The Hindu nationalist BJP government is on a crusade against “love jihad,” the conspiracy theory in India’s most populous state, that Muslims are enticing Hindu brides with the intention of conversion and ultimately national conquest.
Though interfaith marriage in the Hindu majority nation remains uncommon, this zealous push in Uttar Pradesh has taken the form of a new law that can create significant trouble for couples.
When 22-year-old Muskan and her Muslim husband Rashid went to the town of Moradabad to register their marriage a few weeks ago, he ended up in jail and the young woman in a state-run shelter at home.
Pregnant for three months, she suffered a miscarriage.
They were conscious that I was pregnant. They always made me work, clean my room, put pressure on my stomach,’ said Muskan, who, when she was a Hindu, walked by Pinky.
“I realised that I had lost my boy.
The “crime” of the couple was the alleged breach by the local Bharatiya Janata Party government of a “illegal conversion” ordinance promulgated last month in Uttar Pradesh. It carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
It sent another chill through the 200-million-strong Muslim community of India and defenders of the liberal values of the country, who have raised concern about the policies of the BJP since coming to power in 2014.
‘Laughable but dangerous’
Nowhere is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s purported “Hindutva” mission, Hindu hegemony, more proof of a massive and economically deprived society of 200 million people than in Uttar Pradesh.
The saffron-robed, firebrand Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, 48, a hardliner known for his violent rhetoric against Muslims, is heading his administration, which has been promoted by some as a potential successor to Modi.
Although there is no reliable proof of an orchestrated mass effort to convert Hindu women to Islam and bring about Muslim rule, the idea of conspiracy is prevalent in Hindutva circles and the government of Adityanath has vowed to root out the new law with “love jihad.”
It’s not impossible to fall foul of poorly worded laws. In only a few weeks, hundreds of Muslim men have been jailed, for which the police do not need a warrant.
Activists argue that any relative of the bride can report to the police, men can be detained on the least suspicion, and women are forced to make incriminating comments.
An 18-year-old Muslim was jailed this week after going out for pizza with a Hindu girl because, according to media accounts, her father complained to the police.
With the intention of marrying and converting her faith violently, he was booked for “inducing” the kid to elope, accusations both teens refute.
Muslim boys often claim to be Hindus, and both sides have had cases of abducting women.
Many Hindu activists, however, suspect that the men are not working alone, but are part of a master scheme that they say is possibly funded by Pakistan.
For activist Harsh Mander, claiming “love jihad” is true “would be a laughable idea if it wasn’t so dangerous.”
What we witness… is what… It is the complete destruction of everything guaranteed by the constitution.
Valentine’s Day vigilantes
Other BJP-governed states want to enact similar laws to those of Uttar Pradesh.
Egging on the government and the police are Hindu extremist organisations, with the Bajrang Dal, which is believed to have more than five million youth activists worldwide, being the most influential.
It has been consistently charged with deadly sectarian violence, and is also notorious for Valentine’s Day hassling couples, and bullying Muslims and low-caste Hindus accused of slaughtering Hindu-sacred cows.
Ramji Tiwari, the Bajrang Dal leader in the town of Kanpur, told AFP, “Love jihad is a reality, it is a well-thought-out strategy deployed by Muslim boys to attract Hindu girls.”
Muslims, he said, in India by “trapping and brainwashing our girls” are “hellbent” on one day outnumbering Hindus, currently outnumbering Muslims by nearly six to one.
Bajrang Dal is now carrying out “awareness campaigns,” going door-to-door telling “our mothers and sisters that these smooth-talking men should be wary of them.”
The new mission of the BJP against “love jihad” is also a strike against women’s right to chose whom they marry and an effort, activists argue, to ensure that they stay in “traditional” positions.
“Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and rights activist, told AFP, “The unholy trinity of patriarchy, caste and dominant faith has always sought to regulate women’s identity and equality.
Meanwhile, Muskan is back with her in-laws, who are both facing medical problems. She’s planning to stick with Rashid.
He and his brother were behind bars for two weeks before they were released by the police when Muskan defied attempts to charge him.
“I trust Muskan and love him. I knew she wasn’t going to make a comment about our relationship,’ he told AFP. “Only when I got out did I get to know about our child.”