New Delhi: ‘Love jihad? What’s that,” was Rajnath Singh’s clever comeback last September when reporters asked him about the bogey local Sangh parivar leaders were raising of an outlandish conspiracy by Muslims to seduce Hindu girls and turn India into an Islamic state.
By denying any knowledge of the very term, the Union Home Minister was distancing himself from a political campaign that borders on the criminal but which the Sangh high command is no mood to disown, condemn or abandon because it polarises life at the grassroots level and helps to ensure that Hindus act as a vote-bank for the BJP.
The next time the question comes up, however, Rajnath can do no better than to ask his ministerial colleague, Sanjeev Balyan, what ‘love jihad’ is all about. For Balyan has been caught on camera saying there is a “dangerous conspiracy to expand this operation” involving maulvis and masjids:
“In the beginning, (Muslim) boys would roam around on motorcycles in front of schools and Plus Two Colleges using Hindu names like Sonu, Monu, with a kalawa (sacred thread) tied around their wrists, pretending to be Hindus. A girl who falls in this trap would come to know only later, after eloping with the boy, that she is not with a Hindu. There have been a lot of such cases.”
Balyan was recorded making these fantastic claims in a sting operation run by Cobrapost and Gulail as part of an investigation into the allegations of ‘love jihad’ that Hindu right-wing organisations have been raising in states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The year-long investigation by the two web portals also captured several important leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad speaking about their role in stoking fears about ‘love jihad’.
The picture that emerges from these secretly recorded conversations and from interviews with the police is that ‘love jihad’ as a concept is an invention of the right-wing organisations who use a wide variety of methods – “violence, intimidation, emotional blackmail, duplicity and drugs” – to split up Hindu-Muslim couples. Most alarmingly, the Cobrapost-Gulail investigation has also revealed the widespread misuse of the legal system – including the police and courts – to victimise not only Hindu women who dare to marry out their religion, but also their partners.
Many leaders of the BJP and affiliated outfits, some of them implicated in recent communal riots, have been caught on camera detailing their methods for splitting up inter-religious couples. The reporters conclude that the sangh’s ‘love jihad’ operations evidently has “sanction from the very top” level of the BJP and RSS. This not only explains the pan-India reach of the campaign, which is being run all the way from Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka and Kerala, but also the “eerily similar” narrative around which the ‘love jihad’ propaganda is built.
The investigation was conducted primarily by Cobrapost correspondent Shishupal Kumar, and Shazia Nigar of Gulail, who met a number of right-wing leaders posing as an M.Phil student from Jawaharlal Nehru University associated with the BJP’s student wing ABVP.
Titled ‘Operation Juliet: Busting the Bogey of Love Jihad’, the Cobrapost and Gulail investigation reveals how “love jihad” was also responsible for the Muzaffarnagar riots that took place in 2013.
“Two BJP leaders, Sanjeev Balyan and Umesh Malik (who contested the Assembly election from Budhana on a BJP ticket and lost) confessed to their roles in these riots. Among these fanatics, we have Shiv Kumar, the founder of Krishna Sena, who claims to have been a Hindu terrorist whose job was to kill people from minority communities,” the report said.
A campaign for political gain
Referring to the rape cases filed by Muslim women in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots, the report said Umesh Malik, while addressing a panchayat meeting at Phugana village on January 29, 2014, had accused the administration of bias and telling lies and tried to portray the rape cases as matter of “family honour’’ for those accused. He had therefore urged all residents to not cooperate with the police in the investigation.
Malik had also accused the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind seminary at Deoband of training Muslim boys for ‘love jihad’. “Those people (Muslims) have eight children, ten children and they send one or two of them to Deoband. There the handsome ones are selected and trained to trap Hindu girls. They are told that if they do this, Allah will be pleased with them. Their religion says this. They do this work of trapping our girls and making them elope. In the last four months, 27 girls have eloped,” he claimed.
