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Love Jihad, but not actually

Updated Oct 19, 2014 07:47am

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Love Jihad warning circulated on social media
Love Jihad warning circulated on social media

Power crisis, water shortage, farmer distress — voters in Maharashtra’s Akola district, which goes to the polls this month, have plenty of reasons to boot out their local legislator — Bharatiya Janata Party MP Govardhan Sharma. However, Sharma, who is contesting for a fifth term is hoping to sidetrack them with a different issue — love jihad — a term coined by right-wing groups to denote Muslim boys’ attempts to befriend Hindu girls, followed by offers of marriage and later the alleged forced conversion to Islam.

Sharma’s election speeches and interviews are infused with references to “us and them”. From a ban on shopping, using mobile phones, observing a strict dress code, Sharma is full of advice on how to prevent young Hindu girls from getting “trapped”. Sharma and his supporters from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, also a part of the Sangh Parivar, an umbrella of Hindu nationalist groups, claim to have rescued thousands of Hindu women from the clutches of the “other” over the last few years.

Sharma’s pronunciations are in line with speeches made by senior BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath in the run up to the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. While the propaganda poisoned the atmosphere in a communally tense state, it did not help the party make any significant inroads. In fact, many within the BJP acknowledged that the love jihad issue was an ‘own-goal’. Since then senior leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been careful to avoid any references to love jihad, choosing instead to focus on economic development and good governance. However, the fact that it continues to surface shows that the issue is far from underground, and that party foot soldiers see in it a tool to polarize communities.


If it were true, the insidious conspiracy by Indian Muslims to seduce and convert Hindu girls may have been a great vote-getter for the BJP in the Maharashtra polls. Except that it wasn’t, and it likely won’t


The propaganda has been further undermined by an alleged victim of love jihad in Meerut — a case that right wing groups have harped much upon — recanting her earlier statement that she was kidnapped, gang-raped and forced to convert to Islam. The ‘victim’ recently told the police that she had eloped with a Muslim man, who she was later forced to implicate under family pressure. Her family has also admitted to being paid off by some right wing groups.

Incidents that Charu Gupta, a history professor at Delhi University, who has researched issues of gender and sexuality, show that while in the short term, the spectre of love jihad may have been raised with elections in mind, “In the long term, the uproar indicates the unease felt over the growing number of inter-religious marriages and women’s freedom. It amounts to complete control over the Hindu girls’ movements and reveals an anxiety over women making independent choices. Portrayal of Hindu women as victims of false love shows the need felt not so much to pro¬tect them, but to control them by restricting their movements. Women are duped by Hindu men as well as men of other religions, and each case needs to be dealt with individually and not regarded as some organised conspiracy”.

BJP candidate Govardhan Sharma addresses a public meeting at Sinddhi Camp in Akola-Vidharbha
BJP candidate Govardhan Sharma addresses a public meeting at Sinddhi Camp in Akola-Vidharbha

The conspiracy theory finds great support especially on social media, and has led to a climate of fear and unease, even in urban areas. A number of couples in inter-religious marriages contacted for this article requested that they not be identified.

Filmmaker Natasha Badhwar, a Hindu married to a Muslim, and among the few who did not wish to keep her identity a secret believes that it an indication of how communal ideology has gained more mainstream ground. “It has been normalised by political parties seeking to get popular by inciting hate between communities.” Badhwar, who did not convert to Islam and is often targeted on social media for betraying her nation and community says “people come out and type abuse that they might have tempered in real life or not expressed to one’s face. We seem to have forgotten that many people marry each other because they fall in love and decide to live together as a family.”

“I would have thought there would be more acceptance of such relationships by now”, says Laila Ibrahim*, a Mumbai-based college teacher in her mid 40s who has been married to a Hindu for 16 years. Neither she nor her husband changed their religion, and their children follow both faiths. “I suddenly feel very Muslim. Since the build up to Modi becoming PM started sometime early last year, the note has turned shrill”, she says. “Suddenly it is OK to say offensive things which are not based on any historical fact. Personally I have seen a lot of families, Hindus and Muslims, have opened up to the idea of inter-faith marriages. But the larger political rhetoric is making them wary.”

