On 13 May, two burqa-clad Muslim women were in a busy market in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, along with a male colleague and friend, when they were accosted by a mob seemingly comprising Muslim men. The mob demanded that the women reveal their names and their ‘relationship’ with the male friend – a Hindu.
In a video of the incident that subsequently went viral, the women could be heard saying, “Uncle who hamara dost hai (Uncle, he is our friend).”
To this, the mob of men retorted, “Kaisa dost hai? Hinduon ko dost banaoge tum? (What kind of friend? You will now make Hindus your friend?).” The men then proceeded to pull down their niqabs (face veil) to reveal the women’s faces.
Each time the women pulled their niqabs back up, the men would pull them down. While thrusting multiple cameras on their faces they said, “Chehra dikhao (Show your faces)... Ladki ka photo lo (Take the girl’s picture).”
They then proceeded to badger the Hindu man with questions about his background. The man replied saying he and the women are staff members; the women too repeatedly clarified that he is “like a brother” to them, but all their insistence went in vain.
This is just one among many recent incidents sparked by the campaign against the so-called “Bhagwa Love Trap.”
On the same day, not too far away from Meerut, in the city of Muzaffarnagar, a Hindu man and a Muslim woman riding pillion with him on a bike were harassed by a separate mob. Here too the woman’s niqab was forcefully pulled down and her face videographed. As per the First Information Report (FIR) in the case accessed by The Quint, the Hindu man has alleged that a day after this incident, the same mob reached his colony and intimidated him there too.
Meerut Police told The Quint that six men were arrested in the case. “Dimagh ki gandagi hai (it’s the filth in their mind)”, said Sanjay Varma, the police inspector who investigated this case. Five accused were arrested in the Muzaffarnagar case.
Just two days later, on 15 May, a similar incident surfaced in Bihar’s capital Patna, where the Hindu man was beaten by the mob, abusing him for “roaming around with a Muslim woman.”
Muslim Women’s Niqab and Hijab Pulled; Harassed, Assaulted
In the last two months, several similar incidents have occurred in different parts of the country. These incidents have been reported from UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat among other states.
The Quint has identified and studied multiple such cases, all of which follow a similar pattern. One or two Muslim women found with a Hindu man are cornered at a restaurant or market, or their bike is intercepted in the middle of the road. The man is beaten or roughed up, and the woman’s niqab is pulled down, and most frightfully, the video of the incident uploaded on the internet as if they have been caught red-handed committing a crime.
In most such videos, the woman is asked about her father and brother’s information – phone number, name and address. Despite most of these incidents transpiring in public, crowded spots, most people are seen standing as mere spectators, not intervening on the woman or couple’s behalf.
In many cases, the woman is also guilt-tripped on religious lines.
On 21 May, in UP’s Moradabad, a Muslim woman was hauled up in the market by a mob, for ‘being spotted’ with a Hindu man. When she retorted and asked the men, “Tumhe matlab kya hai? (How is this your business?)”, one of them responded saying, “Kis naam ki Musalman hai? Tujhey qabr mein nahi jaana? (What kind of a Muslim are you? Don’t you have to go to the grave?)”
“Why are you roaming with him? Are all Muslim men dead?” he then asked, rhetorically. Three men were subsequently named in the FIR and arrested by the Moradabad police.
In some cases, such acts of moral policing and vigilantism take a more extreme shape. A 19-year-old Muslim student had been staying in Maharashtra’s Sambhaji Nagar (previously Aurangabad), preparing for an entrance exam. On 24 April, when she decided to visit the monument ‘Bibi Ka Maqbara’ with her friends, including Hindu boys, a mob of Muslim men began following them.
The police told The Quint that while the Hindu boys, fearing trouble, fled the scene, the woman was left behind and assaulted. In the video of the incident, the woman can be seen speeding forward, but the men kept chasing her. The men then pulled down her backpack and her hijab, grabbed her hands, snatched her phone, and cornered her from all sides. Throughout the video, she kept crying, “Chhodo mujhey (Let me go),” but they persisted. The police arrested three men in the case for harassment.
Interfaith Couples Doxed on Twitter and Instagram
Targeting of interfaith couples in India is not new. What is new, however, is this specific brand of trying to “save” the Muslim woman from what is increasingly being termed as the so-called “Bhagwa Love Trap”. This initially started as a social media hashtag, with most posts using it to ‘spread awareness’ about the “threat” of Hindu men trying to “lure Muslim women.” This soon, however, transformed into harassing interfaith couples (where the woman is Muslim), as in the above-mentioned cases, and also more recently, doxing them.
On 23 May, a Twitter handle @migilani tweeted a screenshot from the Telangana government’s marriage registration website, showing names, photos and details of interfaith couples.
The tweet said: “List of Muslim women marrying disbelievers in Telangana. Anyone willing to reach their families and inform them about it?”
The Quint has blurred out the details of the couples while reproducing the screenshot from the account.
Several individuals on Twitter called out the person running the account, for doxing the details of interfaith couples, to which the person responded saying that the information is already in public domain – available on the Telangana government’s website.
