For once, I have written this article because I am both sad and deeply worried.
As a former senior bureaucrat with long experience of working amongst the people; academic and a responsible, enlightened citizen, I think I am able to foresee certain ominous portents, which might escape the attention of a majority of the people and that makes me all the more apprehensive of impending doom.
Through this article, I wish to share my concerns with my compatriots so that, collectively, we may do something to maintain communal harmony in our country before we resign to say, ‘que sera sera’ or ‘whatever will be, will be’.
Readers must have noticed that of late, after a lull following the enactment of the laws against it last year, there is a sudden spurt in the references to the bogey of ‘love jihad’ on social media and elsewhere. It was brazenly talked about in the recent mahapanchayat at Pataudi also. A very large number of WhatsApp messages are in circulation that spew hate and brazenly instigate sexual violence and mayhem in the context of the bogey of ‘love jihad’. They are so malevolent that I cannot place them in public domain lest I am myself accused of spreading communal hatred.
However, I request the readers to believe my word and my analysis. My analysis is not the figment of my imagination – I have discussed these messages with a large number of people who receive such messages regularly and they have frankly confessed to what impact the messages have on them.
I refrain from naming those people or organisations that are disseminating such messages to millions every day because their identities cannot be proven without an investigation. In any case, it is not vital because most readers do know who is behind them. They admitted that the messages made their blood boil for various reasons that I have articulated below.
The bogey of ‘love jihad’ provides a highly emotive and disturbing rallying point in the context of the politically surcharged atmosphere in the country that we are going to witness until the general elections in 2024 through the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2022.
The call for ‘historical revenge’
First of all, it brings back to life those ghosts of hatred in all their gruesome virulence, which had lain buried in the subconscious memories of the hoary past of the medieval age. It is not that we had been exactly wallowing in communal amity all these 1,309 years (that is, from 712 AD onwards, that witnessed the invasion of the Hindu kingdom of Sindh by Muhammad-bin-Qasim, a commander of the Ummayad Caliphate in Arabia). Yet the clarion call for a ‘historical revenge for all the real and imaginary atrocities of the past’ had never been so shrill.
This call for revenge is bolstered by a vigorous attempt to claim that the Muslim ‘invaders’ and ‘settlers’ in the medieval age had committed untold atrocities upon the Hindus. Those who make such messages know that they do not have any historical support for this even in low-level textbooks.
To circumvent it, they dismiss the entire historiography of India as we know it today. They say that the British and the ‘leftist-secular’ historians, who had been dominating the academia so far, had deliberately concealed the atrocities with ulterior motives of furthering the political agenda of a certain party. They maintain that their WhatsApp messages citing some mysterious (or unknown) folklore are the true history of India.
They say that in the medieval era, the Muslims used to ‘loot’ Hindu women by force. The narrative being peddled claims that the present-day Muslims in India, in terms of their character, remain the same brutes which, in their opinion, some or all of the medieval Muslim rulers had been.
There is a method in this madness. By distorting history and spreading canards about the horrible perversities of some Muslim rulers of yore, they are actually taking pot shots at the present-day Muslims. They cannot be bothered to argue that even if some of the rulers had committed atrocities, even the erstwhile Muslim public could not be held responsible for it, not to speak of the present-day Muslims.
There are further claims that now, with ‘their powerful Hindu-minded government’ in place, the Muslims cannot use force on the Hindus and hence they are resorting to ‘enticing’ Hindu girls in ‘love jihad’ so as to continue doing the same thing.
‘Love jihad’ as a challenge to Hindu masculinity
This aspect projects ‘love jihad’ as a sort of ‘sexual robbery’, which is a direct affront and challenge to Hindu masculinity.
First, it tells them of the ‘plight’ of the women thus enticed into inter-faith marriages in gory detail. Once their girls are taken into their families, they would simply become one of the numerous wives and reduced to a child-bearing machine with the sole objective of increasing the population of their community is their absurd claim.
Historically, in Indian society, the patriarchal system has regarded women as the ultimate symbol of the honour of the family, clan, or people belonging to a religion. Losing women to ‘others’ or their having been ‘dishonoured’ in some way by ‘others’ as a result of their use of force or power was regarded as the ultimate humiliation of the menfolk – a proof of their ‘impotence’. Precisely for this reason, the so-called ‘dominance-assertion rapes’ have been a time-honoured tactic of targeting insulting menfolk of the enemy.
The disrobing of Draupadi, for example, was more about insulting her mighty husbands than about the Kauravas satisfying their voyeuristic desires. Had they been lusting after Draupadi, they could have taken her to their palaces and made her literally into a sex slave. The message of the dastardly act of disrobing to the Pandavas was clear: Protecting her honour was your duty and you failed in that. Thus, all your pride in your manliness and prowess as great warriors amounts to nothing.
It is obvious that the messages prey upon the hidden, unexpressed fears of the Hindus regarding their masculinity.
Mocking Hindu male sexual desirability
Extending this theme, the messages taunt the self-respect of the Hindu men. They say that if you do not rise against it, you are not man enough, and shame on you. This is something so sensitive, its appeal so hypnotic that it is difficult to think of a susceptible Hindu who would not be enraged by this.
Not only this, the messages indirectly taunt the questionable sexual desirability of the Hindu males as perceived by their women. Without saying so in so many words, they seem to ask what it is that you lack, which makes your women go to the men of the other community?
Both these taunts mean that the people enraged thus, burning with indignation and an inferiority complex, would be more likely to indulge in acts of greater cruelty and perversion during any episode of communal violence.
Besides such messages, many messages, purported to be from the side of the Muslims, are also found circulating on the very same WhatsApp groups. They are seen to be calling for taking away the women of the Hindus and doing away with their menfolk-the target is obvious. Without an investigation, it is difficult to comment on the origin of such messages but the fact that they are found circulating on the same WhatsApp groups must be taken note of.
They do not know what genie they are letting out of the bottle
Those who spread such hate do know that the total numbers of interfaith marriages in India is ridiculously small at about 0.36%—something, which no one should even talk about.
The Supreme Court and the high courts have repeatedly ruled that consenting adults are free to marry anywhere, within or outside their faith. The circulation and recirculation of such messages to millions, however, leaves a lasting imprint on the psyche of the susceptible people.
Eventually, it will cleave the Indian society permanently and the entire nation would regret it for eternity.
For God’s sake, stop destroying communal harmony with the bogey of ‘love jihad’.
Dr. N. C. Asthana is a retired IPS officer and a former DGP of Kerala. He tweets @NcAsthana.