Love jihad phobia grips Kerala: Growing rhetoric around forced conversions is denting social fabric of state

KM Ashokan regrets his decision to push his daughter Akhila to become a doctor. Ashokan, a lower-rung ex-serviceman, used his life savings to send his lone child to a homoeopathy medical college at Salem in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, hoping she would become a support to the family that survives on his meagre pension. But instead of a returning as a doctor, 24-year-old Akhila became Hadiya and came back as a full-blown Islamic preacher.

The situation is identical for Bindhu Sampath, who sent her daughter to a dental college in Kerala's northern district of Kasargode. Nimisha abandoned her study mid-way and disappeared after embracing Islamic faith and marrying a Christian youth, who converted to Islam.

While Bindhu believes that Nimisha, who has taken the name Fathima after her conversion, has been taken to the Islamic State territory in Afghanistan by Isa (Bexon Antony), her husband, along with their 10-month-old baby, Ashokan says his daughter is talking about Syria and the holy war after she converted to Islam and married a Muslim youth (Shefin Jehan) working in Qatar.

 Love jihad phobia grips Kerala: Growing rhetoric around forced conversions is denting social fabric of state

File image of Hadiya. Image courtesy: Firstpost Hindi

Nimisha was among 21 persons who were reported missing in May last year. Subsequent investigations revealed that they had crossed over to Afghanistan with the intention of joining the Islamic State. The group also included three Christians who had converted to Islam.

These are among a few cases of conversion and inter-faith marriages that the Sangh Parivar is flaunting to portray Kerala as a land of 'Love Jihad'. The growing rhetoric over the so-called indoctrination and conversion is fast denting the social fabric of the southern state. Strains of ill-flatted claims and counter-claims have started becoming visible in the education sector with non-Muslim parents showing reluctance to send their daughters alone to colleges in Muslim dominated areas and marrying them off early.

Many professional colleges in north Kerala and neighbouring Mangaluru in Karnataka admit that the number of non-Muslim girls seeking admission in their institutions was showing a decline. The Muslim-managed institutions are worst hit. For many Hindu parents, these colleges are their last choice.

"Once more than 60 percent of students were from Kerala... and girls formed a major chunk of them. Now the number of girl students have dwindled dramatically. Many of our seats are vacant now," lamented the principal of a nursing college in Mangaluru who did not wish to be identified.

Parents have been suspicious about educational institutions because the process of conversion of many who embraced Islam recently began there. Hadiya alias Akhila was drawn to Islam while studying at the Salem college. Similarly, the parents of Nimisha believe that their daughter was fully radicalised at the college where she pursued her BDS course.

"I have told many investigating agencies that my daughter was fully radicalised at the college. An organised group is working there to net gullible victims. If parents have some fear in this regard they can't be blamed either," said Bindhu.

"We can't take chances. Our children's lives are more important than their education," said Nimisha's father, a government servant, referring to the reluctance being shown by non-Muslim parents to send their daughters educational institutions in Muslim dominated areas.

The fear is palpable among non-resident Keralites outside the state, within India and abroad, who usually send their children to their home state for higher education. A senior Malayali journalist working with a national daily in Madhya Pradesh said that he has been getting calls from several fellow Keralites in the state enquiring whether it was safe to send their daughters alone to Kerala for education and other purposes.

The non-residents cannot be blamed since they form their opinion on the issues in their home state mostly on the basis of media reports. Ever since 21 persons from the state went missing and the annulling of the marriage of Hadiya with Jehan by the Kerala High Court, political parties to news-hungry media houses have been in a race to sensationalise the issue.

But people within the state, who are aware of the ground realities are also not free from the phobia despite a series of counter-campaigns launched by various Muslim organisations and non-BJP parties.

This became evident in the case of Shruthi Nair, who was not allowed by her parents to join a dental college in Kasargode. Shruthi, hailing from Cherthala, got selected to a Muslim managed institution in the last medical entrance examination. But she had to opt for a college in Ernakulam to pursue her degree in zoology instead following her parents' objection.

This fear was shared by many Christian and Hindu parents Firstpost talked to in Kerala and abroad. Brijesh Kumar, who is living with his family in Muscat, is planning to shift his wife to Kerala along with his daughter if they succeed in their attempt to get an admission for her in a professional college in Kerala next year. He said that he was aware that the reports about love jihad were exaggerated but he did not want to take a chance since his daughter is at a vulnerable age.

