Analysis

The Hate "Foreigner" Jihad of Hindu Nationalist Organisations

I.

There is an interesting pattern in which the Hindu Nationalist Organisations (HNOs) exploit a non-issue to stigmatize communities which were declared by them as "foreigners". V D Savarkar wrote in his tract on Hindutva, "Nothing can weld peoples into a nation and nations into a state as the pressure of a common foe. Hatred separates as well as unites." Savarkar located the common foe in Muslims and Christians whose holy lands were outside Sindhustan, or land running from Indus to Arabian Sea. The Hindu Nationalist Organisations have since invested their concerns in constructing a common foe, more imaginary than real and more mythological than historical. First they focused exclusively on Muslims; however, after NDA came to power in 1998, they started stigmatizing Christians in their public discourse for converting Hindus.

The HNOs have a peculiar way of taking up issues that stigmatize the communities they believe are foreigners. First, they are indoctrinated in the training programmes for their high level officers. The officers so trained then take up the issue at the local level grossly exaggerating the threat and magnitude of the issue and even creating one. The issue is spoken about regularly till some individuals start perceiving the threat to be real and critical, and develop negative attitude towards the community. When the individuals who develop negative attitude towards the community grow into a critical mass, they are mobilized for a violent action targeting the imagined "enemy" community. Violence generates media coverage and curiosity on the issue among the people and the trained officer of the HNO has an opportunity to popularize the disinformation on the issue and polarize the communities.

First we see the "fringe" elements taking up an issue that stigmatizes the "enemy" community and testing waters. If there is adverse public reaction and hostile coverage, as in the case of attack on women in the pubs, or valentine day celebration, then it remains at that level. However if the violent attack does not attract public outcry or condemnation, then the issue is taken up by one of the more established HNO at a higher level to generate more literature, ideas, spice it up with imaginary facts and carryout wider campaigns on the issue to invoke feeling of distrust and misgiving against the targeted "enemy" community and at worst, hatred and anger. Finally, the issue is taken up by the BJP at the level of state and governance. The HNOs are like a team of players in a football or a basket ball game, where the team players (HNOs) dribble with the ball (i. e. a divisive issue) and pass it on to the forward player to score a goal. At every stage, violence is strategically deployed to ensure adequate coverage in the media on the issue and enhanced curiosity among members of public while disinformation is being disseminated. The Babri Masjid issue too passed these stages. In 1949 idols of Ram were installed and the doors of Masjid were locked to Muslims - only a priest was allowed to worship the installed idol. Then in the 1980s VHP took up the campaign to open the gates of "Ramjanmabhoomi Temple" to members of public, which was done in 1986.

The campaign was so successful that large number of people knew the precise spot where Lord Ram was born even if they did not know when - even the century in which Lord Ram was born. More than the Temple, the campaign succeeded in dinning the "fact" that Muslims demolished temples to construct their Masjids and claim was made that there were 3,000 such Masjids though the list was never furnished and the goal post was widened to include any Masjid in future.

Anti-Muslim Gujarat riots in 2002 did not happen in a day and as a spontaneous response to the train burning - action reaction theory was just a cover up for the hard work that was ratcheting up the communal polarisation following Savarkar's advice of necessity of a "common foe" to fuse the Hindus into a nation. Muslims and Christians were being projected as the common foe of Hindus exploiting various issues during the period BJP was in power first in coalition with Gujarat Janata Dal of Chimanbhai Patel and later on its own. Varsha and Hanif's marriage was exploited to call for a Bardoli bandh for days until Hanif was put behind bars under draconian Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) with similar detention powers in the hands of police as in MISA and TADA. The term "love jihad" was not yet invented then. Entire Muslim community in Bardoli was punished by violence, social boycott, torching of their shops and homes and other measures for the "crime" committed by Hanif (and Varsha). Varsha resisted and stood up with Hanif till she could not bear anymore with the pressure that was brought on her - including the responsibility of riots. Media increased its TRPs and circulation covering the violence and "juicy" stories.

