How coastal Karnataka was saffronised; part 7: Hindu groups rally behind love jihad; anti-Muslim sentiments seep into local consciousness

Editor's note: This is the seventh reported piece in an 18-part series on the contemporary history of Hindutva in coastal Karnataka. The series features interviews, videos, archival material and oral histories gathered over a period of four months. Read other articles of the series here

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VHP, Bajrang Dal start public awareness campaign against love jihad 

(As reported in Karavali Ale on 3 January, 2018)

Mangaluru: VHP, Youth wing of Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini are starting a public awareness campaign about 'love jihad' said M.B.Puranik, the working president of VHP. According to Puranik, during the two- week program, ward 3 and village level meetings would be held and a movement would be carried on after uniting the Hindu society. He alleged that 'love jihad' is a conspiracy to convert Hindu girls to Islam.

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The first time Vidya Dinker, a professor and environmentalist, heard of love jihad

"A BJP Corporator was driving me back from a program. One of his lackeys, who was sitting in the back seat nudged him and pointed to a lodge at Lal Bagh as we drove past it. 'Sir, mool aapuni au' (Sir, that happens here)'. I remember him saying. When I asked what this guy was talking about, the corporator said 'love jihad'. That was the first time I heard this phrase. It was 2004."

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Account of a college student about moral policing incident that she witnesses and her ordeal thereafter

"I am a final year criminology student. I am from Kerala and I study in Mangaluru.

In October 2017, my friend was visiting Mysore. I was showing him around the city and as a ritual that I follow when anybody visits Mangalore, I took him to Sulthan Battery. Sultan Battery is a regular spot for all college-going students of Mangaluru. The ferry trip to the beach is something I particularly enjoy. That afternoon, after showing my friend around the beach, we were walking back towards the ferry pick up point, when I noticed a bunch of police officers abusing two girls.

They looked younger than me and seeing them in tears, I instinctively walked up to them. I noticed that there were two other men with these girls, who looked like they were in their early twenties. This seemed to be the reason why the police had been summoned. The police were in the process of talking to the families of both the girls when another person came up to the girls and started taking photos of them. He abused them and said he'll put their photos on Facebook.

When I told him to back off, he turned his abuse towards me. Since I don't speak either Tulu or Kannada, I didn't understand his abuse but his body language was threatening and aggressive. The police continued to abuse the girls and me for intervening. The girls were taken to Barke Police Station after the altercation. They held my hands and asked me to accompany them. I couldn't say no.

What transpired at the police station is a different story.

A senior officer turned his full attention to me and my friend. He took one look at my hijab and asked me how I could be with my friend at a beach since he was a Hindu. They asked for the numbers of our parents, knowing fully well that we were adults. They called our parents and asked how they were okay with a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy interacting openly like this. Even after our parents told the police to back off, their policing didn't stop. I tried to explain to the cop that I am a criminology student and that the male friend was with me for work. But there was no end to this man's discontentment.

After the police humiliated the girls, the family reached the station. The man taking their photos continued to say that he will expose them on social media and the cops didn't stop him. I submitted a complaint to the Commissioner of Police. I submitted the same complaint to the Department of Women and Child Welfare. Nothing came out of it."

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I was in the Mangalore sessions court. It was 2012. The chief judicial magistrate was scheduled to hear the bail applications of those accused of beating and molesting a bunch of college-going girls while they were having a birthday party at a private resort in Padil.

After the pub attacks of 2009, the resort attack of 2012 had brought Mangaluru back to the national headlines. Hordes of men had barged into a private party on the pretext of 'love jihad'. They attacked the girls (all of which was caught on camera). The horrifying visuals of what transpired there left many in shock. But in the court, this wasn't the cause of concern.

"If it was my daughter who was indulging in such acts, I would applaud these men for their actions," said advocate PP Hegde appearing on behalf of the accused men, most of whom were activists of the Hindu Jagranna Vedike. For the next half an hour, all I heard was about how women in Mangaluru were spinning out of control due to the influence of a variety of forces — from Muslims to western culture, everyone was blamed.

It's difficult to decide whether the judge was mocking the lawyer when he agreed with him. Almost everybody in the court was having a difficult time controlling themselves from breaking into an applause every time the lawyer said 'our girls need to be controlled' or 'if they get information about love jihad, ofcourse they had to go and check'.

From time to time, the public prosecutor, late advocate Purushottam Poojary tried to intervene and request the court to stick to what needed to be done — ascertain if a prima facie case can be made out from the charges or reject bail on those grounds. But no, the approach of the courtroom, on that day, wasn't about looking at the events at Padil as orchestrated moral policing.

