A fundamental tenet of Hindutva is that Hindus and Muslims are inherently different and do not share a common humanity. Love, even friendship, between them is unnatural. When couples defy this interdiction, Hindutva translates love as war by other means. It is true that conservatives from all Indian communities oppose love across religious boundaries: indeed, they oppose love marriage in favour of marriages arranged strictly by families. But what is new under Modi’s regime is a concentrated focus on intercommunity love and marriages that are renamed as Jihad: the Islamic term for holy war.Footnote 5 What is also new is the coming together of state police, family controls and Hindutva organisations to destroy such love. Anti-Love Jihad campaigns are accompanied with public attacks on courting couples, especially during Valentine’s Day celebrations, by VHP activists, men and women (The World Before Her, 2012). Recently, so-called ‘anti-Romeo’ brigades have been formed to capture and humiliate couples in public places. Attackers are Hindutva men and women—in one case, a BJP Member of Parliament slapped a woman in public. Love outside marriage is generally becoming more and more difficult to practise, although it has always faced difficulties.Footnote 6
Love Jihad refers to love between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man which, as a transgression of communal boundaries, is alleged to be a conspiracy to convert Hindu women. Since the 1970s, much violence against Muslim youths and their families has been organised under this banner, especially in Kerala and Mangalore (Yasser Arafath, 2014). It is not merely at the community level where transgressions of communal boundaries are policed. Authorities across different parties are also known to step in to give communal opposition to intercommunity marriage an official status. Let me cite an early instance from Delhi (Alam, 2014). In 1970, Javeed Alam and Jayanti Guha, a Muslim college teacher and a Hindu research scholar, married under the civil marriage act (Special Marriage Act, 1954, 1954), and both families warmly welcomed the match. But the principal of the Delhi college where Alam taught sacked him on grounds of abduction, and Hindutva posters shrieked all over Delhi, ‘Where is Jayanti?’, alleging abduction and forced conversion to Islam. Rumours vitiated Delhi even after Guha’s father wrote to the entire national media denying the charges. A supportive vice chancellor of Delhi University and the teachers’ union protested against the principal’s conduct, and finally Alam’s dismissal was countermanded. But allegations of coercion stuck irrevocably to the Muslim man (ibid.). All ingredients of what would later be called ‘Love Jihad’ are already in place in this early instance.
Another example of institutions projecting and policing the communal Love Jihad agenda can be taken from an interview with B.L. Sharma, a Delhi VHP leader, who told us in 1990 that their men routinely scour registry offices to scan marriage notices that have to be put up in advance.Footnote 7 If they find an announcement of an intercommunity marriage, they ask the parents whether they know and approve of it. If they do not, they try to block such marriages and, if they do approve, they try to dissuade them: the rationale being that such marriages are a prelude to, and a pretext for, conversion to Islam and for sexual annexation and exploitation of Hindu womanhood. In fact, Muslim masculinity and rape are practically synonymous in Hindutva discourses. Sharma went into a long and repulsively graphic account of Muslim lust from which Hindu female purity must be saved at all costs.Footnote 8 A Samiti leader stated in 1999: that Muslims have raped Hindus and therefore Hindus must rape Muslims (Sarkar, 1999). In the same sentence, the Hindu subject becomes the raped as well as the rapist: occupying a doubled sexual identity.
Anti-Love Jihad campaigns later shifted to North India, especially to Uttar Pradesh, a very large state that is key to Indian politics and which was, until very recently, ruled by a non-BJP regional party (Bhatnagar, 2015). The campaigns are a part of a larger package of pretexts for violence, where each issue reinforces all others and creates the perpetual ground for perpetual violence against Muslims—and sometimes against Dalits or untouchable castes. Anti-Love Jihad episodes in UP overlapped with mob lynching of Dalits and of Muslims who had allegedly slaughtered cows, sacred to caste Hindus (Citizens Against Hate Report, 2017). They, moreover, smoothly slide into longstanding allegations of forced conversion to Islam and Christianity, for reasons which will be discussed later. While cow vigilantes aggravate the vulnerability of Muslims and Dalits, Hindutva campaigns against Love Jihad and conversions share a common logic, as I will soon discuss.
