A section of India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some right-wing, Hindu activists in India have recently been in the news for their vociferous, public protests against ‘Love Jihad‘, an alleged phenomenon in which young Muslim men reportedly target and “lure” young non-Muslim girls by feigning love and then forcibly convert them to Islam at the time of marriage. There are some who even say that post-conversion, the women are sometimes dumped and the men move on to conquer new targets.
However, the question that a large section of Indians are asking is whether ‘Love Jihad’ really exists or is it a myth that is being purposely propagated for religion-based political gains.
The complaint against ‘Love Jihad’ is not new and neither is it confined to India alone. However, while allegations keep emerging out of India, Pakistan and even the United Kingdom, the majority of the Indian media continue to regard it as a conspiracy theory and political propaganda by right-wing activists and politicians.
Anand Ranganathan, (@ARangarajan1972) contributing editor at Newslaundry.com, conveyed this sentiment:
An overwhelming majority of Indian journalists have termed Love Jihad (aka Grooming) as statistically insignificant and a hoax.
— Anand Ranganathan (@ARangarajan1972) September 19, 2014
In India, the outcry over ‘Love Jihad’ first hit national headlines in 2009, based on reported cases from coastal Kerala and Karnataka. However, the issue then lost steam and reports became a rarity until this year, when championship-winning Indian shooter Tara Shahdeo claimed that her husband Ranjit Kohli (alias Rakibul Hassan Khan) posed as a Hindu to get married to her and that she only found out about his religion a couple of months later. Tara filed an FIR (police report) alleging that she was assaulted by her husband for refusing to convert to Islam.
Close on the heels of this story came reports of other similar incidents, including a case in which a girl alleged that she had been gang-raped and then forcibly converted. These cases sprung into the limelight, bringing the issue of ‘Love Jihad’ out of the closet once more, triggering fierce debates — both online and offline.
Many felt that the ruling BJP was focusing on the issue to garner Hindu votes in an upcoming by-elections. However, the results, which were declared on September 16, 2014, showed that the BJP had in fact lost some of the landslide advantage (and seats) that it had won just four months ago in the national elections.
Seemi Pasha (@seemi_pasha), an editor and anchor at a well-known mainstream news channel, tweeted:
— seemi pasha (@seemi_pasha) September 16, 2014
But does ‘Love Jihad’ exist and is it in reality the social problem that some make it out to be? Or is it a hype, a myth even? The opinion seems to be divided among the masses, with stances often reflecting the person's religious and political leanings.
For example, Anil Kumar (@AnilAarush), who describes himself as an iconoclast from Bihar and is a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweeted his belief that ‘Love Jihad’ exists. According to him:
All potential tara Shahdev need to be warned in advance; whoever is spreading awareness is doing great service, #LoveJihad is reality
— Anil Kumar (@AnilAarush) September 10, 2014
On the other hand, Rachana Raj (@integrated_me) rubbished the idea. She wrote:
I don't believe in Love Jihad and all the rubbish … your girls and boys shouldn't be so gullible , if they are , fault in your upbringing
— Rachanasm (@Integrated_me) August 25, 2014
Her sentiments were seconded by Deepak Mehta, a young executive assistant living in Mumbai, who commented on Quora:
With high confidence, we can say it does not (exist). As in, there is no such centralized activity happening anywhere in India. There might be some delusional individuals doing so, but there is no large-scale, collaborated effort. There have been numerous investigations by the Kerala and Karnataka state police and CID (Crime Investigating Department), all of which failed to unearth any evidence or proof…The issue is being given a communal flavor by extremist organizations who have nothing better to do.
There are still others who are either unsure about whether to believe that ‘Love Jihad’ exists or not. For example, Shikha S (@shikha_shrivas), who is a computer engineer, appeared confused. She mentioned:
I am confused. Some say it is false, some believe it is overblown, some argue it is a local menace. Another case? http://t.co/E0veglzek3
— Shikha S (@shikha_shrivas) August 30, 2014
In order to understand how the youth felt about the issue, Global Voices spoke to a few young Indians.
Sidharth Kini, a member of the BJP’s Youth Wing in Bangalore, appeared to be a firm believer that ‘Love Jihad’ is a reality. He said:
Love Jihad’ is a very old concept but the terminology is new. The Arab rulers waged wars in the name of Islam and forced people to either convert to Islam or give up their lives. Further, during Mughal rule [in the 16th and 17th centuries] conversion of Hindus was very severe; they demolished Hindu temples, destroyed statues, and burnt Vedic scripts
According to Kini, teenage girls are not only lured into marriage but also often ensnared for trafficking:
Teenage Hindu girls are (their) main target as in that age their thinking won’t be mature enough and they will easily fall for money and the rich image created by Muslim boys. Even though these guys are poor, they are financially aided by various organizations so that they can buy branded attire and costly bikes. These boys are instructed to build friendship and then a strong relationship so that the girl will become ready to come with them leaving behind her family.
Nidhi Raina, a 23-year-old employee of Mercedes-Benz India in Bangalore, said she does not find it difficult to believe Love Jihad exists. She said:
I think young women could fall for it. The entire process is so well crafted that it doesn’t give the real intention away very easily. It’s just like how terrorists are recruited by brainwashing
Mandeep Chawla, a 22-year-old mechanical engineer originally from Ranchi and now working in Bangalore, felt the same, though he admitted that not all conversions were forced:
Every religion has some good in it and many people see the good part of the Muslim religion, which leads them to accept. This is mainly because other religions generally teach them the good knowledge there already is in their own religions. But to certain extent Muslims are praised when other people come to their religion, because according to their teachings they will get a reward from God from converting a disbeliever into a believer. I think that it (Love Jihad) is definitely possible. History stands as evidence here. I just feel that some Muslims have misunderstood what the Qur’an teaches and stands for by indulging in forced conversions. However, one cannot neglect that many Hindus and Christians convert to Islam by free will and not all conversions are forced.
Shruthi Nadig, a 22-year-old engineer also from Bangalore, however, disagreed. She refused to accept that girls could be so gullible:
If you're asking my personal opinion, I would definitely disagree. Considering the fact that I am an independent person aware of the stuff happening around me, I don’t think i could be lured, I believe I am not that naïve. But sometimes you fail to notice a person's real intentions, mostly because the time you spend with this person is too long and you believe in this relationship for the way it has turned out so far. So, I guess it's possible depending on the seriousness of the relationship.
Mohammad Aaqib Jameel, an employee at Tata Consultancy Services in Bangalore, felt that jihad was a pious term in Islam, and using it for such trivial purposes did not go down well with him:
Jihad is probably the most misunderstood term in today’s world. It’s saddening that parties use it for all such non-sense. I just don’t understand how just love would be sufficient to convert a person’s religion, something they have followed from their childhood!
Even as the nation debates the reality of this phenomenon, some Hindu right-wing organizations have started a campaign called “Love Trishul” — “to save young Hindu girls trapped in the clutches of ‘Love Jihad'”. Some other communities have gone to the extreme of preventing young girls from using cellphones in order to “protect” them from ‘Love Jihad’. Religion aside, this has sparked a debate around gender and personal freedom.
R. Jagannathan (@TheJaggi), editor at Firstpost & Firstbiz, reacted to this news:
@radharaju18 The problem with Love Jihad is, even if partly true, accepting it will result in further curbs on Hindu women Not worth it.
— R Jagannathan (@TheJaggi) September 23, 2014
Only time will tell what the reality of ‘Love Jihad’ is. For now, one thing is for sure: ‘Love Jihad’ could fan communal tensions in a diverse India, as it already seems to have polarized its population.