"I am not worried about conversion alone. Boys try to lure girls through various inducements. They especially target children of NRIs because they have no one to control them in their new locations and they are relatively more affluent. We don't want our daughter to fall prey to such allurements," Brijesh said.

Some, who have already sent their daughters to Kerala for higher studies, have started taking precaution following the media reports. Jeddah-based businessman, Saji Joseph, who had put up his daughter in a hostel at Kozhikode for pursuing her degree in Psychology, has shifted her to his sister's place.

Siby Varghese, who works in Dubai, has no such option in Thiruvananthapuram, where his 18-year-old daughter has joined a college for a mass communication course. However, he has started closely monitoring her movements and activities through Whatsapp every day to ensure that she is not lured into other faiths.

"We have brought up our daughter with a strong faith in Jesus Christ. We are confident that she will not abandon it under outside influence. Still, we are keeping in constant touch with her to ensure that she does not choose wrong friends who may misguide her," Siby told Firstpost.

Anil Mathew, an office bearer of a Malayali organisation at Dhammam in Saudi Arabia said love jihad was among the issues hotly debated in their routine family meetings. He said that many parents were concerned over media reports regarding forcible conversions.

"We have not come across anybody fearing to send their daughters to Kerala because of love jihad so far. But the raging campaign over the issue could trigger a fear psychosis among NRIs in the future. This will certainly affect the education and career of girls," he added.

Dubai-based Sajeevan Govindan said fear had started gripping the NRIs following reports that many organised gangs were active in the state to lure young Hindu and Christian girls into Islam. Many are reluctant to send their daughters to north Kerala, where a majority of the educational institutions are controlled by Muslim managements.

The fear is not confined to education alone. Parents having daughters of marriageable age are also concerned.

Hindu Aikya Vedi state president KP Sasikala Teacher, who interacted with parents of some converted Hindu girls recently, said that they rued their failure to marry them off early. She told Firstpost that many people belonging to the Hindu community have started finding partners for their daughters after crossing their legal marriageable age.

"We are afraid this would set an early marriage trend in Kerala if the forced conversions are not brought to an end soon. Marrying off girls before they acquire maturity is not good. Such marriages may break down leading to a rise in the already high rate of divorces in the state," Sasikala said.

The term love jihad was coined by fringe Hindu groups to describe forced conversions from Hinduism to Islam and interfaith marriages. It started spreading after the Sangh Parivar joined the chorus against love jihad to curry favour with the majority community, who could not be wooed by the hard Hindutva line the party followed elsewhere in the country.

The party sought to fuel the campaign by blending jihad with red-terror during the Janaraksha Yatra it undertook last month. Though the yatra did not strike a resonance with the people, the frequenting parroting of the term by senior leaders and union ministers throughout the 17-day yatra and subsequently by the National Women’s Commission acting chairperson Rekha Sharma has lent credence to the fears among the people.

The women's panel chief has confounded the fears of terming love jihad as organised human trafficking. She made the controversial statement after visiting some of the victims during her three-day tour of the state and directed the state police chief to probe a dozen-odd-cases of what she called forced conversions.

State Women Commission chairperson MC Josephine later chided her for painting the state badly. She termed Rekha's statement politically motivated. It is unfortunate that politics has taken over an unfortunate incident. Political parties and the media have been sensationalising it and are unmindful of its repercussions, she added.

Muslim leaders say the missing case was an aberration and the whole community disowned them. They say it is wrong to paint a large canvass citing an isolated incident. They blame the missing incident for the knee-jerk reactions from the Judiciary in the Hadiya case.

"When my nephew Hafisuddin (one of the missing 21) was reportedly killed in a US drone attack last year, we refused to do his last rites. We disowned them the moment we heard they are on the Islamic State war front," said his uncle TK Abdul Rehman, a professional singer.

Secular leaders do admit that some mischief makers are fomenting trouble but instead of taking them legally it is improper to blame the whole community citing shrill incidents. They want saner voices from the community to speak up and isolate forces that fan hatred and animosity. Truly, love jihad is a highly emotive issue.

Updated Date: Nov 09, 2017 15:57:18 IST