"Anti"-cow slaughter campaign by HNOs stops any vehicle owned by a Muslim or whose driver is a Muslim and transporting animals from one destination to another, seizes the vehicle and the animals and beats up the Muslim associate with the vehicle with the news being covered in the media that the Muslims were taking the cows illegally to a slaughter house. At times the animals being transported are not cows at all, and at times they are transported not to slaughter house but to another bonafide purchaser and with proper papers. This happens in places where the HNOs enjoy political patronage or at least have a favourable police officer and media support. The animals seized are often a booty earned for their "hard work".

The attitudes nurtured using such campaigns are that Muslims are polygamist and multiplying fast and would soon overwhelm the Hindu population in India; they are disloyal to the nation, loyal only to their religious commanders and to Pakistan, an aggressive and violent lot, bunch of anti-social and sexual assaulters, exploiting their own women, following completely different social code and morality, etc. The "enemy" communities are to be projected as completely different.

Christian community too having their holy land in Jerusalem were stigmatised as bunch of poachers aggressively converting vulnerable members of Hindu community. Voluntary conversion by any individual to Christianity was problematized by hundreds of districts were taking up the issue using violence and exaggerated claims and once BJP formed Govt. in states and NDA Govt. was formed in Centre, violence against Christians was scaled up in the Dangs district in Gujarat and Jhabua district in MP and the then PM called for a national debate on conversion. Murder of Graham Staines and his two sons in Mayurbhanj followed by anti- Christian riots in Kandhamal, Orissa in 2007 and 2008 (when BJP was a coalition partner in the Govt.) are instances of functioning of Hindu Nationalist Organizations.

Why does Hindutva problematize Love?

Hindutva is highly uncomfortable with cozy relations that develop due to common bonds between communities. Common worship, common culture, common civilization, shared localities and common marital relations are an absolute anathema with "enemy" communities. Savarkar writes in his tract on Hindutva, "Moreover everything that is common in us with our enemies, weakens our power of opposing them. The foe that has nothing in common with us is the foe likely to be most bitterly resisted by us". Commonness is resisted by stigmatizing campaigns and use of violence.

Most insignificant and routine differences, including culinary preferences are overemphasized and essentialized with the use of violence and propaganda accompanying it. Violence, invention and essentialization of differences and stigmatization has led to more popularization of the opinion that Muslims and Christians are essentially different from "us" than it was a few years ago. The opinion that Muslims and Christians are essentially different than "us" is more popular in areas where there have been higher outbreak of communal violence than in other areas. Muzaffarnagar is the latest instance of this. Before the communal violence in September 2013, Jats and Muslims followed the same traditions and social code, spoke the same dialiect and followed the same norms as regards to prohibited degree of matrimonial relations and gotra system is concerned, etc. with only one difference - they went to different places for their worship.

The perception of difference from Muslims was palpable when we visited villages of Muzaffarnagar after riots and the language of "we" and "they" was liberally used. Every incidence of communal violence is followed by segregation of spaces where the community lives on religious lines. Mumbai has higher degree of segregation of living spaces and ghettoization after the 1993 riots. Huge Muslim ghettos have come up in Mira Road and Mumbra after 1992-3 communal violence. Pravin Togadia recently incited a mob to force a Muslim who purchased a flat in a Hindu neighbourhood to surrender the same and even seize the flat if necessary.

What we call Hindu community now is a diverse society speaking many languages, proverbially worshiping 330 million gods and goddesses, inclusive of atheists, following varied and at times materially different philosophies and texts, rigidly divided into hierarchical caste structures and defying any definition. Hindutva's task was to undermine the diversity and differences within, nay, even retaining them, particularly the caste based hierarchies on one hand and yet fusing the community with caste based hierarchies into one "nation" - in Savarkar's words, "if India had to live at all a life whether spiritual or political according to the right of her soul, she must not lose the strength born of national and racial cohesion."