Outside the courtroom, the conversations weren't very different than that of a classroom, bus stop or a restaurant. The popular opinion on the street was that the women had no business being at the resort. The video where the men chase after the women, beat and pull at their clothes didn't seem to have much effect on anyone.

Over the years, I realised that all popular 'programs' of the Sangh, with the intent of garnering quick attention, are designed around women. In the absence of a sensible breed of women leadership, there is close to nobody who vehemently disputes these narratives. The most speculated theory in Dakshin Karnataka, both by the media and Sangh Parivar alike, is love jihad.

 How coastal Karnataka was saffronised; part 7: Hindu groups rally behind love jihad; anti-Muslim sentiments seep into local consciousness

Love jihad, according to Asha Jagadeesh of Matra Mandali is when "Hindu women are brainwashed by Muslim men to convert and marry them. These women are then used for different purposes, either to produce many babiess or for some anti-national activities." The term grew popular after 2001, owing to a local and a global shift in the manner in which Islam and Muslims are looked at.

Starting from 2005, the stories around how Muslims were indulging in love jihad to lure Hindu girls became a topic of conversation at almost every meeting of the Sangh in Dakshin Kannada. These activities were further fuelled when BJP came to power in 2008.

Asha Jagadeesh is the 'anti love-jihad' face of the Sangh in Coastal Karnataka. Asha has been working for the Sangh since 1989. She started out as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student leader and was elevated to the BJP National Council a few years ago.

There are no registered cases of forced marriage or conversion in Dakshin Karnataka though, as Asha alleges. In 2009, parents of an 18-year-old filed a habeas corpus after she married a Muslim alleging love jihad. The High Court of Karnataka directed the CID to investigate if there were instances of 'love jihad' in Karnataka. In 2014, the High Court closed the case after noting the observation from the report submitted by CID DGP D V Guruprasad.

His report, while categorically stating that girls and boys were marrying across religions, said: "There is no organised attempt by any group of individuals to entice girls/women belonging to Hindu or Christian religions to marry Muslim boys with the aim of converting them to Islam". Asha insists that there are enough cases but they can't expose the victims. "Their lives will be destroyed. But we've enough evidence."

Allegations of Muslims misbehaving or trying to lure Hindu women have been systemically grilled into the consciousness of the people of the region by the Hindu organisations in Coastal Karnataka. The 1998 riots in Surathkal sparked off after a youth from Hindu Jagrana Vedike attacked a Muslim for being in love with a Hindu girl.

On the contrary, retired DSP Jayanth Shetty recollects that the rumour was that a Muslim had molested a Hindu girl. In most such instances, these rumours go unverified. But weeks before this, the Hindu Jagrana Vedike had been conducting meetings and distributing material in Surathkal warning Hindu girls about the dangers of Muslim men.

The policing of interaction between youths from different religious backgrounds are common. It happens within the family, at the university and in public spaces. In one such incident, an inter-religious couple lost their lives after their car slipped off the road and plunged into the Netravti. The accident happening when the couple was being chased by right wing activists from Taneerbhavi Beach.

When Anita Bangera of Barimaru village went missing in 2009, the local police told her parents that hers was a case of love jihad too and that she had eloped with a Muslim man. Shortly after, processions were carried out by right wing organisations against 'love jihad'. But Anita's parents pressured the police to investigate further.

A couple of years later, it emerged that Anitha was killed by a 49-year-old school teacher called Mohan. He allegedly lured her with the promise of a dowry-less marriage and poisoned her with cyanide. He had killed twenty other women in Dakshin Karnataka with the same modus operandi.

Most of these cases had been registered as missing cases. Each case had been used by Hindu organisations to allege that they were cases of Muslims kidnapping 'Hindu' girls. Backing them were regional media houses, who further popularised the term 'love jihad'. A YouTube search will throw up how the term and the tropes it is associated with has been indiscriminately used by the regional media of Karnataka.

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Conversation between a college student and her friend, which was leaked to the Press in November 2017:

I won't leave him, understand? What will they do, kill me? Let them.

But do you really need this? Didn't you find any Hindus? Hy do you have to go after these Mulsims?

Why should I love Hindus? They've only used me, all of them are abusive bastards, Muslims are much better.

Wait, don't cry, don't be afraid.

A: Who is afraid? What are you saying? I am not afraid.

No, but tell me, why do you want to go after this Muslim guy?

What is this Muslim, Muslim you keep saying? He has been my friend for seven years. Everytime I faced problems, he has stood by me.

