and paedophiles. The group cautions white women and children to be wary of them. The activity on their page has seen a spike ever since the important report on sexual abuse — the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, which observed that the victims identified their perpetrators as mainly Asian — was made public. Clearly, the idea is working.
In recent history, the politics of constructing the minority as a threat to the majority was championed by none other than the leader of the Nazi party, Adolf Hitler. In his autobiography, Mein Kampf, Hitler writes about how a Jew systematically endeavours to lower the racial quality of the people and is a threat to the survival of the German race itself. He writes: “The black haired Jewish youth lies for hours in ambush, a satanic joy in his face, for the unsuspecting girl whom he pollutes with his blood and steals from her own race. By every means, he seeks to wreck the racial bases of the nation he intends to subdue. Just as individually he deliberately befouls women and girls, so he never shrinks from breaking the barriers race has erected against foreign elements.”
It is easy to see how the Hindutva version is just a slight variation of this basic anti-Semitic idea, with religious identity replacing the racial identity.
How else does one respond to it? Perhaps one could start by completely disregarding the facts, as suggested by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who, in his book The Sublime Object of Ideology, proposes an ideal ideological response to anti-Semitism.
The right to choice
But, When confronted by a German fascist who justifies the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazi government, claiming that the Jews are a symbol of Evil and the root cause for all social, economic and political problems faced by Germany in the early 20th century, one mustn’t, Žižek argues, respond with the all too predictable “all Jews are not really like that” argument, even if that is indeed obvious.
Rather, he says, one must respond saying: “The anti-Semitic idea of the Jew has nothing to do with the Jew. The ideological figure of a Jew is a way to stitch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system.” In other words, one must refuse to accept an anti-Jewish pogrom even if it is true that the Jewish community is consciously exploiting the German people.
This is the major difference between the two approaches: in the first case, the reproach, though well-meaning, flaunts facts to disprove the hypothesis of an organised Jewish conspiracy.
The second approach questions the very logic of how this “Jewish conspiracy” was imagined, making the hard “facts” irrelevant. Unlike the first case, it rejects the very ideological framework that has returned the “Jew” as primary reason for problems suffered by Germany in the early 20th century.
Similarly, when one comes across claims of “love jihad,” one must resist from demanding hard evidence. Rather, one must unambiguously assert that in a democratic country, people have a right to fall in love, live-in together, marry, convert to, or leave any religion as they wish. It must also be asserted that religious and political organisations have no right to regulate privacy. This could be the only logical response to a campaign that is deeply ideological in nature. Other facts don’t really matter in this case.