To accomplish this task of national and racial cohesion retaining the caste based hierarchies, Savarkar, who is aware of the shared common culture between different communities, in his tract on Hindutva written in 1923, comes up with the proposition of common blood flowing through the veins of those who have their holy land in Sindhustan that is land between River Sindhu and the Arabian Sea. But the proposition of common blood was less likely to be bought by those on the bottom of the caste ladder facing oppression, exclusion and daily indignities and status even lower than animals. Therefore creating and essentializing differences, constructing a common foe through use of violence has been the second element in two pronged strategy to fuse the diverse social existence into Hindu nation. To Savarkar, talking "mumbos and jumbos of universal brotherhood" leads to rebirth of Asuras killed by Vishnu in the form of "Mlenchchhas" who "kill the Brahmans, destroy the religious rites like the sacrifices, abduct the daughters of the sages; what sins do they not commit!"

Therefore interreligious marriages are a huge issue for the HNOs. It essentially checks their march towards fusing the diverse community into a "cohesive nation and race" in spite of all the diversities and hierarchies. Savarkar warned of identifying anything common with the enemy weakens the nation. His 1923 tract problematized Mlechchhas abducting daughters of sages. After the post partition bloodshed, the first major communal riot in India was in Jabalpur in the year 1961 when Usha Bhargav eloped with a son of a Muslim bidi magnet who was gradually succeeded in enhancing his share in bidi industry. The aggressive media coverage accusing the Muslim youth of raping Usha Bhargav led to her commit suicide.

In 1998, interreligious marriages in Randhikpur (Dist. Panchmal) and Bardoli became a pretext for fomenting communal violence in the BJP ruled state. VHP accused Muslim youth in Randhikpur of abducting Hindu girls and raping them without any substantiation. Communal violence on the 60-70 Muslim families in the sleepy village led to the minorities fleeing for three months from the village for their security. Varsha Shah and Hanif Memon in Bardoli married in June 1998. The incident not only led to violent attacks on minority and their social boycott and arrest of Hanif under PASA.

The state ruled by BJP following the Hindutva ideology responded by making far reaching changes in fashioning state as an invasive state requiring prior permission for registration of interreligious marriage from revenue officials. Invasive inquiries are carried out and the HNOs learn about such marriages and make it impossible for such marriages to be solemnized even if the couple was willing and ready and parents too supported the couple. The Hindu Nationalist state then polices the communal-national boundaries.

Recently in a Muslim women's workshop in Ahmedabad, we were aghast when the participants opined that an interreligious marriage was impossible in Gujarat. The only way out for such a couple was to escape to another state and get married risking their families' security, particularly the family of "enemy" community, and forced to give up their sources of livelihood in the state. It is not easy to find livelihood in another state and for each couple to choose getting cut off from their families and social support in times of crisis. Babu Bajrangi had specialized in even breaking up couples who had eloped. The modus operandi was simple - register a case of abduction and rape against the boy and get the Gujarat police to search for the boy, take him in custody and through proper "treatment" force the couple to break up.

II.
Love Jihad Campaign and the BJP:

The fact that the term "love jihad" was coined much later shows that it is by way afterthought. Though a massive attack and campaign was mounted during the Usha Bhargav case in Jabalpur in 1961 and Hanif-Varsha case in Bardoli in 1998, and in many other cases, charge of "love jihad" was not levied. The attacks on interreligious marriages were on usual ground of abduction and rape, which is normally resorted to by parents of the woman who decides to choose her life partner.

As the term jihad was popularized by media to signify terror attacks alleged to be carried out by SIMI or Indian Mujahideen or such organizations, a clever Hindutva mind borrowed the term to stigmatize interreligious marriages particularly those involving Muslim man and a Hindu woman. Jihad, many Islamic scholars have argued, means to strive or to struggle, and is struggle with self to control one's ego, desires, greed, negative emotions like jealousy, fear that leads one away from God's path etc.

However, thanks to medieval Muslim rulers and numerous politically motivated organizations misusing Islam on one hand and the media on the other hand, they popularized jihad to be some sort of war against non-believers including terrorist attacks. Jihad was linked to stigmatize interreligious marriages first in Kerala only a couple of years ago and the term was later exported to Northern Karnataka where HNOs extensively campaigned against Muslim boys and Hindu girls dating.

Though the HNOs in Karnataka aggressively propagated against interreligious courtships even exaggerating the incidences and attributing motives on part of Muslim youth, their real target was individual liberties and freedom of choice, particularly of the women to chose their life partner. In fact they were opposing dating and courtship itself among the young people and imposing a code where son and daughter are expected to obey the parents in all decisions pertaining to their lives, including choices of life partner. The campaign against marriage by choice of siblings became immensely popular among the elders in the community.

