Seeing the total picture should make us realise the social nature of the problem and the need to overcome the communal propaganda.
PROF RAM PUNIYANI
THE case of brutal, horrific violence against Shraddha Walkar has shaken the whole nation. It is gruesome and utterly despicable crime. One recalls with similar horror the case of Nirbhaya (Jyoti Singh), the Tandoor case, and the recent one of Abhijit Patidar, who slit the throat of Shilpa in a Jabalpur resort and video graphed it. One also recalls with equal fright when Rahul killed Gulshana in recent times.
In case of Shraddha Walkar since the culprit is Aftab, added angle of love jihad, inserted by some, into the problem, which young women, involved in interfaith relationship find themselves. Many of these relationships, marriage or ‘living together’ occur against the concurrence of parents or close relatives and friends. They cut off the contact with the defiant girl who is left defenseless in the atmosphere where the patriarchal notions are dominant and some men involved in the relationship take the utter step, leading the condemnable violence, not only in India but all over the world.
The women in such situations are disowned by their families and the communication between the girl and relatives-friends is cut off, leaving the girls more vulnerable. A section of media has got the sensationalising material and frightening gory detail of heinous crime are being presented repeatedly for the TRP battle, which adds to the problem.
In the case of Aftab-Shraddha the communal twist not only shows the rising tide of divisive politics in India but also it tends to hide the real problem of violence in such alliances. Prominent rights worker Kavita Krishnan points out “The issue is not men from one community being abusive towards women from another community. Making this the focus simply surpasses the actual cause.”
Two tweets (translated from Hindi) summarise the propaganda which has been instilled into the social understanding. The first one by BJP’s Kapil Mishra states, “Bollywood, media, ads that promote false constructs like brotherhood, politics that is soaked in the blood of daughters, rich and upper middle classes drinking the poison of fake secularism, the sold police and the jihadi education model. Don’t blame daughters for murders like Shraddha.”
This second one is by one Tapan Das: “The biggest weakness is that we have not been able to keep our sisters and daughters within our grasp. They are left free to do what they want. If parents and brothers keep an eye on each and every sister’s/daughter’s movements, then I do not think anyone else will fall in love so soon. They will be caught in the net.” This shows patriarchal angle very prominently,
This is just a sample from what is circulating in the social media with all its negative impact and not only intensifying the prevalent hate but at the same time eclipsing the basic issue related to violence against women more particularly those in interfaith and inter-caste relationships.
The term ‘love jihad’ is a very clever signal for an alleged conversion conspiracy. The projected purposes are presented as recruitment into Islamic terror groups, sex trafficking and changing India’s demography.
Love Jihad, the construct floated by communal forces has been popularised in large sections of society by communal organisations. Conceptually, this love Jihad does not believe in the agency of women and girls being capable of taking their own decisions. This is part of the patriarchal ideology of religious nationalism. Ministers and leaders who are upholding the Hindutva politics are now promising new laws for ‘protecting Hindu girls’. Unfortunately even the Supreme Court Judges are directing the Government to do something about preventing conversions.
Love Jihad bogey was floated few years ago from Kerala. The propaganda was that it aims at conversion to Islam, using non-Muslim girls as ‘sex slaves’ and to incorporate them in terror networks in Syria, Afghanistan etc. The case of Hadiya, Akeela Arunan, marrying Shafik Jahan and converting into Islam showed how this propaganda is totally wrong. She was supposed to be a victim of love jihad, and part of plan to recruit for ISIS. Hadiya stuck to her choices of her partner and religion right up to Supreme Court (SC). SC dismissed the charges of state authorities as totally false. It was relieving that the Supreme Court gave a verdict [in 2018] upholding the right of Hadiya to marry outside religion. Generally the love jihad bogey is a constructed one all over the country.
In recent months, Karnataka, Assam, Haryana, Gujarat, all ruled by the BJP by itself or in coalition, have promised laws to curb ‘love jihad’; Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and in recent weeks, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, have already passed laws that criminalize conversion by marriage.
In its reply on 11 November 2020, the National Commission for Women stated that “no specific data under the category of complaints related to ‘love jihad’ is maintained by the NCW,” indicating that there was no empirical basis for ‘love jihad’ crime. Documents; provided in response to an RTI request by Article 14 show that the Kerala Police too found no evidence of ‘love jihad’. This was in response to question from the National Commission for Minorities to investigate the complaint which it had received from the Syro-Malabar Church on 14 January 2020. In its complaint to the commission, the church had alleged, “It is a fact that Love Jihad is happening in Kerala targeting Christian girls in a well-planned manner.”
Many a BJP leaders are intensifying the love jihad angle in Aftab-Shraddha case. The Recent film “Kerala Story” takes the falsehood of love jihad to absurd limits by claiming that 32000 Kerala girls have been converted and taken to Syria-Yemen etc. The sources of figures are totally unreliable and the maker of the film has ruthlessly trampled the logic to arrive at such a figure.
What is needed is to combat the ‘love jihad’ propaganda, which is being done with unimaginable intensity and is vitiating the social peace. The need for ‘help lines’ and support systems for such isolated girls; in painful relationship; is the need for the hour. Seeing the total picture should make us realise the social nature of the problem and the need to overcome the communal propaganda.
Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views expressed here are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.