Love Jihad and Demographic Fears

Mohan Rao

Mohan Rao is a Professor at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

He can be contacted at [email protected]

The write-up has been lifted from his facebook wall.

One of the most remarkable campaigns by Right-wing forces over the last few years in India goes under the startling name of “Love-Jihad”. Love Jihad crudely but effectively argues that Muslim men are waging jihad in India through so-called love- marriages. The young men apparently waging war through love – through the capture of innocent Hindu women – are also referred to as “Love Romeos”. Given credence by the courts and police in some states, it is argued that the proponents of Love Jihad see this as a strategy by Muslim fundamentalists to lure Hindu and Christian girls into their literal arms, thus swelling their numbers in an ongoing demographic war.

The Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (Hindu People’s Awakening Organisation) in Dakshina Karnataka District of Karnataka claimed that 30,000 young women had been duped by Love Romeos in the state. The Kerala High Court ordered an enquiry in 2010, while the Karnataka High Court, in the same year, stated that a case involving a 23 year old woman who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man had “national ramifications concerning security, besides the question of unlawful trafficking of women” (cited in Gupta 2010). Indeed, the Karnataka High Court went egregiously further, ordering the woman be “restored” to her parents while the police investigated the case. On its part, the Kerala police found no evidence of Love Jihad and no organisation named Romeo Jihad that was executing this. The Karnataka police clarified that 404 girls were in fact missing during the period and that they had been able to trace 332 of them. The majority of them were Hindu girls who had eloped to marry Hindu men. One of the girls who was said to have been a victim of Love Jihad had in fact been murdered by her Hindu lover (Sharma 2009). Yet the media and various sections of the Hindu fundamentalist groups such as the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the RSS and the Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad have mounted a sustained campaign, including the student wing of the BJP in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University which distributed pamphlets, against this grand Muslim conspiracy. This is seen as one more manner in which “they”, Muslims, seek to outbreed “us” in our own country – as Saffron Demography so tirelessly proclaims with some evident political dividends.

Love Jihad
This has had a long and fruitful history. As early as 1909 U.N.Mukherji had written a book entitled Hindus: A Dying Race, which went on to influence many tracts and publications by the Hindu Maha Sabha, the parent organisation of the RSS. This book seemed to meet a widespread demand, going in to many reprints, feeding into Hindu communalism, and helping create it. It had a special appeal to Hindu communalists at this time, anxious to create a monolithic Hindu community, in the face of demands for separate representation emanating from both Muslims and lower-castes. Whipping up anxiety about Muslims would be one way to weld together hugely diverse, and often antagonistic, castes into one community, erasing the structural divisions in caste society. Indeed it has been noted that “for Hindu communalism, it (the book, A Dying Race) had a more direct resonance as Hindu communalism was now preoccupied with numbers…the possibility of low castes declassifying themselves as Hindus was a motivating anxiety behind the origins of Hindu communalism “(Datta 1999: 18). Deeply riddled with inaccuracies, wild flights of prediction of the future with utterly no basis, the book nevertheless provided “demographic common sense functioning as a trope for extinction” (Datta 1999: 23). , Also, fundamentally, the Hindu communalists believed – and continue to believe – that a nation is defined “culturally” as a Hindu nation, just as Muslim communalists believed in the purity of an Islamic Pakistan. So neatly did the communalists of both religions, Hindu and Muslim, by evoking demographic fears, subscribe to colonial definitions of Indian society! The Censuses of the period also contributed. We must however, remember that this discourse emerged at an embattled political space, as colonialism was contested, as political classes were formed, as the working class was congealing, and early feminist ideas were gaining ground. None of these of course configure in the communalist discourse.

There was yet another flame stoking these fears among Hindu communalists, resentful of social reform. Emblematic here was the tragic figure of the Hindu widow. Forbidden remarriage among the upper castes she was at once responsible for the dying of the “Hindu race” as she was an allurement for virile Muslim men, a danger within the sacred heart of the Hindu household, waiting to be profaned. Fitting neatly into this gendered anxiety was the communalisation of the issue of “abduction” of Hindu women. Indeed this too was prominent in the form of epidemics of rumours before the Gujarat carnage in 2002. Thus the embedding of patriarchy, “nationhood”, and violence against women in discourses on numbers, inscribing on reproductive women’s bodies atavistic anxieties about the future, and the politics of genocide.

We have had leaders from these groups opposing family planning among Hindus, claiming there is a “demographic war” (www.newkerala.com, 2005). The leader of the VHP enjoined Hindus not to accept family planning as their numbers were going down, even as that of Muslims was increasing. At a public meeting attended by thousands, and in the presence of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the leader of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the RSS claimed that the Muslim population was increasing at a rapid pace, and that this, combined with infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh, portended doom for India. Claiming that this “demographic war” was being waged across the world, he attributed the breakup of the Soviet Union, to such “demographic imbalance” (The Hindu:2005:5). The same groups have also opposed access to abortion, arguing that a disproportionate number of Hindu women utilise abortion facilities (Rao 2001). We have also had a huge and unedifying controversy erupting when the Census Commissioner announced the religion-wise data from the 2001 Census, failing to add that these could not be compared to previous figures since the 1991 Census had not been conducted in Kashmir, a Muslim majority state. The Hindu right created an uproar about “them” out-numbering “us” in our own country, with a lot of help from the national media. This was despite clarifications issued by the Census Commissioner, despite figures showing that the rate of decline of the Muslim growth rate was substantial and indeed sharper than among Hindus.

Nussbaum has noted that the creation of virulent masculinities is perhaps a part of the project of nationalisms of the European variety. Emulating this project other communities, other nations of blood and tribes, are also creating masculinities of the European sort. She notes that Israel and India are both seats of construction of this notion of virulent masculinities, both directed at Muslims, classified in colonial discourse as “martial races”. Those scoffed at as feminine or intellectual, not rational enough, set out to recreate themselves in colonial mirrors, creating a style of masculinity that is associated with his oppressor in the past, much as they recreate colonial definitions of history. This too is responsible for the horrors of Gujarat, as is the essentialism of numbers, as they wreck murder and rape, “annihilating the female” both in themselves and in the Other (Nussbaum 2007).

That slogan “Hum do, hamare do; Woh paanch, unke pachees” won the leader of the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 a shameful but resounding electoral victory. But it also ties in with the trope of the alleged vegetarianism of Hindus along with the sexual rapacity of non-vegetarian Muslims. Sarkar notes that “there is a dark sexual obsession about the allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and over-fertile Muslim female ones” (Sarkar 2002: 2874). Recounting the unspeakable horrors perpetrated on Muslim women and children in the Gujarat carnage, she offers the following explanations. In communal violence, rape is a sign of collective dishonouring of a community; the same patriarchy that views the female body as the symbol of lineage, of community, of nation – and their purity – would besmirch an entire community as impure and polluted once “their” women are raped. There is also the calculated, and politically charged rumours spread of Muslim men luring away Hindu girls, “a kind of penis envy and anxiety about emasculation that can only be overcome by violence.” And finally, the anxieties whipped up over generations about “Muslim fertility rates”, of their uncontrolled breeding and the dying of “the Hindu nation”, led to the brutal killing of children, the new blood of the “Muslim race”. By engendering fear and anxiety about the future, what Saffron Demography successfully does is insidious: it evokes complicity in morally offensive policies among common people, you and me, which of course is its purpose.