By Aakriti Suresh
Amidst the mounting Corona crisis and economic distress, it is interesting to note the myriad ways in which the public attention is diverted towards inconsequential issues. Now when Rhea’s character assassination has eventually lost the sickening vigour it had generated among the masses, ‘Love Jihad’ has come to take its place as the most significant agenda that the ruling party and media believe deserves the nation’s attention.
The Yogi government on Tuesday passed the controversial ‘Love Jihad’ ordinance against ‘unlawful’ and ‘forceful’ conversions. The law essentially decrees penalties up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 15,000 if the conversions are found to be coerced, effected through fraudulent means, or for the sake of marriage, thus essentially criminalizing inter-faith marriages.
‘Love Jihad’ or ‘Romeo Jihad’ is part of the larger anti-Muslim propaganda of the right wing which asserts that there is a pan-India conspiracy hatched by Muslims to convert Hindu women to Islam on the pretext of marriage. While the term appears to have been coined in 2005, the history of this fictive claim goes back to the 1920s where revivalist Hindu groups and their militant religiosity aimed at severing communal harmony by asserting that there was a sharp increase in the abduction of Hindu women by Muslim “goons”. In the last 100 years, the propaganda has only strengthened, with an evolved, more anachronistic vocabulary of Jihad, making the Hindutva paranoia against Islam more evident than ever.
It is important to note that there has been no official evidence of forced conversions through manipulation or trickery or the false claim of love. The National Commission for Women, in response to an RTI filed on the actual number of ‘Love Jihad’ cases in India claimed that there is no specific data on this matter. In fact Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, in Feb 2020, himself stated in the Lok Sabha that the term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws. “No such case of ‘Love Jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.”
Nevertheless the BJP and the ‘Godi Media’ continue to project this as a dire issue that needs to be dealt with. Why is that? What does the right wing’s aversion to inter-faith relationships tell us about the regressive ideas that they seek to propagate?
Given the religious fascism that rests at the centre of Hindutva ideology, their not so covert disgust with the very existence of Muslims on Indian soil is no secret. The idea that Muslims have launched a campaign to lure Hindu women and deceptively convert them to Islam projects the image of Muslims as fradulent, untrustworthy and, needless to say, aggressive and violent.
This goes very well with the Hindutva agenda of otherising the Muslims and projecting them as enemies who are hellbent on wiping away the ‘Hindu’ essence of ‘Hindustan’, something they have learnt from their forefathers who invaded the Indian soil in the 12th century and have been wreaking havoc since then.
This conversion of Hindustan into Dar ul- Islam, according to the conspiracy theory, will happen through an increase in Muslim population, one way to do so is to forcefully marry Hindu women and thereafter produce Muslim offsprings. Thus, what lies at the centre of the theory is the urgent need to control the sexuality of Hindu women whose wombs have been turned into battlegrounds on which the politics of hate is played out. The onus of keeping the sanctity of the Sanatan Dharma intact lies with the woman, thus the urgent need to control her body and her fate.
What is equally appalling is that if Muslim men, on one hand, are insatiable sexual beasts, Hindu women that willfully decide to marry them are seen as docile, uninformed beings who, given their innocence, fall prey to the salatious means of the Muslims. The fact that a woman can be empowered enough to decide her own fate, the freedom to choose who to love and who to marry is a concept that is essentially incomprehensible to the hyper nationalistic, patriarchal ways of the Hindutva brigade. Women are, therefore, passive agents in this war. The law-abiding, righteous Hindu man has to protect the women of his community, just like he would protect his land, from barbarous vultures.
It should not be assumed that such a regressive attitude towards women is characteristic of some fringe elements of society. Instead, misogyny defines the very axis of our social fabric. Time and again international polls have ranked India as the most dangerous country for women.
While increasing rapes, cases of acid attacks, and domestic abuse are some of the most evident forms of violence against women in this country, mass media has come to play a huge role in propagation of patriarchy and discrimination against women and their right to liberty. The most recent case of Rhea Chakrabarty and the slander campaign that was orchestrated against her by media giants confirmed the toxicity that breeds in people’s minds. The witch hunt that was launched against the actress very well exhibits that society is not just biased against women, but outrightly hates them—for being assertive, for refusing to be the victim, for standing up for their right to choose. The idea of women as commodities and the need to police women’s ways of life is what keeps patriarchy alive. Then be it Love Jihad or Marital Rape, women’s consent, at the end of the day, doesn’t matter. Neither do they have the right to say ‘Yes’ or the right to say ‘No’.
Aakriti Suresh is a research scholar at the Department of History, University of Hyderabad. Her research interests include gender, politics, and culture.
(Views expressed are personal)