Many changes have occurred for the young in India. Some happened slowly over the years. The rise in access to television and radio leading to spread of information, to rise of knowledge about consumer products including appliances to lighten household work. Young women and girls opting for education and careers and professions, initially as pioneers. Rising prices and the need for a double income increasing the demand for working girls for marriages. In the background, the comparative falling income from agriculture, making it necessary for some sons of a family to leave home for education and jobs. And over the past two decades the tremendous increase in jobs especially in IT sector and in call centres and in scope of higher education due to privatization, and the crisis in agriculture fuelling seekers of such opportunities. Girls go to schools in tremendously increasing numbers, not just to make better marriages but for careers, for higher education and jobs. The phenomenon has penetrated rural India and girls are increasingly coming to small towns and even living in large cities in hostels, in rented accommodation in groups, to acquire education with potential for jobs and also to do these jobs in bigger cities and in the metros.
Simultaneously has come an explosion in communications primarily the mobile phones and internet. This has made it very much simpler for youth to develop contacts and maintain communication overcoming several barriers that the patriarchal norms impose as also barriers of caste and religion.
Almost throughout the country, uniformly girls are doing much better than boys in education, topping all India school leaving examinations consistently with rising presence in front rankers of professional entrance examinations like in engineering and medicine and other courses. Interesting figures have been reported by Kerala (Hindu, 4th Oct.2014) Among students entering the medicine course in the State, the sex ratio has gone up from 1420 girls in 2000 to 2214 girls in 2011. (Rising feminization among students of Kerala medical colleges’ by Praveenlal K., Principal of Govt. Medical College, Ernakulam). The sex ratio of medical students in Kerala is well above the sex ratio of the general population. This sharp rise is a recent phenomenon. Similarly, in Punjab there has been a recordable rise in the number of girl students seeking higher education as compared to boys. The figures of boys leaving the country or the state for higher education will need to be compared for any accurate conclusion in both states, but the rising trend of women studying well and going for higher education and for careers cannot be denied.
All this is also marked with changes in the expectations of the girls and young women, to their exposure to different types of people, to different cities and and their increasing assertiveness about the kind of future they want, the sort of life they wish to lead and importantly, their choices in marriage. All these aspects have the potential to disrupt the patriarchal clamps on marriage with their dos and don’ts designed for maintaining the caste system.
English newspapers and magazines have been publishing surveys of youth of large and small cities, more so in the aftermath of the 16th December incident and the protests thereafter. They maintain that while there is free mixing of girls and boys in campus interactions, friendships between the two sexes, rising acceptability of live in relationships but still a majority of respondents says they would marry the partner their parents choose. In assessing this, scope must be left for the fact that very many parents now try to ascertain whether the son especially has any particular preference and then pursue the lead if there are no other very negative factors. Inter state marriages within similar castes, intercaste marriages between two upper castes are no longer so taboo that families would not indulge such preferences. Given all these features, the fact remains that these surveys bring out the fact that despite the changes noted above the youth of India is not making marriages for love as a norm, and on this issue is quite conservative. This is one feature to remember regarding current marriages.
However the fact of increased interactions, increased economic independence of women and their ability to take their own decisions about their future has increased. There definitely are cases of women and men exercising their right to choose their partners, defying the social diktats including the parental ones as also those of male siblings. Their number in actual terms is small but as an example they have far reaching value, being quoted throughout the community and the district. They send out the alarm signals that women and also the men have ignored the barricades built by patriarchal society including its caste and religious diktats and dared to decide for themselves.
This basically is the background to the activity of the khap panchayats on this score which has been much in evidence over the last decade. These are traditionally landlords of the upper castes in West UP, Haryana and Punjab but there are similar configurations among the upper castes in other parts of the country. They decree intra village, inter caste and intra gotra marriages as void and dictate dissolution of the same with severer penalty to the girls. But some khaps also decreed death and this is usually implemented through the family of the girl. In addition are the murders of couples and girls who choose to marry according to their own choice. These are initiated by either or both of the families involved, usually executed by the girl’s family and along with khap decreed murders, were christened ‘honour killings’ by the patriarchal national press until, somewhat restrained by the outcry from various sections, they put the word into inverted commas.
