Creative Producer: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Athar Rather, Shiv Kumar Maurya, Abhishek Ranjan
Illustrations: Erum Gour
Editorial Inputs: Aditya Menon, Tridip K Mandal
Executive Producer: Ritu Kapur
“Do you think there can be love between someone who eats cow meat and someone who considers cows holy?”
Vijaykant Chauhan, who calls himself the ‘Love Jihad Guru’, asked a bunch of Class 12 students at an academic coaching centre in Saharanpur.
The students nodded in unison – “NO.”
Vijaykant, owner of a local Gaushala who is allegedly charged with over 150 criminal cases, prides himself for allegedly “unearthing the concept of ‘Love Jihad’ in western Uttar Pradesh”, working towards stopping interfaith marriages in the region for years.
Not very far away, in another town of Uttar Pradesh, Moradabad, a 22-year-old woman grieves the death of her unborn child as her husband reels from the trauma of being jailed under the new anti-conversion law in the state, introduced by the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as a ‘law against Love Jihad’.
Muskan changed her name from Pinky when she married Rashid in July 2020. According to her, the couple fell in love while working in Dehradun, decided to get married and return to Rashid’s hometown in Moradabad to spend the lockdown. But, her life turned upside down when she went to register her marriage in court on 5 December.
“Members from Bajrang Dal stopped us on our way back from the court. They asked for documents and proof of my conversion. I told them that I am an adult, I have married Rashid and converted to another religion of my own volition. But, they took me to the police station.”Muskan
What followed were repeated calls to her mother in Bijnor, a police complaint against her husband and her brother-in-law and a miscarriage due to alleged medical negligence at a government shelter home. After a month since the incident, Muskan has just one question to the members of Bajrang Dal, because of whom she was sent to a Nari Niketan:
“What was the fault of my unborn child?”
Rashid was released on bail after the police found no evidence of ‘Love Jihad’. As this couple try to bury the dreams they had for their first child, another interfaith couple – whose marriage had shaken Western Uttar Pradesh in 2014 – now lives in an undisclosed area, away from their families.
Shalu had accused Kaleem of abduction, gang rape and forceful conversion.
Their case was taken up as a textbook example of ‘Love Jihad’ by right-wing groups and BJP leaders. BJP’s political campaign before the 2014 by-election also found many mentions of ‘Love Jihad’.
But two months later, Shalu eloped with Kaleem and claimed that her father had pressured her to file the case against him after taking money from a local BJP leader. Kaleem was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court in April 2015. They got married the same year.
We visited their village near Meerut in December 2020. The couple now lives in an undisclosed area and despite repeated attempts, do not want to speak to the media to avoid further trouble. Kaleem’s family told us their lives and relationships have changed since the incident. But Shalu’s father said he has still not accepted their marriage, even after six years.
“She tried to call once or twice, but I had asked her not to call again since she brought disrepute to our family. Our relatives and members of our community don’t want to keep in touch with us, when I was not even at fault.”Narender Tyagi, Shalu’s Father
But, members of right-wing groups still take credit for bringing forth the concept of ‘Love Jihad’ in West UP through Shalu and Kaleem’s case.
“I had fought very hard when the case was going on. I had gheraoed the police station, threatened the police officer to file an FIR if he wants to avoid violence.”Balraj Dungar
Balraj Dungar claims to have been a part of the Bajrang Dal for 15 years and has also served as the outfit’s West UP head before exiting in 2019. He is now a BJP member, aspiring for a ticket in the next UP elections.
Sitting in his house in Meerut, Dungar says he believes that just how the alleged Hindu exodus (in Kairana) had emerged as a primary electoral issue in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, ‘Love Jihad’ could become one of the poll planks in the 2022 elections.
Dungar says the Muzaffarnagar riots flared up in 2013 due to a conspiracy by Muslims to insult the Hindu community by harassing “one of their daughters”. But the claim that a Hindu girl was stalked by a Muslim man was later reported as dubious since the first police reports showed mention of only a motorcycle accident.
Over the years, different investigations, SITs formed to probe ‘Love Jihad’ claims in different parts of the country, including UP, have found no evidence of any conspiracy. Even the Union Home Ministry and the National Commission for Women have denied having any data or definition for ‘Love Jihad’.
Despite that, it does not stop right-wing groups from peddling fake news or threatening violence in the name of 'Love Jihad'.