First, a confession: I am from a family that is apparently spawned from and breeds “jehadis”. This misguided family (full of uncles, aunts, cousins and sisters who married and produced children with partners outside the barricades of religion) thought they were making love, not war. We now know better after hearing Mr Bansal of the VHP tell the nation that it’s all part of a sinister design. As a collective and congregational exercise, members of the clan are now mulling over the political, philosophical and historical dimensions of how love turns to war and/or jehad.
Of course, most of us have lulled ourselves into a sort of blind belief in plural traditions and a pride in what we think are deeply imbibed secular values. Many of us are quite irreverent about religion and the self-proclaimed men of god. Some of us were raised in homes that celebrated Id along with Diwali, Holi and Christmas and that is what we pass on to our children, hopefully along with other convictions.
But another India is now noisily invading our senses and our sensibilities. It is not the India that embraces all, but the India of little men with even smaller minds, who diminish both Hindu and Muslim, men and women, reducing them to actors in the ongoing epic of Love in the Time of Hate. Like Mr Bansal (who is currently enjoying 15 minutes of TV fame), when the footsoldiers of this India speak, they mostly scream and hector. Such as BJP MP Yogi Adityanath: “They take one Hindu woman, we’ll take a hundred.” Gabbar Singh would applaud this dialogue!
Clearly, prejudice is passed off as ideology; garbage disseminated as fact. I was introduced to this mentality in the course of initiation into covering the BJP/VHP/RSS, much before the term “love jehad” gained currency. In 1997, in another publication, I was exhorted by a senior editor to familiarise myself with what he called “the loonies”. I dutifully went to the VHP’s office in Delhi’s North Avenue to meet Giriraj Kishore, my first one-to-one conversation with a VHP leader. He examined my name card and then held forth about Hindus and Muslims. Muslim men, he said, had a surgery that made it possible for them to give greater “anand” (pleasure) to Hindu kanyas (nubile young women). Hence they were literally and metaphorically “at it”, particularly in Gujarat where apparently a seduction rampage was on at that time (the VHP leader’s special focus on Gujarat predates the riots or the coming of Narendra Modi).
I remember squirming with embarrassment both for myself and the aged demagogue referred to as “acharya” (wise teacher) by the faithful. The encounter quickly became hysterical as Kishore then moved from the theme of prowess of men of a particular religious denomination to the wonders of cow urine. He spoke with pride about a clock that kept ticking in melas (fairs) organised by the VHP on the “electricity” generated by gau mutra (cow urine). He suggested that cow urine would be the “bharatiya” solution to the energy crisis (the mind boggles at the thought of a nation collecting enough bovine pee to fuel its cars!). He then summoned one of his flunkies to give me a gift of holy cow urine churan and soap. He promised a healthier digestion and complexion if the products were used regularly. I would later gift these delectable items to the senior editor known for his leanings towards the BJP. The “loonies” were the subject of a long-standing joke.
The point of telling this tale is to illustrate the fact that the idea of the macho Muslim male seducing innocent damsels in order to convert them is not something new. The term ‘love jehad’, first used in Kerala and the Mangalore coast of Karnataka around 2009, is just a catchy phrase for a phenomenon the VHP-Bajrang Dal and other extremist groups in any case believe has been happening for thousands of years. Their visual idea of history seems to be somewhat like those Amar Chitra Katha comics that some of us may recall as depicting Muslims as slanted-eyed invaders with beards, while the “local” women are always shown as wide-eyed innocents of rather voluptuous proportion.
The notion of love jehad is at its core an insult to women, reduced to chattel, led astray sometimes by wicked men.
There are criminals everywhere who rape and abduct women. If there is a historical profile to be used, it would be upper-caste men and/or Muslims who controlled lands and would just pick up and devour women from the lower castes or social strata. It is very likely that following some cross-religious marriages, the woman is pressurised to convert. The recent case in Ranchi of national-level shooter Tara Shadeo, who has alleged that she was deceived by one Ranjit Kumar Kohli into marriage, only to discover that his real name was Raqibul Hasan Khan, is a sad individual tale with its own particular details. No responsible organisation in multi-religious India would see it as conclusive evidence of a trend involving over 144 million Indians.
More than an insult to men from a particular denomination, the notion of love jehad is at its core an insult to all women, who are seen as nothing more than chattel, led astray sometimes by wicked men with impure thoughts. But they can apparently be made to see the righteous path with the help of the VHP/RSS that has launched a “brotherhood” campaign in western UP where Hindu girls will tie rakhis on Muslim men. In the land of khap panchayats, brother and sister will presumably live in innocent harmony till the families decide it is time for wedlock and child-rearing to keep the caste and community lineage going.
Empirical socio-economic data should be collected from areas where love jehad is supposed to have happened and where it has now allegedly spread to. That would be Kerala, the Mangalore coast of Karnataka and now western UP. One can hazard an intelligent guess that in all these regions the Muslim community would be large in numbers, of which there would be a prosperous strata. They would have come up economically and it is also very likely that the more visible signs of this prosperity would be an increase in the numbers of minarets of madrassas and mosques.
During the May 2013 assembly elections in Karnataka, the BJP-RSS even made love jehad an electoral issue, although that could not avert their defeat. But after the tremendous Lok Sabha show in UP, the BJP has to strike deeper roots in the state where it has mostly been out of power for two decades. Critical byelections take place in 12 seats on September 13 and it is no doubt useful to keep the pot boiling. Even if there’s a let-up after that, the reality now is that the social compact between minorities and other social groups in the state has been broken, a process that began after the riots in Muzaffarnagar, exactly a year ago.
Still, people do live in the same towns and the chemistry of love and attraction cannot be circumscribed. Girls of one religion will continue to fall in love with boys from another and vice versa. But because the situation in UP is poised so delicately and the potential for trouble so great, here’s a suggestion for the Muslim community: clerics, prominent citizens and elders of the community should advocate a court marriage in the case of mixed couples. As it is, Muslim personal laws diminish women’s rights. If a girl from another community is to enter a Muslim home, a genuine effort should be made to have a more enlightened approach. In the small towns of UP, the community should organise, reflect and come up with a rational strategy. Clerics too must show that they can speak for something beyond defending regressive personal laws and feeding off the fears of a community.
Meanwhile, in the land of love jehad, I am still examining the family tree and calculating: how many men from the family got women from “that” side? How many women were lost to men from “their” side? My mathematics is poor but it looks like my family struck even—won some, lost some. But then, isn’t all fair in love and war?