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Mainstream, VOL LV No 50 New Delhi December 2, 2017

Love in the times of Fundamentalist Politics: Case of Hadiya

Saturday 2 December 2017

by Ram Puniyani

The politics of communal polarisation is focusing on many identity issues, one being the Love-Jihad, where a Hindu girl married to a Muslim or Christian man is targeted, and is legally manipulated in a manner to ensure that she is forced to be sent to her parents or to ‘anti-Conversion clinics’. There is some public knowledge about Hadiya and the bogey of Love-Jihad, spiced up with recruitment for participating in Jihad in Syria. Still, the cases of the likes of Swetha, a Hindu woman confined in a Yoga Centre, where she is being pressurised to abandon her marriage to a Christian man, are much less known. As per Swetha, the Yoga Centre as such is a re-conversion clinic for those women who have adopted Christianity or Islam and married non-Hindus. A lot has been coming in the media about the alleged immaturity of the girl Akhila who converted to Islam and married a Muslim man, who is a worker of the Popular Front of India (PFI).

The total focus on linking the case to the PFI, to alleged joining of planned terrorist activity in Syria, was brought in to give a different twist to the case. This was the pretext for the NIA to step in. This made the link of conversion of Akhila a sinister plan to woo Hindu girls, convert them to Islam and induct them into the terror module. Quite a fertile imagination of those in authority! In Hadiya’s case, the Court went to the extent of declaring that a 24-year-old girl is of a tender mind and gullible. The judges might have forgotten that in India the age of voting is 18 years, after which the person becomes adult and is responsible for one’s decisions and actions. Hadiya did say in the Court that her conversion and marriage to a Muslim man was out of her own volition. Later Court hearings did not call her for depositions. Even the latest Court verdict has given a month’s time before the Court will hear her in person. These are surprising times. An adult, a Homeopathic student is mature enough for taking decisions an her life, but keeping her in her parents’ custody away from her husband is unthinkable on moral and social grounds, grounds which should guide the interpretation of law and consequent decision.

In the case of Swetha, the Yoga Centre (Ernakulam), where she has been detained, turns out to be a place where emotional blackmail and even threats are being used to force the girls to abandon their new faith or to force their spouse to convert to Hinduism. Another Hindu woman, Sruthi Meledath, also testified a similar experience when she was asked to leave her Muslim husband, Anees Hamid, whom she planned to marry. This was at the Yogvidya Kendram. The similarity of the agenda of such centres is very clear.

The issue of Love-Jihad will become so dangerous for women in love, was not anticipated a decade ago. The cleverly crafted ‘Love-Jihad’ campaign is based on the patriarchal notions which are one of the core ingredients of communal politics. As per this communal thinking, the notion of ‘our women’, ‘their women’ guides them. Woman is regarded as the property of the man and is a symbol of community honour. In precipitating communal violence rumours based on threat to ‘our women’ is put at the forefront, Muzaffarnagar violence being the prime example of the same. At the same time, violating the modesty of women of the other community comes as a badge of honour in this scheme of things. The Love-Jihad issue began with coastal Karnataka, where inter-religious marriages were targeted, particularly when the girl was a Hindu and the boy a Muslim in most cases and occasionally a Christian. As such in an open society, social interaction among people of different religions does provide the ground for intercommunity interaction. This is something which can be the strong cementing factor in the concept of Fraternity in the triad of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

During the freedom movement, people like Gandhi and Ambedkar proactively talked about the role of intercommunity marriages in promoting the abolition of caste, and to extend the point that inter-religious marriages are the ground on which communal harmony and national integration find deeper and solid base. This is what the trajectory of things in democratic society should be. With the clouds of communal divisiveness coming up on the horizon, the patriarchal notions and attempts to control the lives of women have become stronger. In India Hindu communalists in particular have been floating organisations to discourage such alliances and to break them up when such unions take place.

One recalls the notorious Babu Bajrangi whose prime role was to attack intercommunity couples. In West Bengal the case of Priyanka Todi and Rizwan Kausar is a painful reminder of the malady taking deep roots in the society. While patriarchal values are there in other social ideologies also, in communalism, fundamentalism these are absolute in degree. While there are glorious examples of marriages between a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl and vice versa, it seems the intimidations of the likes of Hadiya and Sruthi are being taken to absurd limits to set examples in the society to dissuade others from taking such steps. The Yoga Centre as a decoy for breaking inter-caste marriages is sad news. Here deceit is the tool to break the spirit of girls involved in the process. The torture of the spouse involved in these cases has not been much recorded. As such love knows no boundaries of caste, class, religion and nationality. One can say inter-religious marriages can also be an index of communal harmony and transition to a society where gender equality is respected and striven for!

These two incidents have abundantly demonstrated that here in Kerala, apart from the bogey of the CPM’s attacks on the RSS cadres, Love-Jihad is a big propaganda issue raked up during the last few years.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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