Adityanath has sparked controversy due to his strong Hindutva remarks made during campaigning in the past
Adityanath has sparked controversy due to his strong Hindutva remarks made during campaigning in the past

The political atmosphere was not charged when Mumbai-based Shabana Aslam,* 62, decided to marry a Muslim in 1978. However, she faced strong opposition from her conservative Gujarati Jain family. “My parents warned me that he would marry again and would force me to eat meat. We were scared that they would try to separate us, so we opted for a nikaah so we could marry quickly.” That meant converting to Islam and a change of name. “My in-laws were very accommodating about my food habits but to lose the name I was born with was a wrench —after all that was my identity.” When Aslam’s daughter chose to marry a Hindu, she and her fiancé had the support of both families and neither chose to convert.

Away from the rhetoric on campaign trails, the TV studio debates and social media, it is these stories that are gaining strength. There is a rise being seen in inter-religious marriages, says Dr Gupta. She cites Uttar Pradesh, a state she has extensively researched, to make her case. “Lawyers in Allahabad say that 10 years ago, they used to get three or four cases a month of inter-religious or inter-caste marriages. Now there are 30-40 cases in a day. Love really knows no boundaries and this kind of censorship will not work on the ground.”

*names have been changed to protect identities.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 19th, 2014

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Comments (23) Closed



Indian Christian Oct 20, 2014 03:39pm

The reality is that when a Hindu / Christian girl / boy is getting married to a Muslim, he / she is forced to convert to Muslim. But Hindus / Christians allow the inter-religious couple to follow whatever faith they want. There is an organised team of Muslim boys around India with the idea of Love Jihad in our schools and colleges.

Diwakar Dubey Oct 20, 2014 04:47pm

For the few such cases, whole should not be targeted. There are a lot of positive things in inter religion marriage.

Akbaruddin Oct 20, 2014 05:31pm

Even if it is propaganda which is not can minority in Pakistan even think of doing this?

salman Oct 20, 2014 06:40pm

@Indian Christian well if that is the case, i wish those boys best of luck. it is my opinion that they are doing the right thing. you may differ.

salman Oct 20, 2014 06:44pm

@Akbaruddin yes. they can . and happens several times.

more over don't under-analyze things or over-simplify. In pakistan the sheer numbers are far far less than in india. if the instances here in Pakistan are less, if is a number factor as well more - over indian is a Hindu country and Pakistan is a Islamic state, and Islam as a religion allows marriages to all (ahle-kitab) prophet following religions, christains, jews orthodox even (maybe), but prefers that for more harmony the partner should convert to Islam, esp. in Man's case as children often follow the fathers' religion. Islam hence is more accomodating than Hindu-ism and Christanity ( for example Catholics are not allowed to marry muslims)

Ravi-Akola Oct 20, 2014 06:46pm

My birth place is Akola district...Akola city is in Marathi region but here nobody speak in Marathi, Hindi -Urdu is dominating over Marathi. Reason is ratio of Hindu:.Muslim is 6:4......We don't have any problem of Load shedding, water, employment etc...but we have so much problem of Hindu-Muslim riots

Payal Oct 20, 2014 06:52pm

The Love Jihad has got nothing to do with inter-religious love marriages which is very common in India. It is about cheating another person into marriage for a malicious agenda. There is has been a few instances of girls being cheated into marriage because of a radical religious propagation and lots of girls have either died or got tortured or missing. Common Muslims getting married to Hindus is not an issue. There are a few innocents who have become victims though.