Another BJP leader, Kairana MP Hukum Singh – who was accused of rioting in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli – shared Malik’s views, the report said. He complained about how Hindus gave too much freedom to their daughters, while Muslims were becoming more and more conservative. Advocating moral policing as a solution to ‘love jihad’, Singh said, “The RSS is talking about this, the BJP is talking about this. While the BJP is countering it through politics, the RSS is doing it through social awakening.”
Union Minister of State for Agriculture Balyan, the report said, claimed that ‘love jihad’ was part of a deliberate attempt to change the country’s demography. “Every village has a maulvi… The maulvi asks them to produce children, so they do. The maulvi says that Muslims have ruled over this land for 700–800 years and they will again…, he said, adding, “There is now a dangerous conspiracy to expand this operation.”
Incidentally, Balyan too was accused of inciting people to not cooperate with investigations in the Muzaffarnagar rape cases and of giving a communal colour to events preceding the riots.
Emotional blackmail, false cases
Another firebrand BJP leader and MLA, Sangeet Som, when asked how he persuades a Hindu girl who has married a Muslim man to return to her parents, said: “We make her see the reason that this is not good for her. We tell her that they are Muslims, they never settle for one woman, whereas a Hindu boy will be automatically sent to jail if he does so. Most importantly, we exert on her emotionally that her mother will die, her father will die and brother might even commit suicide as he would not be able to face the society.”
Some of the right-wing leaders, like RSS leader Omkar Singh, claim to have even “rescued” Hindu girls. “I have rescued nearly 125 such girls from the clutches of the Muslims, till date,” he said, adding that most of the girls were remarried into Hindu families. He narrated how this was achieved by slapping false cases against the Muslim boys. Using language strikingly similar to Balyan, he said: “After the girl has fallen for Sonu, Monu [Muslim boys], the girls realise that their lives have been ruined, [so they think] it is better to stay with them. Then we make them understand and if they still disagree, we file false cases against their men.”
The law as a strategic weapon
One of factors that consistently emerges in the investigation is the misuse of the legal system to target inter-religious couples. Detailing some of the methods used in the campaign, the report talks of how right-wing groups “slap fabricated cases of rape and kidnapping on innocent Muslim men and use force on ‘uncooperative’ Hindu women who have married Muslim men to make them toe their line and give false testimonies against their husbands. Apart from exposing the communal mindset of those involved, their own admission is evidence of how they have broken the law at several levels.”
The Cobrapost investigation focused on two specific “love jihad” cases filed in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. In one of them, a girl had approached Meerut’s Inspector General of Police with a complaint that she was raped by Dr Abdul Kalam, the owner of a private hospital where she worked. She had also accused the doctor of threatening to change her religion after marrying her. Eleven people were accused in the case and Abdul Kalam was arrested and jailed. However, Inspector Kamal Singh Yadav of Meerapur police station revealed to the reporters that the girl was not raped, nor was her religion changed, and that it was a local reporter who had spread these “rumours”.
The victim herself told Cobrapost: “Maine shaadi doctor sahib se apni marzi se ki thi (I married doctor saheb because I wanted to).” She denied her marriage was a case of “love jihad” and admitted lodging her complaint at the behest of others. Having withdrawn the complaint, she said, she was now living with her husband. She accused the “sangathan” and media people for causing the trouble.
Similarly, in the other case filed in Kharkhoda in 2014 in which a girl had accused Kalim of Sarawa village and the village headman and seven others of gangrape and then forcibly converting her to Islam, Cobrapost said it found that later the girl had backtracked and denied the incidents. “My father wanted to kill me. He wanted money as there was no money coming into the family. I had relations with Kalim… as a lover,” she said.
The BJP MLA from Thana Bhawan, Suresh Rana, even narrated how in one of the cases of ‘love jihad’, they had got some boys charged with rape after getting the girl to give a false statement. Referring to the Bajrang Dal’s campaign of ‘Beti bachao, Bahu lao’ (Save the daughter, get a bride), he said, the method of filing such cases was adopted “because of the pressure of love jihad” and as there were “constant attacks on us”.
