Secular Phantom Menace and Communal Healing

You see the coefficient of the linear, is juxtaposition, by the hemoglobin of the atmospheric pressure in the country!

– Amitabh Bachchan (Amar, Akbar, Anthony)

Given the level of political and social acumen our secular mainstream media displayed in recent years, they might as well have uttered the above line on the issue of love jihad and would still have made as much sense as their entire coverage did.

In popular memory, the issue first surfaces (officially) in 1998, with Sikh organizations complaining about “sexual grooming of young Sikh girls by Muslim men” and later this BBC documentary on it. In India, it pops up on the official radar from time to time, from UP (2007), to West Bengal, and later Karnataka and Kerala (2009). The controversy that forced people to debate this phenomenon was that of a teacher in Meerut claiming she had been kidnapped, gang-raped and forcibly converted to Islam (ironically the woman in question has recently done a somersault, denying all charges). And the noise reached a crescendo with the case of national level shooter Tara Sahdev in Ranchi – who was duped in a marriage with a Muslim (Rakibul Hasan) who pretended to be Hindu – tortured, raped and pressurized to convert to Islam. Since then the official lid on this has been blown with cases from everywhere across India coming to light. Particularly tragic was a case of a girl from Darjeeling where a Hindu girl eloped with a Muslim boy, only to fall victim to human trafficking. She later committed suicide in Ajmer.

The level of attention this issue has grabbed can be judged by the fact that even national media was forced to report and discuss it. Check episodes on Love Jihad by Zee News here: Part-1 and Part-2.

The proverbial excreta has really hit the fan with the Rotherham horror in Yorkshire (UK), where about 1400 young white girls were raped, abused and trafficked for about 12-years by Muslims of Pakistani origin. While closer home, non-Muslim girls in Pakistan and Bangladesh routinely get kidnapped, forcibly converted and married off to Muslim men.

Clearly the issue is serious, or at least serious enough to engage in serious debates … but for the political realities of India.

Continuing with the glorious tradition of viewing only individuals rather than events, we have a set of people whose idea of India basically savages the problem rather than bringing up any solution for it. The strategy is called mixing up grain (Love Jihad cases) with chaff (regular marriages / relationships). Sample this.

In Leftist eyes: A right winger talking about love jihad
In Leftist eyes: A right-winger talking about love jihad

The leftist (I do not call them liberal as a matter of principle) strategy is based on a denial of the problem – with mixing up such cases of normal interfaith marriages with cases of crime. The idea is to make the love Jihad issue entirely about interfaith marriages – pretty smart since it does tend to put the other side on the defensive.

A section of the far right-wing seems to fall for the same interpretation – although the reason here is a subconscious reaction to attrition i.e. losing ‘our’ girl to ‘them’. At a deeper level, the psychological burden of a long history of Hindu persecution prompts that chain of thought, but regrettably such interpretation only ends up playing into the hands of leftists.

The output of such analysis is a muddled representation of issues In the name of balance, which serves up ideological rhetoric but kills any hint of a real solution based on facts.

Now there could be a genuine argument of considering such cases as a regular law and order problem. However, as it generally happens, when crimes of a particular nature get repeated over a significant number of times, its pattern has to be recognized (as our moral compass holders like to do in secular matters like caste violence).

The real problem Love Jihad suffers from is lack of the clear definition and terminology among large sections of society. Many in the far right view Love Jihad as an organized conspiracy; which may not get adequate serious attention unless proven by a government-sanctioned investigation. However, check out cases of Islamist attacks on Kashmiri Pandits which included slogans like “We want our Pakistan, without Pandit men, but with their women.”, or the genocidal history of medieval and modern Islamic invasions (ISIS for example) that included taking women as slaves and war booty, and its possible existence starts to make sense.

In my view, Love Jihad is a gender crime or a fraud committed on a non-Muslim girl; which involves attempt for a religious conversion to Islam or has an Islamic motivation behind it – individual or organized.

While there is no official report of an organized international conspiracy, even casual observations throw up interesting facts. In Kerala for example, as per figures provided by CM Oommen Chandy, 2667 young non-Muslim women converted to Islam (2195 Hindu + 492 Christian) as opposed to 81 young Muslim women leaving Islam (2 to Hinduism and 79 to Christianity). Now unless you term it as more than a 1000 Hindu women spontaneously developing an informed love for Islam compared to 1 Muslim woman going out, kuchh to gadbad hai. If it is indeed only about love, why are statistics so strikingly lopsided towards non-Muslim (specifically Hindu) girls getting married to Muslim boys?