Into this scenario in Western UP was tipped in the term love jihad by the Hindu communalists a year or so earlier to polarize on communal lines landed upper castes of the area which were already besieged with the issue of loosening of patriarchal diktats in the face of rising education and recource to careers by women of their community and which already had functional khap formations for social issues. The actual issue of these sections was much better expressed in the parallel coinage of ‘bahu, beti izzat andolan’. This phrase encapsulated the real dilemma of these patriarchal landlord upper castes on how to rein in the women of their own families.
LOVE JIHAD-RSS coinage used in 1990s in Gujarat
In 1998, the marriage of Hanif of Bardoli (Gujarat) with Varsha in Surat after a love affair of many years was used by RSS in Bardoli to launch a communal campaign against Muslims.It is another matter that reports established that six Muslim girls of the area had earlier married Hindu boys and none of these became an issue. Hanif was a businessman and flourishing, leading no doubt to much jealousy among the Hindu communalists. Hanif was jailed and the communalists took over Versha’s life issuing all sorts of statements in her name. Similar incidents occurred in Randikpur and Sanjeli. What is interesting is that objection to these marriages were raised by Hindu communal elements in an atmosphere where they were using every conceivable issue to target the Muslims. A team of PUCL and other organizations noted among their conclusions the 10% of Sanjeli’s Muslims are rich and are either shopkeepers or land owners; that there is a class based tension between this 10% and local adivasis, and that adivasi and Hindu girls of the area have eloped with Hindus also but this had never excited this frenzied sort of comment. But in the instance of muslims there was a full fledged theory of how they marry Hindu girls at the instance of ISI and Pakistan and convert them to Islam so that the Muslim population can increase. The Report of the POW and Nishant, ’Minorities in the storm of Communal Attack’ observed that in cases where Hindu girls went with muslim boys, when the police brought back the girls they were taken over by Hindu communal elements before being able to give their statements in courts. The Gujarat Govt. joined the hysteria, so to speak, and State Home Minister, Haren Pandeya, set up a Special Investigating Agency in the last week of July 1998 for all such marriages. All such marriages need permission from this agency. All India Joint Secretary of VHP announced in Ahmedabad in August 1998 that Durga Vahini would familiarize the college going girls about ‘Hindu traditions’. A squad would be formed by VHP to keep control on the behavior of Hindu girls. Thus the whole point was that Hindu girls were neither being kidnapped nor abducted nor fooled but were voluntarily marrying the muslim boys, from where arose the issue of ‘teaching them ’traditions. The last relevant issue is that the actual number of such marriages over years also is very small and is directly related to the two communities historically coexisting, children growing up in the same areas. Versha and Hanif, for instance, had a long standing love affair before they took the step of marriage. In fact when the news of their marriage in Surat provoked a communal campaign in Bardoli, Hanif’s parents asked them to return and took the two to the Bardoli police.
2009- Kerala and Karnataka
In late 2009, the propaganda by Hindu communal organizations about love jihad began in Kerala and in Mangalore, a town in northern Karnataka. The Govt. of Karnataka even ordered a CID enquiry into this alleged phenomenon. In 2009, an interfaith couple eloped and married. The woman, who had converted to Islam, was restored to her parents by the police. Later she was allowed by the court to return to her husband because she appeared in court to deny any pressure to convert and to demand that she be allowed to live with her husband. In late 2009 the CID in Karnataka gave a statement that they could find no evidence of such a phenomenon though they would keep investigating (Wikipedia) The Ram Sena in Karnataka later took to dragging by the hair those Hindu girls who happened to have interfaith interactions with muslims. 2011 Dec. the RSS in Karnataka began propaganda that girls must be stopped from using cellphones.
In Kerala too, from 2009 there was propaganda n y by Hindu communal organization against a supposed love jihad by muslim boys. The catholic priests also started talking about their girls marrying muslim boys whether to deflect pressure or not is another matter. They claimed that 3500 of their girls have been so converted to Islam; the Hindutva forces spoke of 30,000 Hindu girls. However in 2009, the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council actually issued an alert. On 25th June 2014 Chief Minister Chandy issued a statement that since 2006 2667 women had converted to Islam and not one was a forcible conversion.