The BJP eventually collected a spectacular electoral harvest from the package. Remarkably, intercommunity marriage, conversion nor cow slaughter is per se illegal or unconstitutional—the last being so only in a few states and under specific conditions (Sarkar and Sarkar, 2016). The larger purpose, for all such episodes, was to demonstrate that Hindutva mob rule is allowed to countermand the laws of the land.
‘Love Jihad’ incidents became abundant and massively publicised between 2012 and 2015 (Bhatnagar, 2015). Hindutva women formed the Women from India Against Love Jihad, and the media loudly reported all cases of intercommunity romance as episodes of rape, abduction and forced conversion of Hindu women (see, for example, the Meerut case reported in Koshy, 2015). Reports were embellished with garish visual illustrations of Hindu female vulnerability and Muslim male lust and ferocity. Yogi Adityanath said that these signified more than individual grossness among Muslims: these were nothing less than an ‘international conspiracy’ (Koshy, 2015). The notion of a conspiracy is implicit in the Love Jihad narrative. Neighbouring Pakistan is commonly cited as a training ground of Muslim youths in the art of seduction: to pretend to love innocent Hindu women, elope with and marry them, at which point they are then converted to Islam. There is also a parallel narrative, wherein women are abducted and forced to marry and convert. Either way, after marriage, the woman is forced to bear Muslim children and to provide slave labour to the entire family as well as sexual services to male relatives of her husband. She is then supposedly trafficked to Muslim countries.Footnote 9
So we have a dual beginning, in either fake love or in force. Both are projected as typical elements of the Muslim male personality: indicating sly manipulation of trusting Hindu sentiments on the one hand, and ruthlessness and cruelty on the other. Lust for Hindu womanhood and ingrained terroristic traits are blended together and both are routinely traced back to histories of Muslim conquests of Hindu dynasties in medieval times. Savarkar had attributed these conquests not so much to the desire for territories that typify all empires, but to a more specific Muslim desire for possessing Hindu female bodies: transposing the imperial onto a sexual register (Agarwal, 1995).Footnote 10
In an interview conducted in 2015, a VHP activist said that they have narrated these accounts at great length at various schools in Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh and currently ruled by the BJP.Footnote 11 When the principal of a Christian convent school objected, the entire local VHP was mobilised to blockade the school and she was forced to allow them in to address the students. Hindu girls were told to avoid even friendship with Muslim girls, lest they be lured into the family.
Let me briefly dwell on a couple of typical Love Jihad cases to underline certain generic features. In a highly publicised and sensationalised incident on 12 September 2014, a Hindu woman eloped with a Muslim man from a UP village, and the father alleged abduction. The Allahabad High Court, however, endorsed their decision as a consensual one. But after they returned home, the woman’s father threatened to kill her and forced her to file a First Information Report (FIR) at the police station that alleged rape, abduction and forced conversion. The case dragged on while the media was flooded with grisly horror stories of her fate in the Muslim household. The man was arrested and his family was harassed. But in October, the woman appeared in court, retracted her allegations and said that they were made under parental duress (Dixit, 2014).
A similar case was reported from Mainpuri district, UP. Muhammad Reyaz and Priya Gupta eloped; the village council met and decided to call it abduction; a police case was filed; and tensions ran high. Again, the woman deposed in court that the allegations were false. By then, however, Muslims had been attacked and their houses burnt (Suresh, 2016).
I personally knew of a 16-year-old Hindu girl who had a relationship with a local Muslim man.Footnote 12 At one point, the man wanted to break off the relationship. Outraged, she went to the local VHP don and complained of betrayal. They immediately took her to the police, and, in front of policemen, they held her hand and forced her into writing a story of rape despite her protests. Since she was under the statutory age of consent of 18 years and the police found evidence of sexual cohabitation, her later anguished plea that sex was consensual was useless and the man was arrested for rape. With her family’s support, and with extraordinary strength of mind, she then withstood VHP and police pressure and claimed that her sexual connections had not been with the Muslim man but with a Hindu one who has now vanished from sight. The complicated legal fiction led to the release of the man on bail, but, in the meantime, social ostracism was total, his family was under tremendous pressure, and he was forced to leave his job and the neighbourhood.Footnote 13
The stories share some common elements, though there are significant individual variations as well. Most often, families of the woman and the police join hands with VHP activists in fabricating a case of rape. There is tremendous pressure on the woman to file a rape and abduction charge. If the couple elopes, she is brought back and often made to stay with her parents while the case drags on. Parents then redouble intimidation to force the woman to repeat the story of rape in court. However, quite often, love wins and she retracts her report. A great deal, then, depends on how the courts deal with the cases.
