What the Muzaffarnagar riots were to the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is perhaps hoping ‘love jihad’ will be to the state assembly elections in 2017.
In an already deeply communalised political atmosphere of Western Uttar Pradesh, which by no coincidence is notorious for the brutal practice of honour killings, the BJP has decided to resurrect the ghost of ‘love jihad’ for maximum impact.
For all their claims of wanting to ‘save’ Hindu women from ‘love jihad’, women’s rights activists from Uttar Pradesh warn that the campaign will only tighten the patriarchal grip on young women and end up encouraging those who commit violent crimes in the name honour against those who dare tradition by marrying outside their caste or religion.
Despite the prevalence of honour killings in India, there is no official data on the heinous crime. The National Crime Records Bureau does not recognise honour killing as a separate crime category.
But data based on news reports in Hindi and English national dailies on honour killings compiled by the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) paints a grim picture of Uttar Pradesh (UP). AALI is a Lucknow-based feminist advocacy group that addresses issues of violence against women and has been working on women’s right to choice in sexual relationships.
In 2013, according to data compiled by AALI, there were 85 reported cases of honour killing in UP, compared to 24 in all other Indian states put together. Up to March 2014, the number of reported cases of honour killing in UP were 27 compared to five in all other states combined.
For the BJP to raise the bogey of ‘love jihad’ in a state with as a violent record of patriarchal crimes as UP will have extremely grave and long-term implications for young women and inter-religious couples, say women’s rights activists.
“This an extremely serious issue. This kind of a campaign will have serious negative implications on couples who are in inter-religious relationships and marriages. They will be afraid now of being attacked or having such allegations levelled against them. Such statements (raising fears about ‘love jihad) have strong impact on people because it has to do with religious sentiments, with people’s faith and beliefs. When such insecurities are created in the minds of parents, they’ll be afraid that their daughters will be trapped. And because of such feelings of insecurity, the vulnerability and violence against women will only increase,” says Avantika Srivastva, Program Co-ordinator at AALI’s Resource Center.
In a scenario, where inter-religious couples are even denied shelter by landlords because of the ‘sensitivity’ of the issue, a campaign of this sort will expose them to even more hostility and insecurity, say activists. Even the police, they say, in the case of inter-religious relationships or marriages are keen on sending the girl back to the family because of the potential for fear of a communal flare-up. And that’s the situation even without a vicious campaign like ‘love jihad’ being unleashed against them.
Asked about the impact of this kind of propaganda on practice of honour killings, Srivastva said, “Of course, this provides encouragement to people who call for honour killings. And it also increase regressive social practices such as early marriages. Parents will say they don’t want their daughters falling prey to ‘love jihad’. And the impact won’t be limited to the issue of marriage, there will be direct implications on the day-t0-day to life of women – her mobility will be restricted, her use of mobile phones will be controlled and so will what she wears, whom she meets.”
Slamming the ‘love jihad’ campaign as a ‘political stunt’, Rehana Abeed, an activist who has spent the last two decades fighting for women’s rights in Western UP’s Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur districts, also warns of the threat it poses to the lives and rights of women.
“This is not only a threat to communal harmony it is also a ploy to deny women their rights. They want to bring the Talibani system into India. The people who are spreading the fear of ‘love jihad’ are Hindustan’s Taliban. Just like there are fanatics in the Muslim community, there are fanatics in the Hindu community too. They want to keep women in chains…This kind of propaganda will only lead to more honour killings, more daughters will die. It give embolden patriarchal forces to oppose the rights of young women to study, to communicate freely, to wear what they want,” says Abeed, who is founder-director of NGO Astitva.
On the question of conversion in inter-religious marriages, AALI explains why for some couples conversion is simply the most practical solution to getting a quick legal marriage certificate. The Special Marriage Act that recognises inter-religious marriage has one very serious practical problem, says Srivastva.
“When couples apply to be married under the Special Marriage Act, a one-month notice announcing the marriage is put up in court. This creates fear in the minds of couples of word of their marriage reaching their families. They are also afraid that if someone in the family comes to know, it could even lead to honour killing. But if the boy or girl converts, they have the option of either going to an Arya Samaj mandir, in which case they will get a marriage certificate by end of the day, or doing a nikah, in which case they will get a nikah nama, which is also a legally valid document. So this also a reason why the boy or the girl converts,” explains Srivastva.
All too familiar with the extreme pressure and blackmail tactics used by families, they say, it is not uncommon for girls to be forced to testify against the boy who is then jailed and charged with kidnapping and abduction charges.
Not surprisingly, providing support to inter-caste and inter-religious couples has exposed organisations like AALI and Astistva to attacks and vilification campaigns. “There have been multiple attacks on me and my organisation. I have been fighting since 1989 for women’s rights. Earlier we used to be called house-wreckers. Now we are called kidnappers. Things are only going to worse now,” says Abeed.
In deciding to play the ‘love jihad’ card in a deeply patriarchal and communally charged state like UP, BJP has not only endangered the rights of women but also made them vulnerable to the worst kinds of patriarchal violence.
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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2014 09:06:12 IST