Muzaffarnagar 2013- Love Jihad returns
In order to effect communal polarization in especially Western UP for electoral dividends in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the BJP brought in Amit Shah to coordinate their campaign. Western UP is a social mix with a significant muslim population. While the main landlords are the jats, a middle caste but dominating the area, the muslims are not only agricultural workers, but have diversified , work as artisans in towns or are employed in jobs in other parts of the country. Their incomes come home and result in prospering of their families in the villages. Such families purchase land, send children for higher education and altogether there is enough reason for jealousy given the fact that income from agriculture is stagnant. In this area there is a long standing composite culture which the BJP and brother Hindu communal forces have now systematically torn apart. There have been inter caste, intra gotra, intra village marriages in Western UP off and on in the past ten years at least (and sporadic cases must have occurred earlier too) leading to the activity of the Khap Panchayats in the area with their patriarchal decrees. The cases are still countable on fingertips. The violence against their own girls and the non Muslim boys who went with them, as recorded by the Verma Commission for six years upto January 2013 was as follows: cases of ‘honour’ killings took place in UP in Meerut, Bagpat and Muzaffarnagar apart from cases in Haryana, Delhi and other states.560 couples filed FIRs for threat to life over 4 years sprinkled over these areas. Of the 121 persons thus killed, UP headed the list with 48 murders. Another set of figures help to establish the patriarchal antecedents of the area. The overall sex ratio in Muzaffarnagar district is 871 females to 1000 males while the average for the state of UP is 898 females for 1000 males. The child sex ratio in this area is 863 girls to 1000 boys as against the all India figure of 919 girls for 1000 boys as per the 2011 census. All in all it is quite clear that while ‘honour’ killings are less frequent than selective sex abortions and female infanticide , but all the methods taken together make it obvious that the bahu beti izzat campaign may not be as important as an urgent anti bahu beti murder campaign directed against their own community itself.
Into this mileu the BJP and other Hindu communal organizations threw the theory of ‘love jihad’ on the steps of the violence against muslims that broke out following an alleged incident of eveteasing in Kaval village in the district. The actual incidents of marriages between Hindu girls and Muslim boys is very small and no Hindu communal leader has quoted any figure for this very reason, but the propaganda around any one case and more so the looming threat of Hindu women refusing the patriarchal diktats is what the communal forces use. How small are the actual figures can firstly be gauged from the responses elicited by the all India surveys mentioned earlier. Recently Hindustan Times ran a feature on newly married Hindu Muslim couples all of whom had to run a ‘jihad ‘to simply remain alive. And as Azam Khan brought out there are several cases of ‘Love jihad” of Hindu men marrying Muslim women even among BJP leaders. However, the communal campaign of BJP in this district definitely resulted in the looting of ‘bahu beti izzat’ of muslim women in the district with some gang raped by long standing neighbours. There have been no arrests and no hope of justice is there before these women.
The issue of conversions
An important issue brought out by the newspaper feature on inter religious marriages is how the laws and the state are against love marriages. How the police in Gujarat allowed Hindu communal organizations access to the Hindu girls has already been mentioned. The other feature is the Special Marriage Act 1954 which insists on a month long notice. It is thus easier to marry quickly under the various religious marriage Acts leading to the propaganda regarding ‘conversions’. In Bangalore, journalists hid one such couple for one month till the period of notice expired but not every couple can have such intrepid and powerful supporters. In 2012 there was a proposal in UP to remove the column on religion in the marriage registration form so that interfaith marriages are also encouraged to register. It obviously did not go through. The one month notice is a relic of the Victorian British laws allowing ‘objections’ to be raised against the marriage as also is the provision of notifying both sets of parents.