Adding a relatively recent twist to the plot, in May 2017, Hadiya, a Hindu woman, converted to Islam and married a Muslim. The father complained, Hindutva outfits moved into action, but her decision stayed firm. The case went through the National Investigation Agency and the Kerala High Court, which ruled to annul the marriage and conversion and returned Hadiya to her parents. Her husband filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, which countermanded the ruling since Hadiya was an adult at 24 years of age. The appeal also said that investigations should be carried out to establish if there is a pattern of international conspiracy behind such actions (Ananthakrishan, 2017). Clearly, allegations by an extremist outfit have now acquired resonance at the highest judicial levels.
Even when families approve of a romance, there is already an overarching conspiracy theory in place that forces the narrative back to its predestined route. Muslim men are portrayed as generically lustful, the lust being deliberately directed at Hindu women. Second, Hindu young women, in their innocence, are often portrayed as being dazzled by their guile and charm. Third, it is alleged that Pakistan masterminds intercommunity love affairs with training that imparts seduction skills to Muslim men. Entire families are complicit in the conspiracy and unite in forced conversion and marriage, in brutal conduct and in trafficking: erasing, thereby, all boundaries between Indian Muslim men and families and global Islamic terror. It is interesting that the supposedly superior charm and attraction of the Muslim man are implicitly acknowledged in the subtext, perhaps indicating an anxiety about an imagined surplus of those qualities in Muslim men and their deficit among Hindus.
The real purpose of Muslim male love, then, is to turn Hindus into Muslims. First, by converting her, then by filling her womb with Muslim progeny. The Hindu numerical majority in India is thereby undermined, and India is fast turning into a Muslim majority country: easy prey to terrorists and Pakistanis who, too, are synonymous. One VHP activist from Bhopal bemoaned that Hindu men cannot counterattack in the same way as they find Muslim women unclean and disgusting.Footnote 14
Significantly, such reinterpretation of love does not apply when a Muslim woman marries a Hindu man. Demographic calculations get reversed in such cases, and the trope of the wily Muslim man with his voracious sexual appetite finds no purchase in the image of the Hindu man who has won a Muslim woman. Demographic anxieties are, moreover, constantly stoked by a bizarre arithmetic which is widely disseminated and absorbed. Each Muslim man apparently marries four wives, they say, as polygamy is allowed under ‘Muslim personal law’.Footnote 15 Each Muslim man then breeds at least twenty children at a time, whereas Hindus, condemned to monogamy, produce far fewer numbers. The arithmetic overlooks the fact that whether four women are impregnated by four different men or by one man, each will bear only one child at a time; therefore, neither monogamy nor polygamy makes the least bit of difference to the number of children a woman can have.
Love Jihad propaganda has, however, even longer roots. Abduction tales patterned along identical lines have reigned in UP and Bengal since the 1920s (Gupta, 2014). They merged with narratives of forced or fraudulent conversions to Islam. In both cases, abducted women and their future children, along with converted Hindus, add to Muslim or Christian numbers to undermine the Hindu majority.Footnote 16 By alleging an imagined act of force in the conversion of Hindus, Hindutva justifies the blatant use of its own aggression to ‘reconvert’ Muslims and Christians.
Why is demographic competition so important? It originated in 1919 pre-Partition India, when colonial constitutional reforms opened up some space for elections to legislative bodies. Muslims were then a very much larger minority population, and they had been given separate electorates even earlier. In the early 1930s, B.R. Ambedkar, the great Dalit leader, demanded separate electorates for untouchable Dalit castes, which threatened to further impoverish the Hindu numerical majority. In post-Partition India, however, the old fears are continuously replayed and strengthened in a fundamentally changed situation, where Indian Muslims have been reduced to much smaller figures and to a condition of enormous political, social and economic vulnerability and insecurity. Now the intent is internal colonisation.