Okay listen, he will help, you know. Tomorrow he will impregnate you and dump you. That is what they do.

Fine, no problem, I'll live with it. Did I ask for anybody's help?

What is this, aren't you ashmed of yourself? Can't you think about your family?

Ashamed? I want him and no matter who does what, I will be with him.

And what if they kill him? What will you do then?

Let's see. I'll see how anybody touches him.

I can't believe you are behaving like this for a Muslim who only wants to impregnate you.

That is between me and him. Who are all of you? How is it your business?

If you are saying you were duped by a Hindu before, then you shouldn't love again. Why do you want to go after a Muslim?

What are you saying man? Don't I have the right to love? Who the hell are these Bajrang Dal people to tell me what to do?

Don't you dare abuse Bajrang Dal. Because of people like you, only all Hindu girsl are getting spoilt. These Muslims are waiting for this only.

See, if you have something against indiivudlas, talk about them, why do you have to abuse the religion?

See, Muslims are only players. They are going to convert you, you watch.

Why will I convert? I will be the way I want to, he will be the way he wants to. What is this nonsense that you are talking?

Muslims will impregnate you and dump you. I don't kno why you are behaving this cheap.

Will you stop your Hindu-Muslim rhetoric? We fell in love, and we didn't think about Hindu-Muslim.

Where is this son of a wh*** Muslim from? Where is he?

Why do you care?

See, I am talking to you as a sister, as a friend, I am trying to save you from this.

No need. Who asked you for help? Leave me and my family alone.

Leave? No, we can't. After all, this has happened, you must be dreaming to think that we'll leave you. No, we can't, we will find a solution.

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Breaking news in Kannada regional channels the next day:

They say love doesn't have ears and eyes but there are some who say that love doesn't have religion as well. These are times when we are hearing of instances of love jihad sweeping the state of Karnataka. "Hindu yuvathi hagi hindugalenae bavarsinu bilitaidhalae obba Drug addict hudugi" (Insipte of being a Hindu, a drug addict girl calls Hindus bastards)

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A 20 second video surfaced on social media two days after with this statement by the girl:

"That conversation that I had with my friend yesterday was wrong. Members of Durga Vahini have showed me what life is. It was wrong on my part to fall in love with a Muslim. I won't leave Hindu Dharma and my caste. I apologise for everything I said yesterday. Sorry." The video is still available on social media. Photos of the girl continue to be circulated on WhatsApp groups and social media pages.

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Shaheeda was 23 when she made it to headlines in newspapers in Karnataka. It had been a year since she had converted to Islam. Unknown to her parents, she was attending Quran classes whenever she could find time from work. Things went downhill when a local tabloid carried her photo questioning why a Hindu girl was visiting a Madrassa.

Fearing violence from her family, Shaheeda escaped from home and sought help from a friend, whose father was a known Muslim leader. Within a day, Shaheeda's parents filed a habeas corpus petition at the Karnataka High Court. From a local tabloid, the headlines now moved to all regional papers. Right wing organisations, like VHP and Bajrang Dal, had already started sharpening their tongues and knives, pledging retribution.

Shaheeda appeared in court but the judge insisted that she return to her parents. When she refused, they told her to stay at a government shelter till the issue was resolved. "At some level, I also knew that the court will send me back to my parents if I didn't do anything drastic. So I decided to get married," says Shaheeda.

This was happening in the aftermath of the riots which rocked the region after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Shaheeda had also received death threats. "Nobody was forthcoming to marry me. There was a lot of fear. I had almost lost hope when Aslam appeared." Aslam had just started working when he heard about Shaheeda. They were married in the next couple of weeks and appeared in the court together.

Shaheeda told the judge that she chose Islam after studying the religion and without any coercion. She said that she feared obstruction to her practising her religion of choice if she were returned to her parents. She requested the court to let her live with her husband. The court, noting that she was a major, accepted her decision. On the day that the order was pronounced, more than a 100 right wing activists gathered at the high court. Fearing harm to Shaheeda, the judge let her use the exit reserved for judges to leave the court.

It has been 25 years since this happened. Shaheeda has acquired two degrees since — one in Journalism and another in social work. She heads a national women's organisation and is also an entrepreneur, in addition to being a mother of three. In retrospect, Shaheeda wonders what would have happened if this had happened now. "At the least, there was no social media then. Or else, I would have faced an ordeal similar to Hadiya's. Or maybe worse."

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Updated Date: Apr 08, 2019 16:54:31 IST

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