However, achievement of the campaign using the term "love jihad" was that even the university students, who normally support interreligious marriages, were mislead to oppose it. When our organization - the CSSS had organized a workshop in an upcoming university for their students, this writer was surprised by the opposition encountered to interreligious marriages.

UP Elections

The BJP won limited seats in the UP Assembly. For the 16th Lok Sabha elections, BJP identified UP is a crucial state if it had to come to power. Babri Masjid issue did not attract the electorate. The HNOs were therefore actively propagating and problematizing interreligious interactions between young people. The campaign was extensively taken up in the Jat dominated Western UP where communities are particularly sensitive about "honour" of women and where khap panchayats are fairly strong. Jats and Muslims once enjoyed good relations and fought together for the Independence right from the 1857 rebellion.

In fact the muley jats that inhabits Muzaffarnagar are recent converts to Hinduism. Jats and Muslims together were the backbone of the Bharatiya Kisan Union of Mahendra Singh Tikait and politically supported both the communities politically supported Charan Singh and later Ajit Singh. A steady and sustained anti-love jihad campaign for a couple of years helped polarize the communities on religious lines. As the 16th Lok Sabha elections were approaching and winning a couple of seats in UP for the BJP was crucial to win the General Elections.

Aggressive propaganda commenced to polarize the electorate. All issues were tried. The issue that helped most in stoking anti-Muslim feelings was Muslim boys and Hindu girls courting each other or Muslim boys teasing Hindu girls, though boys of all castes and communities tease girls irrespective of their religion and have misogynist attitudes and nurture patriarchal culture.

Muzaffarnagar is one of the most developed and prosperous districts in UP. The rate of industrial development is faster in than many other districts and towns with sugar, steel and paper as major industries. With prosperity, education is growing as well. Due to increasing education among young people, there is increased co-mingling across gender, religion and caste. This leads to increased conflict between old cultural norms and traditions, particularly of strict rules of exogamy and endogamy in arranging marriages, and new sites of socialization which affords anonymity and makes it difficult to enforce caste and community norms in traditional ways.

The khap panchayats of various castes were struggling to re-impose restrictions, particularly on young women. The propaganda of love jihad therefore struck a sympathetic chord among the elders of the Jat community and politicised the issue of feudal order and honour of women. Continuous propaganda fuelled to anti-Muslim sentiments and ultimately leading to Jat-Muslim riots in September 2013 which in turn further polarized the situation. Muzaffarnagar riots further polarized the communities along religious following and the BJP reaped rich electoral benefits. The BJP is hoping to repeat its electoral victory in UP Assembly by-elections, and hence is pursuing anti-love jihad campaign to keep the communal pot boiling at least till the UP Assembly by-elections in the 11 constituency necessitated by the MLAs getting elected as MPs. There is nothing more to it.

Caste, Gender and anti-love jihad of the HNOs:

Campaign by the HNOs against "love jihad" is not simply opposition to abduction and rape or even seduction of Hindu woman by Muslim men, but it is opposition to "mixing of blood" between various castes and between the two communities. Caste system prohibits intermarriages to perpetuate hierarchical social division based on birth. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in his essay on "Castes in India" feels that prohibition of intermarriages or endogamy is the essence of caste. Ambedkar writes, "Caste in India means an artificial chopping off of the population into fixed and definite units, each one prevented from fusing into another through the custom of endogamy. Thus the conclusion is inevitable that endogamy is the only characteristic that is peculiar to caste, ..." (emphasis as in original). Caste based hierarchies cannot be perpetuated without controlling women's sexuality.

Though the anti-"love jihad" campaign appears to be campaign against an "enemy community" having evil designs, it is also simultaneously a campaign to strengthen control over Hindu women and assert patriarchal authority by the men of the family and community. The family and the caste decides where they should get married following the exogamous gotra (prohibited degree of matrimonial relations) considerations and endogamous norms, economic status of the families, agreement over dowry etc.

