Politics of ‘love jihad’
Spreading fear through stereotypes
HOW does Narendra Modi’s slogan Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikaas (inclusion and development for all) square up with the social-political reality experienced by India’s religious minorities? They had the most to fear from a BJP victory; some of their fears are coming true. Abdicating their duty, BJP leaders have failed to allay them.
India’s Muslims and Christians feared that they would face exclusion while being asked to subordinate their religious identities to a “larger”, essentially Hindu, cultural super-identity. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently said that all Indians must be called Hindu just as people who live in England are called English.
Worse, the Modi Cabinet’s sole Muslim, minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah, then said there’s nothing wrong with the term Hindu being used for all Indians as a label of “national identity”. Under flak, she claimed she had used “Hindi”, an Arabic geographical description, not “Hindu”. This claim was belied by the interviewer’s audiotape.
The BJP made a dismal start in the national elections. It fielded just seven Muslims of its total of 482 candidates, none of whom won. For the first time in Independent India, the ruling party has no Muslim Lok Sabha MP. This doesn’t speak of inclusion. The trend was reflected in the abysmal share (0.7 percent) of funds for the minorities in the last budget.
Symbolically, Modi sends out a similar message. He put on every conceivable headgear (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and tribal) in the past six months, but never a skull-cap. His is also the first Indian government which did not host an Iftar party during Ramzan. Even the Vajpayee government unfailingly did.
Symbols matter. India has national holidays on days important to the followers of all significant religions. Many scholars consider this a hallmark of Indian secularism which doesn’t oppose politics to religion, but follows the principle of nondiscrimination between religions.
The minorities’ fears of violence by Hindutva elements have also materialised, with 80 communal riots instigated in 100 days in Uttar Pradesh alone, and with 72 Dalit Christians converted to Hinduism.
Potentially even more dangerous is the insidious “love jihad” campaign being unleashed in UP, which claims that young Muslim men entice Hindu women into a romantic relationship or marriage only to rape them after converting them to Islam. This demonises an entire community. The BJP’s Uttar Pradesh president has become a party to this.
The entire Sangh Parivar is mobilising itself to fight “love jihad” in UP, inspired by Yogi Adityanath, who’s in charge of the state BJP’s campaign for the coming 11 Assembly byelections.
This is a throwback to the 1920s when the Arya Samaj and Hindu Mahasabha exploited the idea of violation of a woman’s body to create an artificial Hindu identity, and launched shuddhikaran (purification) to “reconvert” Muslims to Hinduism.
The strategy behind such campaigns is to create irrational insecurities and bring them into intimate spaces: the home, the family, the bedroom. The campaign doesn’t need a cataclysmic event or even a genuine case of forced conversion. Rumours serve the purpose.
It doesn’t matter if the Hindu woman concerned entered into a relationship with a Muslim man out of free will. Indeed, the whole idea is to deny such free will or independent agency to the woman. She is, by definition, innocent and gullible, while the Muslim man is wicked, sexually charged and violent. She must be protected against his designs.
These stereotypes exploit the patriarchal dread of female sexuality and free will, and permit self-appointed guardians of community “honour” to police young women’s behaviour.
The “love jihad” campaign tries to cover up the male aggression inherent to the patriarchal family and externalise it. It’s socially regressive because it reinforces masculine authority, tyrannical hierarchy and women’s oppression.
It promotes the idea that a woman cannot make free choices about love, pleasure or marriage; these must always be made for her by men, her self-proclaimed protectors.
It’s disgraceful that the BJP should stoop to “love jihad” to win the coming Assembly byelections. But this is part of a well-established pattern.
Now Yogi Adityanath, who faces several hate-crime cases, has launched a provocative attack on Muslims: “In places where there are 10 to 20 percent minorities, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20 to 35 percent of them, serious communal riots take place and where they are more than 35 percent, there is no place for non-Muslims.”
There’s a clear case for prosecuting Adityanath under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code for promoting hatred between religious communities. But BJP leaders are deafeningly silent on this.
There isn’t even a squeak out of Modi, despite his exhortation against communal strife “for 10 years”. But there could be a menacing sub-text here: India can safely return to strife after 10 years! Anyway, the exhortation sounds hollow.
If BJP leaders want a minimally inclusive and secure society, in which religious minorities don’t feel that they are being reduced to second-class citizens, then the party and its government must change their ways. Or else, they will divide India further –violently and irreparably.