The “love jihad” controversy that has gripped Uttar Pradesh will most certainly vitiate the communal atmosphere in the state, but what few realise is that this is the resurrection of a failed propaganda campaign that raised considerable anxiety in Kerala and Karnataka since 2009.
While in Kerala it’s more or less an old story, in Karnataka, its strong ripples had been visible even in the 2013 elections.
The curious coinage, which marries two unrelated terms such as love and jihad, was first heard in the northern districts of Kerala. The charge, by Hindu and even Christian groups, was that Muslim youths were luring Hindu girls into love and then marriage with the sole purpose of converting them into Islam.
Once converted, the charge was, that they would be conveniently dumped. While the chief minister of the state Oomen Chandy conceded in the state assembly in 2012 that 2667 women were converted into Islam in the state since 2006, the government said there was no sign of an organised effort for forced conversions or “love jihad”. Although the government had limited evidence of Christian girls being converted (according to Chandy, only 447 Christian girls had been converted into Islam), the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) said 2600 Christian girls also had been converted since 2006, making it a appear like a challenge faced by both Christians and Hindus.
The Global Council of Indian Christians charged that it was part of a “global Islamisation project”, and wanted Christians to be cautious. Chandy took a principled stand that his government would neither allow forcible conversions, nor hate campaigns against Muslims.
The Christian connection to love jihad in Kerala appeared to have gained some credence when a Christian girl who converted into Islam through marriage to a Muslim boy, was arrested for supplying SIM cards to a suspected Laskar-e-Taiba operative, the most notorious terror suspect in the state so far.
The anxiety over the alleged racket in Kerala was acute indeed.
Following complaints by the parents of two girls, who said that their daughters had been cheated into Islam through marriage, the Kerala High Court in 2009 had asked the state government to take a look. The government, after an investigation, told the court that although there were complaints of “love jihad”, there was no evidence to back such an allegation.
The alleged phenomenon was not restricted to Kerala alone, but had spread to the neighbouring state of Karnataka as well - more precisely in Mangalore which also has a multi-religious population. The Karnataka High Court also had asked the state police in 2009 to enquire into the allegations. The police, as in the case of Kerala, told the Court that there was no evidence.
Interestingly, the suspected activity brought the Christian and Hindu organisations together in Kerala. ''Both Hindu and Christian girls are falling prey to the design. So we are cooperating with the VHP on tackling this. We will work together to whatever extent possible,'' K S Samson, an office-bearer of Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), a Kochi-based Christian NGO told Times of India in 2009.
Reportedly, there were referrals and information-sharing between the two organisations. The VHP had set up a hotline and claimed that it had received about 1500 calls in three months.
The Muslim groups called the charges, a ”malicious misinformation campaign" by Sangh Parivar outfits."The misinformation campaign against the non-existent organisation in the name of 'Love Jihad' would only lead to vitiating the prevailing communal harmony and create suspicion among various communities and the parties concerned should keep themselves away from levelling unsubstantiated charges”, a joint statement by prominent Muslim leaders said in 2009.
In Kerala, the controversy seemed to have settled down on its own in 2009 after the High Court intervention and the police investigation, but strangely it was revived by none other than the CPM veteran and the then chief minister VS Achuthanandan.
In a press conference, he had said that Muslim fundamentalists in the state were trying to increase their clout by encouraging conversions. He alleged that a lot of money was being pumped into the state to attract the youth and provide them with weapons; they are also persuaded to marry Hindu girls.
Although the heat of the controversy died down, at least in its intensity, in Karnataka as well, the aftereffects are far from over. Reportedly, Deputy Chief Minister KS Eshwarappa had used the term during the election campaign in 2013 and was served with a notice by the Election Commission. This Open magazine article (http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/love-jihad) described how the organised campaigns by Hindu groups had vitiated the socio-cultural atmosphere of Mangalore even as late as 2013. There were also allegations of the involvement of Muslim boys from North Kerala.
From the evidence in Kerala and Karnataka since 2009, it’s clear that “love jihad” was an organised campaign by certain quarters to fuel the suspicion of Muslims. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the same communal anxiety has resurfaced elsewhere in the country. If religious leaders play with this fire, the price that we are going to pay will be higher because the communal rife in UP at the moment appears far more vicious than that existed in Kerala and Karnataka.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2014 11:38 AM