The debate on the Sangh Parivar’s ‘love jihad’ propaganda attracted much attention across India by manufacturing the villainous character of the ‘Muslim youth’, its global implications, and much more. What we missed in this whole hullabaloo was how such propaganda made the lives of many young women worse due to the complicity of the central and state governments.
The most highlighted case of ‘love jihad’ is the one involving the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin Jahan. Since the events related to Hadiya’s conversion to Islam and her marriage unfolded before the public, Hadiya suffered much hardship. It is in Kerala that the ‘love Jihad’ conspiracy was first cooked up – inventing ‘statistics’ of thousands of Hindu girls who were ‘victimised’ through ‘jihad’ in the name of love.
When we search for facts behind these exaggerated figures, we are also reminded of what former chief minister Oommen Chandy declared at the Kerala Legislative Assembly: “There was no evidence of forced conversions in the state and the fears about ‘love jihad’ are baseless.”
Then what is the real aim of such baseless accusations?
It obviously targets the issue of religious conversion. Converting to any religion is a matter of individual freedom enshrined in the Constitution. People convert to religions at various levels. In our casteist society, many people from lower caste communities convert to Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity to live more equitable and dignified lives.
At the same time, others convert from the perspective of spirituality and notion of ‘purification of self.’ Whatever the motives and methods for conversion, every effort must be acknowledged and respected.
What the Sangh Parivar envisions in India, however, is very hostile to such a tolerant environment of religious freedom.
Sangh Parivar’s ‘Torture Cells’
Their claims of preservation of Indic culture made them enemies of everything which is ‘non-indic’ in origin. Such rigid nationalistic tendencies are the root cause of their hatred and intolerance towards Semitic religions, especially towards Islam and Christianity.
Thus, they want to instil fear of religious conversion in the minds of Hindus through fabricated stories of the ‘villainous’ Muslim, who tries to lure Hindu women. This fear-psychosis has a grave impact on people as evidenced in the brutal murder and burning of Afrajul Khan in Rajasthan.
What if such fear psychosis doesn’t work on a woman? The next step will be at the ‘ghar wapsi’ centres, which are, in reality, torture cells of Hindutva. As the women supposedly don’t have any agency to decide for themselves in the patriarchal social system of the Sangh Parivar, they cannot marry on their own will. If a woman decides to marry out of her caste or religion, the only solution is to brainwash her through mental and physical torture.
Reports from Kerala suggest that there are many such ‘ghar wapsi’ centres that are working with full impunity and protection from the state machineries. Around 64 women, including Hadiya have suffered much torture in the cells of Thripunithura Ghar Wapsi Centre, which is still running in the constituency of M Swaraj, the MLA of CPI(M). While reports of experiences suffered by many women are coming to the limelight, the ruling Left government acts is complicit in the Sangh agenda.
The latest in this series of heinous incidents is the experience of 24-year-old Anjali, a resident of Thrissur, Kerala. She had been suffering in the torture cells of the Sangh Parivar in various parts of Kerala and Karnataka for the past two years. Her crime was that she loved a Muslim youth named Manas.
She was subjected to physical and mental torture at the hands of her mother and VHP members in various centres, including the Amrutha Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, VHP Centre at Ernakulam, and the Ghar Wapsi Centre at Thripunithura, among others. After two years of persecution, the police rescued her and the court sent her to Mahila Mandiram in Mangalore.
Later, her uncle approached the court to set her free. At present, she’s staying with her uncle at his home, and hopes to marry Manas, and at the same time, pursue higher education.
(Read Anjali’s full statement in the second part of this two-part story)
(The writer is a Research Fellow at the Centre for West Asian Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and can be reached @hishamulwahab. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)