Doxing is commonly referred to as the act of searching for and leaking private or identifying information about a person/group on the internet, with a malicious intention. While the Telangana government website does have a notice dashboard revealing names and details of all couples getting married, this tweet specifically screenshotted and shared information of a certain kind of couples – not even all interfaith couples, but only those where the woman is a Muslim.
Since then, the Twitter account has been taken down, presumably after many called for it to be reported.
But this is only one among other accounts spreading such information. On Instagram, pages like 'save. Muslimgirl', 'wake.up.muslim.girls', 'stop_bhagwa_love', 'stop_bhagwalovetrap', and others, last week shared screenshots of purported chats between a Muslim woman and a Hindu man, along with the photograph of the Muslim woman and a picture of her residence in Kolkata.
There are also images that are being circulated on WhatsApp asking others to spread awareness on what they call “Bhagwa love trap”.
Hindutva Speeches Encouraging Hindu Men To 'Target' Muslim Women
Some of those alleging the prevalence of “Bhagwa love trap” often cite statements and speeches given by Hindutva groups and leaders in recent times.
For instance, in 2017, the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliate group, launched a ‘Beti Bachao, Bahu Lao’ campaign, encouraging Hindu men to marry Muslim women. The group also said it would facilitate the wedding of 2,100 such couples in the coming months. The group called it a means to “counter Love Jihad” and also to ensure “population control.”
Then, in March this year, Hindutva leader Kajal Hindustani gave an inflammatory speech in Gujarat on the occasion of Ram Navami, enumerating the many “advantages” that a Muslim woman will have if she marries a Hindu man. She was later arrested for her speech.
Then, last year, a pandit (Hindu priest), in UP’s Bareilly gave interviews talking about how he has gotten several Muslim women married to Hindu men. The Quint spoke to the pandit, KK Shankhdhar, to understand what his claims were.
“The first such couple that came to me was back in 2013. Since then I have gotten a total of 79 such couples married. These are couples who voluntarily walk up to me,” Shankhdhar told The Quint.
However, he denied getting the Muslim woman converted before marriage. “The wedding takes place as per Hindu rituals, it’s a Hindu wedding. But I am not involved in getting anyone converted,” he added. Asked if he has ever gotten a Muslim man and Hindu woman married, he said that once a few years ago one such couple did approach him. “But when I explained the procedure of the wedding to him, the man said he will not do any idol worship. I said then there can be no wedding since it’s a part of the ritual. They left and never came back to me,” Shankhdhar added.
Shankhdhar, who is also the city president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said that while he hasn’t gotten any Muslim woman converted, he claimed that they do get “empowered” after the marriage.
“Many of the women who come are victims of triple talaq. Getting married to Hindus helps them improve their lives,” he claimed.
There are also several previous instances of fetishising of Muslim women, resulting in their online harassment, such as conversations on the Clubhouse app where participants passed obscene remarks about Muslim women, or the ‘Sulli Deals’ and ‘Bulli Bai’ auctioning of Muslim women, or even pages on Instagram dedicated to posts of a similar nature.
A YouTuber, Vikram Mishra, has posted videos of him with a woman dressed in a burqa, calling her ‘Rehana’, and saying that he married her as per his tradition and is now going to “have fun with her” – then asks UP CM Yogi Adityanath to help them with money. In his other videos, the same woman shows up with a Hindu name.
'Muslim Women Can Take Their Own Decisions, Men Have No Business Interfering’
The statements and speeches by the Hindutva forces notwithstanding, the moral policing and harassment of interfaith couples isn’t justified, says writer Annie Zaidi.
“The men harassing the Muslim woman think that she isn’t capable of knowing what to do with her life or her body. The point isn’t whether the Hindu man is ‘trapping’ her or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument she is being brainwashed or lured, it’s still none of your business. She is an adult who can make her own decisions,” Zaidi said.
“The same men won’t have a problem if a Muslim woman is being abused or troubled by her Muslim husband. So clearly this has nothing to do with concern for the woman or her well-being. This is about your ego, your sense of a community ego,” Zaidi, the author of Prelude To A Riot, said.
Zaidi also emphasised the importance of consent in Islam. “Islam is the only religion where a woman’s consent is explicitly needed and asked for, and here her consent is being completely disregarded.”
In the last many years, India has seen an ever-rising discourse around so-called “Love Jihad” – a conspiracy theory that suggests that Muslim men are out to lure and marry Hindu women, only to convert them to Islam. Zaidi says that the ‘Bhagwa Love Trap’ theory could be a reaction to that.
“It’s like you cannot assert yourself outside the community, so you try to assert yourself inside the community on the weaker section,” Zaidi added.
Zaidi also contextualised the incidents of Muslim men harassing interfaith couples as a reaction to the many speeches by the Hindutva leaders over the years encouraging Hindu men to lure and marry Muslim women.
“Seeing such speeches must of course mess with your mind. And it’s true that no Muslim leader has ever even remotely encouraged ‘love jihad’. In fact, it’s not a thing, it’s fiction. So I don’t think the two can be compared or equated,” she said.
“But nonetheless, the only thing a supportive man can and should do is be there for a woman when she tries to assert her agency, and also be there for if things go awry and she wants to leave an abusive relationship. That is the best thing to do if you actually want to support the community and consider her a part of it,” Zaidi added.