Sanjay Agarwal, who contested municipal elections on a BJP ticket from Muzaffarnagar in 2014, gave the reporters a first hand account, saying, “A lot of advocates are swayamsevaks. They keep an eye to see if a Hindu girl registers at the city magistrate or the SDM’s office for marriage and [note] the date given. They find out who her lawyer is and if she is in the lawyer’s chamber. Then they call us. We go there with our whole team… 50, 60, 70 people.”
A self-confessed “Hindu terrorist”
The report said that the BJP, RSS and VHP have been conducting regular “rescue operations” to counter ‘love jihad’. “These operations often involve forcibly separating the couple, using violence on both of them and slapping fabricated cases of kidnapping and rape on the Muslim husbands. These organisations have formed teams comprising lower level workers who keep an eye on cases of Hindu girls eloping with Muslim boys. Some of them also use right-wing leaning lawyers as informants. If an application is filed with the marriage registrar’s office under the Special Marriage Act, these lawyers tip these teams off,” it said.
However, the aggression does not end with such ‘rescue missions’. There are fringe organisations like Krishna Sena, whose founder Shiv Kumar Sharma even claimed to be a Hindu terrorist himself and declared that he would “go about killing Muslims”. Boasting about how he enjoyed killing Muslims, Sharma told the reports, “We used to run a Hindu Dharm Sena, a Hindu terrorist group. We used to kill Muslims, throw bombs at mosques and basically did everything they do against the Hindus. We also used to place a pamphlet taking full responsibility of such acts and put forth our five demands: make India a Hindu Rashtra, build a Ram temple at Ayodhya, revoke Section 370 from Kashmir, and so on”
The report further quoted Sharma as saying: “I’m like that since my childhood. I have cases pending against me since long… in 1996–97 when we used to kill Muslims, we used to roam around at nights, hunting them down. At times when we could not kill one, we used to feel life worthless, as if nothing had happened. If we killed a Muslim, we used to celebrate the occasion, and if we managed to kill a Maulvi, then our happiness would know no bounds. I would feel like walking on clouds. I always had this dream that police would arrest me and throw me in the jail.”
The operation in the south
Over a thousand miles away in Mangalore in Karnataka, things are not very different. Jagdish Shenava, a lawyer and VHP’s Mangalore district working president, spoke about how he carried out a ‘rescue’ operation in February 2014. “He confesses to slapping false charges on Muslim men and admits using mobs to build pressure on police and to disrupt law and order,” the report said. Moreover, his group would “counsel” the women to get out of the relationships but, “if they don’t understand, we use force,” he confessed.
According to the report, the fact that the majority of the police force is Hindu helps such groups. Shockingly, it has the BJP MLC from Mangalore Captain Ganesh Karnik proudly stating how they had infiltrated the police force with RSS workers: “We have tried to send some of our boys into the police. When I talk to students, I tell them to join the police .. 60% of the young constables are our students.”
Further south in Kerala, even drugs are being used by Hindu organisations in their fight against ‘love jihad’. Quoting Cijiith of Hindu Helpline in Ernakulam, Kerala, the report said that “rescued” girls are administered drugs which induce “temporary amnesia” and prevent them from “being too aggressive”.
“When she is adamant on Islam, we will send her to a religious counselling centre so that she can have a debate with our experts on the Quran. Even with that if she is not convinced, we send her to a medical hospital where she will be kept in a cell, she will be under some medication if she is aggressive… [If she doesn’t relent even then], we will send her somewhere [else] where she can be kept for some days,” said Cijith, who believes that the ‘love jihad’ campaign has shown positive results.
Often threats are also used to make the girls fall in line. As Ravish Tantri, chief of Hindu Unity Forum in Kerala, said: “When the girl goes from the conversion centre to the court, we warn her that if she does not give a statement on her parents side and does not marry the guy prescribed by us, then the moment she and her husband step out of the court, they will be killed by our people.”
The Cobrapost/Gulail report can be read in full here.
The videotaped statements of various BJP, RSS and VHP leaders, as well as of policemen and of the female and ale victims of the Sangh Parivar’s ‘love jihad’ campaign can be seen here.