While BJP makes a show of not entertaining the term of ‘love jihad’ (reference to the meeting of its UP Council in August 2014) and Home Minister Rajnath Singh has never heard of the same( shows how deaf he is to the concerns of his partymen) the RSS propaganda continues and the ABVP is going to spearhead the campaign against this in Lucknow mainly targeting Hindu girls to ’educate‘ them. This is the same task set before the Durga Vahini by the VHP in late 1990s and dangerously targets Hindu girls. It is surprising it does not target BJP’s elected representatives like Hema Malini and Dharmendra for converting to Islam in order to marry thus violating ‘Hindu traditions.’ In 2014 the Akhil Bharatiya Vaishya Ekta Parishad in UP said that they would stop all use of cell phones by young girls. In the election campaign to the UP byelections recently Aditya Nath called for converting 100 muslim girls each time a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy.
In the recent by elections to the Vadodara constituency in Gujarat (vacated by Modi) in September 2014, there was circulation of a pamphlet on ‘love jihad’ issued by the VHP. Though the pamphlets were in circulation for 4-5 days (Statesman, 12th Sept. 2014) the police ignored them. It warned the parents of Hindu girls against ‘minority conspiracy’ to entice their young daughters. It described in Gujarati the ‘modus operandi ’of ‘well dressed Muslim boys on motorbikes lurking around schools, colleges and hostel gates’ to lure Hindu girls. These ‘warnings’ against love jihad had been printed by the VHP at Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Surat.
One comment on the issue of love jihad was (First post .com) ‘Bodies of women are a more potent polarizing and organizing tool than the Ram Temple’.
Communal, Casteist and Patriarchal Contortions- Some Recent Cases
The Verma Commission had recorded that of the cases of harassment of couples recorded in Haryana, 86% were in inter caste marriages. In the recent case of Badaun in UP where two dalit sisters, both minors, were found hanging from a tree, there are two different stories. One states that they were pursued by two boys of landlord and upper caste who killed them after violating them. The other is that they were friendly with the two boys which was objected to by their parents who killed them. It is totally unlikely that the truth will be ever established though it must be well known in the village. The police initially arrested the boys but then veered towards the girl’s family as the guilty while the medical examination did not establish rape. Given the pro upper caste bias of the police, and the ability of the rich to manipulate investigations as well as the fact that killings of recalcitrant girls are not the monopoly of upper castes the only fact established is patriarchal values.
In a case in 2012 in Tamil Nadu, a girl of the backward (Vynavar) caste married a dalit boy of the same village. The social uproar provoked by backward caste politicians so pressurized the father of the girl that he died. The girl then gave a statement to the court that she was willingly going back to her mother and she was escorted back by police. The boy was found dead on a railway track the same day, and three postmortems later the verdict remained suicide. The girl did not attend the cremation despite being invited by the boy’s father. This was the fate of two consenting adults. Additional, there are off and on many reports of killing of couples in upper caste bodies’ decreed deaths in Maharashtra and other states.
In a recent case in Meerut, the Hindu communal organizations were frenzied over what they claimed was the gang rape of a Hindu girl by Muslim men including the village pradhan, her being taken to a madarsa for conversion, her abortion etc. The girl was a teacher in the madarsa. She was helped by her parents to file a case of gangrape against some Muslim men and she gave interviews to the press confirming her statement and saying that 150 women were being held captive in the madarsa.. Then some different facts emerged. The girl had been admitted to Meerut Medical College Hospital in her own name for an ectopic pregnancy (baby in the tube) and the name of the man who accompanied her was a Kaleem who was not named in the gangrape though the police arrested him as his name was in the hospital records. She left hospital the next day as the ectopic was removed but as this procedure requires aftercare, she developed severe infection. She also had a scar on the abdomen due to the surgery. This must have made her condition obvious hence the complaint of an abortion. But the tremendous pressure on the girl to explain her condition is clear. She had been readmitted to Meerut Medical College but was discharged from there and taken away by her parents as soon as the medical facts were brought to light by the police. The case abruptly faded away from the media and from the high pitched campaign of RSS and BJP. No doubt the pressures on a gang rape victim are tremendous but the rest of the facts were not explained by her. The village in which she lives has an interfaith divide and it is not routine for a Hindu girl to seek employment in a madarsa. In response to the propaganda of love jihad and misuse of Hindu women, the police stated that of the cases of gender violence in the district, only in 19% cases were the accused boys Muslims and anyway not all complainants were Hindu girls.
