The notion of ‘love jihad’ is a classic example of a majoritarian party trying to tap into a sense of passive-aggressive injury. In the Indian context this consists of riffing on several related themes: we-are-peaceful-but-they-are-predatory, we-don’t-convert-but-they-steal-our-daughters, if-this-goes-on-we’ll-be-a-minority-soon
‘Love jihad’ is a sharp new name for a squalid prejudice. The cadres of the Sangh Parivar have, for years, described mixed unions, specially unions between Hindu women and Muslim men, as a form of covert aggression. It’s a position founded on two assumptions: one, that every romantic attachment between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman is an example of a larger, purposeful conspiracy and two, that since no Hindu woman in her right mind would voluntarily agree to such a union, every Hindu woman in such a union is either a dupe or a coerced victim.
There was a time when zealous Sanghis would pore over civil marriage notices in local courts to snout up information about interfaith marriages involving Hindu women. They would then turn up at the home of the Hindu woman to abet her parents if they were opposed to the match or lean on them if they weren’t.
Recently, the Sangh Parivar has been energetically peddling stories of Hindu women being duped into marrying men they thought were Hindu but were actually Muslim, or Hindu women being coerced by Muslim husbands into converting to Islam, or Hindu women being abducted by Muslim men and so on. Star campaigners of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh like Yogi Adityanath have made these allegations of ‘love jihad’ central to their election campaigns.
Usha Thakur, MLA and vice-president of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, went a step further: she called for Muslim men to be stopped from entering garbha festival venues to protect Hindu girls from harassment. Her position is entirely consistent with her party president’s electoral strategy of demonizing Muslims.
In the course of the general election campaign in April, Amit Shah set the tone from which Adityanath and Thakur have taken their cues, in a speech he made to a gathering of Jats in Bijnor. Attempting to frame Mayawati as someone who pandered to Muslims, he said that she had given 19 Lok Sabha tickets to a particular community (varg vishesh) which ‘flouted’ the sisters and daughters of his assembled audience and violated their honor. There was no ambiguity about the community in question: Mayawati had, in fact, allotted precisely that number of tickets to Muslim candidates. Amit Shah was categorically describing Muslims as a community of predators who targeted the aabru of Hindu women.
‘Love jihad’ is a useful way of giving this slander legs because it doesn’t need evidence or categorical proof to do its work. Any anecdote about a romance, an elopement or a marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man is grist to this mill because, according to the Sangh Parivar, such relationships, by definition, cannot be entered into in good faith on both sides: the Muslim man is always the thin end of a sinister wedge, a fifth columnist bent on subverting the solidarity of the Hindu nation from within. Should a Hindu girl inconveniently deny coercion or rape or conversion or abduction, as a girl in Muzaffarnagar did just last week, forcing the police to release her blameless boyfriend, Pervez, there’s always another story about a predatory Muslim aashiq to move on to.
Like all slanders, ‘love jihad’ works best in places where communal violence has already stoked distrust and hostility. It isn’t a coincidence that in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots an allegation that used to be confined to the rhetoric of the Parivar’s lunatic fringe is now the BJP’s favorite meme.
The notion of ‘love jihad’ is a classic example of a majoritarian party trying to tap into a sense of passive-aggressive injury. In the Indian context this consists of riffing on several related themes: we-are-peaceful-but-they-are-predatory, we-don’t-convert-but-they-steal-our-daughters, if-this-goes-on-we’ll-be-a-minority-soon.
That there are more than a billion Hindus in India, that many state legislatures have made conversion from Hinduism to Islam or Christianity a process that has to be vetted and approved by officers of the state, that shuddhi (‘re-conversion’ to Hinduism) has been a hardy staple of Hindu revivalists since the nineteenth century, is irrelevant. ‘Our’ existence as a nation depends, apparently, upon stalking and shaming and ‘saving’ Hindu girls who have been unwary enough to fall in love with Muslim men.
Curiously there’s no mention in the ‘love Jihad’ narrative of Hindu men marrying Muslim women. The assumption must either be that in these cases it is Muslim women who are assimilated into the Hindu fold, so that’s all right, or that if it is the Hindu men who convert, this is such an appalling prospect that it’s best not thought of or mentioned.
A party that reduces love across religious boundaries to a zero sum game, is a party that can’t conceive of love. In their campaign against ‘love jihad’ the whiskered patriarchs of the Parivar have given notice of a crusade of another kind: a jihad on love itself.
Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in Delhi. His most recent book is Homeless on Google Earth (Permanent Black, 2013).