On March 12, residents of Mira Road —a western suburb in Mumbai— witnessed a sea of people wearing saffron caps and flags marching through different areas. Later, the demonstrators organised a rally where leaders made passionate speeches on a range of topics like “love jihad, land jihad, forced conversions, and a call for the economic boycott of the Muslim community”.
One of the speakers who addressed the rally was Kajal Hindustani, a right-wing activist. She has a verified Twitter account and 95.4 thousand followers. These include Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While addressing the huge crowd, she said, “There are three major aspects of Islamic aggression — love jihad, land jihad, and the problem of conversion. For these three Suleimani keedas (pests), there is a Ram-led solution, a solution for which you will not be stopped by the political leaders, the Supreme Court, or even the media. That solution is their economic boycott.”
Hindustani alleged that Muslim fruit- and vegetable-sellers lace produce with toxins and warned people from buying from these “jihadi vendors”. She said: “Spend extra and buy from Hindu vendors. Let the money that you spend go to the house of a Hindu.”
Hindustani also said that the Naya Nagar locality in Mira Road is occupied by 97-98 per cent ‘jihadis’. She asked, “Where will Hindus seek refuge?”
To give a perspective to those who don’t live in Mumbai or have never been to Mira Road, the Mira-Bhayander suburb is often termed as “Muslim-dominated”. A few years back, a birth certificate issued to a resident in Mira-Bhayander revealed a settlement called ‘Bangladesh Zopadpatti’ and an electricity bill had a mention of a ‘Chhota Pakistan’. It was not a co-incidence that the March 12 rally —flagged off by Geeta Jain, an Independent MLA from Mira
Bhayandar, attended by BJP leaders including MLA Nitesh Rane, and members of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal— was organised in Mira Road.
Starting November 20, 2022, at least 50 “Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha” rallies have been organised across Maharashtra in almost all 36 districts. The first one was held in Parbhani district in the background of the outrage over the murder of Shraddha Walkar by her partner Aaftab Poonawala. The organisers said the rally was to create awareness in Hindu society about the dangers of love jihad.
Organised by Sakal Hindu Samaj —a conglomerate of Hindutva organisations under the banner of the Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha— the aim of these rallies is to put pressure on those in power to have in place strict laws on cow slaughter, love jihad, and religious conversions. The organisers of these rallies have said they will stop only when these laws are enforced across the country.
Among the sea of people who attended the Mira Road Rally was Sakshi Gupta, a homemaker. She was accompanied by her husband, a shop owner who sells roasted peanuts, chickpeas, and bhel. He keeps warning Sakshi about love jihad, but she could never really understand what it meant. But, according to her, after listening to Hindustani’s speech, she did. “I am also at risk because I am a Hindu. My husband has banned me from wearing green-coloured saris or salwar kameez. It is a Muslim colour,” says Sakshi.
The large attendance of women at these right-wing rallies is a new phenomenon, pointed out Shankar Gaikar, General Secretary, VHP (Maharashtra unit).
“Love jihad resonates among women. They fear that they will be a target of love jihad. This is why they are attending the rallies in such big numbers,” said Gaikar.
Nearly 4,000 people belonging to various Hindu outfits participated in a similar Jan Aakrosh Morcha rally held in Vashi and Navi Mumbai on February 26. In January, nearly 10,000 participants chanting anti-Muslim slogans marched from Shivaji Park in Dadar to Kamgar Maidan in Prabhadevi.
“Who are the people attending these rallies?” asked Imtiyaz Jaleel, Member of Parliament from Aurangabad and the president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). “These rallies seem to be well-crafted, orchestrated, fully sponsored and executed by the government. In almost all the rallies, Muslims are being threatened and the language used is terrible. The courts must take cognisance of these rallies that are creating an alarming situation across the country.”
On February 3, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking a ban on the proposed ‘Hindu Jan Akrosh Sabha’ in Mumbai on February 5. A petitioner named Shaheen Abdullah had approached the court seeking to ban the rally alleging that anti-Muslim hate speeches were made in the January 29 rally in Mumbai by BJP MLA from Telangana T Raja Singh. The top court gave a go-ahead to the February 5 rally on the ground that “nobody will make any hate speech and act in defiance of law or disturb the public order”. The SC ordered that the events should be videographed.
The Mira Road rally, in which hate speeches were allegedly made, was organised a few days later.
Hindustani, a prominent speaker in most of the rallies in Maharashtra, was arrested by the Gujarat Police on April 9, a week after delivering a ‘hate speech’ in Gujarat’s Una on March 30 on Ram Navami, which triggered communal clashes in the town. While some FIRs have been filed in Maharashtra, no action has been taken against perpetrators and no arrests have been made by the police.
Jaleel alleges that there are two sets of rules for demonstrators. On March 9, Jaleel and 1,500 others participated in a peaceful candlelight march in Aurangabad against the renaming of the city to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar.
“A case was registered against me and a few others for holding a rally without permission. But when the Hindu Jan Aakrosh rally was held here —without police permission— and inflammatory speeches were made against Muslims, no FIR was filed against anyone. Two ministers were present at this rally,” says Jaleel.
While Jaleel believes that these rallies are an attempt to polarise the state and create animosity between the two communities, Gaikar, a regular speaker at these rallies, says that these rallies will continue until the government brings a law against love jihad.
The vibrations of the Hindu Jan Aakrosh rallies resonated in the Maharashtra Legislature, forcing Devendra Fadnavis —Deputy Chief Minister and in-charge of the Home portfolio— to make a statement in the Legislative Council during the budget session in March this year.
Fadnavis informed the legislators that the state government was actively considering a new law against love jihad which will be within the Constitutional framework. He had also informed that the Director General of Police will be instructed to sensitise the police force. In addition, a standard operating procedure (SOP) will be issued for taking quick action in cases where the parents complain that their daughters have been cheated through love jihad and cannot be contacted.
Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde —who walked out of Shiv Sena in 2022 alleging Uddhav Thackeray, the former chief minister and son of the party founder late Balasaheb Thackeray, had moved away from the Hindutva principles propagated by the Shiv Sena founder— is using these rallies to bring back hardline Hindutva into Maharashtra, say sources. The presence of Shiv Sena leaders and ministers from the faction headed by Shinde is an indication of that, they say.