The statement of sharpshooter Tara from Ranchi that she was a victim of love jihad came as a shot in the arm for Hindu communal forces after the Meerut fiasco. She alleged she had married her husband, who had a Hindu name and Hindu (some reports said the father was a Sikh) named parents, after getting to know him locally, according to Hindu rites. Few weeks later, she alleged her husband was actually a Muslim and was forcing her and physically beating her to convert to Islam. Neighbours said the man was known only by the Hindu name and it turned out he had also worked with a BJP leader and was well known to several police officers of Jharkhand and a judge from Bihar. Much hue and cry later the husband and his mother (the father was dead) were arrested. The fact then emerged that the mother Kaushalya Devi was a Muslim (Kauser Parveen) who converted to marry the boy’s father and she also took on a Hindu first name. It is even probable that she or both the parents had also given the boy an informal Muslim name. It is also possible that her interaction with her natal family may have increased after her husband’s death. As for the man, one does not have to be of any specific religion to be a wife beater and guilty of domestic violence. But the love ‘jihad’ the sharpshooter spoke of would have to start with her father in law. Thus do the Hindutva forces lead to belittling of the love between two individuals. The victim of domestic violence may have mistakenly hoped to get more attention with this phraseology, but the facts of the mother in law’s background took the steam out of the national media’s coverage. The Jharkhand police said that no papers or documents have been found in which the man has used any name other than his own. The senior police officers who knew the man were called in for questioning. The husband was charged with ‘terrorism’ and with physical violence against the wife and sent to jail. Later the Jharkhand CM handed the case over to the CBI. Kaushalya is also in jail.
The essential issue at stake is the freedom of women to right to choose partners, lifestyles and careers. The last has been made easier by the stagnation in agriculture, the rising priceline and the need of a second income in the household. Women are preferred in jobs due to more sincerity, less trend to organize and willingness to work for comparatively lesser wages. All surveys of youth show that by and large they wed by parental choice , but that tiny minority that makes it own choices has set patriarchal India afire. Thus the first issue is that women’s right to choice must be asserted. Marriages face problems and breakups even in arranged marriages and it is quite possible that some love marriages do not work out. Such cases are no comment on such marriages. Bahu beti izzat worries, love jihad and khap panchayat decrees are all part of the response of patriarchal India to enchain women, to keep caste and faith lines ‘pure’. If the Hindu Muslim marriages are seen they are between partners who grew up in the same localities, or studied together or worked in one establishment. So too for inter caste and intra gotra marriages. The version of the RSS pamphlets of Muslim boys luring girls by going around on motorcycles is not substantiated. Regarding eve teasing and boys on motorcycles and actually now even cars as well as on foot hanging outside women’s colleges and hostel gates –any survey will show that no religion has a monopoly on this particular activity. Stalking as an offence, gender teasing to be punished more severely, special punishments for acid attacks, attacks on women who spurn unwanted advances-these were discussed as crimes by the Verma Commission on the demands of women and they were directed at no particular faith but at the patriarchal values of Indian society.
Second, on the issue of love jihad, it should be remembered that the Nazis too would not let the ‘aryan’ women cohabit with Jews or others in order to protect the purity of the Aryan race. On 10th August 2014 the RSS announced a rakhi drive throughout UP to protect the Hindu religion. Again around mid and late 2000s, there was a hue and cry in Britain about love jihad and 50,000 conversions or so were alleged.
Indian women definitely need new democratic revolution to break the basis of patriarchal values and provide the infrastructure to ensure progressive values and right to equality and freedom for all women. Now progressive movements must uphold the women’s right to choice and demand proactive police and state support for such couples and to safeguard the right to choose. Laws should be changed to meet these needs. There must be adequate safeguards for protecting the lives of such couples. Justice must be demanded and fought for, for victims of communal sexual violence, caste based gender violence, apart from justice for all victims of caste and communal violence. And especially women of all communities must be reached to understand the issues of anti-patriarchal struggles. Women form a reservoir of backward feudal values but they are the victims of these values too and they must be reached by the progressive women’s movement.