The khap panchayats enforce these norms and dealing violent and immoral punishments to those who cross these boundaries, which include sexual assault on the woman involved and murder, which ironically is called honour killing. The khap panchayats have drawn the limits - lakshman rekha - which confine the young women of the community and include not travelling after sunset, unless accompanied by a male relative, not carrying mobile phones, restrictions on internet usage, dress code to be followed and places to be visited. The Muslim community and the khap panchayats impose same restrictions on the women of the community. The anti-love jihad campaign finds ready and willing support among the men in particular and elders in general having daughters in the family as it is a backhanded campaign for restrictions on women's movements impacting their education, participation in livelihoods, access to family assets, liberties and choices.

HNOs' anti-love jihad campaign not only targets the 'enemy community', it also targets the women of Hindu community by imagined incidences and exaggerated claims as in all other campaigns. Without substantiating, according to the campaign, there have been 25000 cases of Muslim boy-Hindu girl marriage in Kerala alone since 2006! Social media, print media and violence is deployed to repeat the inflated figures and so widely broadcasted that it is accepted as factual position. This creates a situation where Hindu women themselves submit to the restrictions imposed by the men of the community and see them as protectors.

However, Hindu women need to be protected from Hindu men as well, just as Muslim women face marginalization and oppression from Muslim men as well. Female foeticide, dowry deaths, sexual assaults by men within the family and close relatives, teasing, pawing and pinching in crowded places, stalking, denying inheritance, discriminating in every field, domestic violence, matrimonial disputes etc. are but a few examples. The HNOs are not known to have taken up the cause of gender justice and security of women from the men of the family they belong to.

Indian Democracy and interreligious marriages

The HNOs want us to believe that there is something devilish about young people getting attracted to each other, developing friendship and choosing their life partners. Will the 100 "smart cities" that PM Modi wants to develop practice gender and communal segregation? If communities inhabit together, they interact, including young people and attractions are natural. Interaction between followers of different religions and cultural traditions in fact helps people understand themselves better and learn good things from each other. Interaction not only enriches all cultures, it also produces interesting cultural diversity.

Urban cities provide spaces for such interactions be it neighbourhoods, markets, educational institutions, recreation spaces, work places, public transports, and common struggles to improve quality of life and better environment. Such spaces make segregation of communities and gender extremely difficult if not impossible. Young people will explore the world afresh and unlearn the prejudices and limitations of previous generations and look at the world with their own perspective.

Indian Constitution gives rights to citizens to profess, practice and even propagate religion of their choice and have individual liberties and right to exercise their choice within the confines of law. While the communal elite want those rights to be vested in the elite of the respective community and to impose uniform, homogenous and hegemonic culture that restricts liberties of individuals. The khap panchayats and communal elements want to negate the liberties and choices which individuals are vested with in a democracy.

The people of India emerging out of colonial rule gave themselves a democratic constitution with a vision of social justice, pluralism and embracing diversity. The Constitutional vision, unlike the khap and communal vision was to allow the individual freedom to choose and fashion their lives, including their life partners. Therefore, in 1954, Special Marriage Act was enacted for two individuals, whether belonging to different religion, caste, linguistic or ethnic group or not they could solemnize their marriage without any religious or traditional rituals with mere vow to accept each other as their life partners.

While the Hindu Nationalist view, as indeed of other communal and caste elite, is to invade and fetter individual liberties and monitor choices of individuals and set up organizations, institutions and mechanisms to force communal and parental choices on people. Gujarat Model empowering the revenue officials to invade personal choices of life partners. Affording liberal choices would steer India towards a stronger democratic country with rich diversity.

To achieve this goal, we will have to build robust educational institutions which encourage students to critically explore the world. The educational programmes should not be confined to schools and colleges but to the sites where feudal hierarchies are asserting and essentializing religion and caste identities. Education and knowledge comes from the sites of struggles to change the world and to empower the marginalized. We must ask the younger generation - the aspirational generation which was mislead to vote for those who put restrictions on individual choices - What would they want - India that is marching towards democracy and liberating the marginalized or feudal hierarchies investing in perpetual supremacist and hegemonic claims, conflicts and stigmatization of the other. I have no doubt that the aspirational generation would choose the former.

[end]

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