Looking more closely in reported cases (we have to assume the same for cases not being reported), some clear patterns seem to be emerging. Mostly the cases involve identity fraud (Muslim man pretending to be non-Muslim, at least for a good part), rape or sexual exploitation of the girl (before or after the marriage). The girl being in her teens (or fairly young) in many cases – one who is not likely to be legally or socially informed. One interesting aspect of many such cases is Muslim men being helped by Muslim women (1st wife, sister etc.) in trapping Hindu girls – demonstrates the focus on religion over other temptations.

Clearly there seems to be a problem. Question is, what can be done about it?

Answer: A lot of things, if we – as a society and a state – are ready for them.

“If you desire healing,

Let yourself fall ill

Let yourself fall ill.”

Hindu society has three options:

Option-2 explained (Picture courtesy National Geographic)
Option-2 explained
(Picture courtesy National Geographic)
  1. Do nothing and depend on Hindu politicians to form scores of laws.
  2. Get inspired from glorious traditions of Taliban and restrict choices for women even further.
    Or
  3. Be mature and empower your own.

My way: The counter to every social issue has to be twofold – legal and social, and both have to focus on the same thing – women empowerment.

Legal counter
  • Police Reforms: Most power-hungry politicians tend to exploit a social problem, not fix it. The only way out is to lessen their influence on Police. Efficient and speedy implementation of law has to be a guarantee, else victims will inevitably be caught in a political fight and will be subject to pressure and in some extreme cases, violence.
  • Air-gaping different legal regimes: When non-Muslim girls marry into Islamic fold, are they making an informed choice? Do they always exactly understand what legal position they are in? One of many disastrous impacts of secularized “Idea of India” laws has been the creation of parallel (and totally different) legal systems for marriage. This has to change – by ensuring that girls are perfectly aware of the legal rights they have; before and after such marriages.
  • Common Civil Code: There is no way around moving towards a reform in Muslim personal law (empowering Muslim women, stopping child marriage etc.) and a final goal of a common civil code. Nothing more can be said than what is said here.
Social counter
  • Why can’t more Muslim girls marry Hindu men? There has to be a level playing field here, and the inconvenient truth is that Muslim girls don’t exactly enter the fray as much as Hindu girls do. Result: The totally lopsided nature of inter-religious relationships. The social mingling (bluntly put, frisking) is mostly one-way; and it feeds a significant part of the Hindu anger. Part of the solution is to encourage education in Muslim society, empowerment of Muslim women – though this alone won’t be enough. Unless…
  • Erase or reform Caste divides in Hindu society: Originally, the four castes in the Hindu society were never watertight compartments – they were more about lifestyles and duties, rather than plain identity by birth. Social restrictions on inter-caste marriages have to go.
  • Why do Hindu girls (or in some cases even Hindu boys) tend to leave Hinduism more easily than say Muslim girls and boys tend to leave Islam? Why should an inter-religious marriage almost always involve conversion of the non-Muslim partner? Hindu parents need to understand the importance of Hindu spiritual education and inculcation in their children (this is in no way contradictory to allowing freedom of life when these children grow up)
  • Hindu society should eliminate (or at least lessen) the social ignominy and stigma for girls who are victims of such activities – allow them to come back and live a life of dignity and freedom – so that they feel emboldened to come back whenever they want to and are not forced to compromise with their predicament. Many girls simply decide to make peace by conversion – why? Because they think they can’t come back to where they belong.
  • Hindu society has to be more accommodative towards Hindu boys marrying non-Hindu girls. In a number of cases, the fear of social ostracization tends to discourage Hindu boys from pursuing such relationships, or in some extreme cases, force Hindu boys to embrace Islam in order to live with their love. Marriage too is a way of entering a society, and Hindus have to be far more accommodative towards Muslim and Christian girls who are willingly entering their society by marriage. Rather than just focusing on stopping exits from their own fold, Hindu society has to also encourage entries into it. Any society that doesn’t reform itself with time, will die out.

Political parties tend to respond to social issues, they cannot create one themselves. Love Jihad or make-women-non-believers-believers-jihad is not a seductive right-wing phrase, created out of thin air by evil armies of the Hindutva underworld. Like Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 80’s, this is an undercurrent of social anger – silently simmering but always ready to break out in bursts. BJP or any right-wing leadership will be forced to raise it due to the enormous groundswell, but they would be well advised to be sincere about it. The primary focus has to be on solution, not exploitation.

P.S. The biggest face-palm for me was ABVP going after couples in live-in relationships – making it even easier for jholas of Jamia and JNU to call all of us sexist misogynist Philistines. I mean fellas, why worry when we have such razor-sharp understanding of real issues?

Note: A version of this article has been published at IndiaFacts.

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