Hashim khan Oct 20, 2014 07:06pm

India needs to stop marginalizing and play politics

Shah Oct 20, 2014 07:28pm

Love-Jihad. That is pretty much as outlandish a thing that you will get to hear about muslims(and you get to hear many). Muslims are not permitted to marry anyone outside the people of the book, and that too is only allowed to men (according to classical/traditional Islam). This is not something hidden, it is open and common knowledge. Hence muslim men if marrying outside their religion require their spouse to change religion (because to the men staying within Islam is important). If the women of other religions do not want to convert then don't marry these men. Keep your principles and morals strong and try not to blame others.

NASAH (USA) Oct 20, 2014 07:38pm

Hindutva gives the impression that in India it is the Hindu majority that is drowning in the sea of minority.

Tejaswi Oct 20, 2014 08:16pm

This is a old story now. This term was coined in last by-election for 10 parliament seats by few BJP MPs. Despite huge popularity of Modi and BJP at that time, BJP was only able to win 4 seats out of it. People of India rejected this ugly idea completely. In my opinion next generation in india after 10-15 years will have a very high ratio of inter religion and inter caste marriages. And this is very healthy for our country.

Sunil Oct 20, 2014 08:22pm

Using other religions weapon on them itself, looks like.

sandeep Oct 20, 2014 09:05pm

@salman People like are the reason for something called fanaticism. Ever hard of it?

Aamir Oct 20, 2014 09:33pm

@Payal If this is so rare, then what is the issue? Where are the voices saying this is not an issue?

Ahmer Oct 20, 2014 09:38pm

@Indian Christian There is no compulsion in Islam. Please read the Holy Quran. The fact is that the Hindu/Christian girls when they come in close contact with Muslim boys are impressed by Islam's beauty and decide on their own to convert to Islam.

bilal Oct 21, 2014 02:12am

People on this side of border are as hypocrites as on the other side. Yes we do share many traits with india.

Sadiq Oct 21, 2014 03:26am

@Ahmer Yea right. Why would any self respecting woman convert and give up her human rights?

shyam Oct 21, 2014 05:21am

One thing I did not understand, how come an MP ( member of Parliament) is going to be booted out, when elections are happening for state( province in Pakistan).

Why should MP sharma needs to side track the development agenda if he is not contesting

Love jihad was used mostly during bye elections in the state of Utter Pradesh, it is not a big surprise that BJP lost its seats.

In india, people have so many issues to worry about, religion or anti pakistan stance will not give results every time.

Intelligent Oct 21, 2014 05:29am

Love jihad is a truth and it is not isolated to only India,it is everywhere,targeting girls in name of spreading Islam isn't a hidden thing.In Britain they call it sexual grooming of non-Muslim girls.Many of the Muslim boy's specially of Pakistani origin have been arrested.They mostly target's Sikh girls and white women.In Pakistan kidnapping of Hindu girls and then marrying is very prevalent in parts of Sindh and Karachi specially.You can't deny it and it is clear cut fact,no reason to be blind.This issue has not came from vacuum,there are few incidents which made a ground for these protest's.RSS is just making people aware that "look these things could possibly be happen you should be careful".

Vineet Oct 21, 2014 06:23am

Why only India? Find out what is happening in Britain? Just Google 'Girls grooming in UK' and you will find the facts.

Son of Sardar Oct 21, 2014 05:46pm

Even Muslims won't deny this fact that they will accept interfaith marriages as long as the non-Muslim partner converts. This has been happening in UK, Canada and in US as well.

Mr Universe Oct 23, 2014 08:45am

@salman Dear Saman, just one correction. India is not a Hindu country. It is secular, democratic country not only in pen paper but also in practice. And that is the reason every community including Muslims could increase their population% after independence. I agree with you that Pakistan is an Islamic state. The current less than 1% Hindu population in Pakistan was around 15% at the time of Independence.

Mr Universe Oct 23, 2014 08:57am

Love Jihad did not work in UP by election and BJP dumped this issue after that. Thanks god, Indian democracy getting matured. Modi shunted RSS during his tenure in Gujarat and now it is interesting to see how he is going to handle them.