A Look At Historical-Ideological Roots Of Love Jihad — Systematic Targeting Of Women Driven By Religious Extremism
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The latest in the series of several alleged cases of ‘Love Jihad’ which made headlines this year is of a minor girl in Rajasthan.
In an September 2019, the Supreme Court made an interesting observation, in the case of the case of Anjali Jain who married a Muslim man in Arya Samaj temple after he converted to Hinduism. The girl’s family alleged that his conversion was a sham and he had converted back to Islam after marriage.
The court said that while inter-faith marriages are good for the society and need to be encouraged, the girl’s interests need to be protected as well [emphasis added]. The court asked the man to prove his bona fide on his conversion to Hinduism for marriage.
The bench noted that it had asked him to prove his good intentions by filing an affidavit only in order to secure the girl’s future and safety.
The court’s emphasis on protecting the girl’s interests open new dimensions of looking at the alleged cases of Love Jihad.
As we set out to understand the phenomena, it is important first to define Love Jihad. A stricter definition would limit the phenomena to the cases where a non-Muslim person is lured into a relationship, with the intention of converting her to Islam.
Due to the intimate and complicated nature of such a relationship, such an intention is hard to prove in a court of law, even if the case involves other crimes like beatings and harassment.
Many a lawyers say that this situation is similar to one where a man marries a woman just for her money. This can be the ground for divorce, but not a criminal act. Based on this reasoning, the matter is a non-issue and outrage about it is over-amplified.
There are two problems with this - one, when a man establishes relationship with a woman for conversion purposes, not only it is a breach of trust, but necessarily involves manipulation, and psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse of the woman.
Two, There have been allegations that there are foreign-funded Islamist organisations that support and promise money and other rewards to youth who lure non-Muslim women into marriage and/or conversion.
Worldwide, the law differentiates between the organised versus the individual nature of certain acts.
For example, in India, it is not illegal for a woman to provide sexual favours to man for money. However, organised prostitution is illegal.
In this day and age, the terms of giving and receiving sexual favours should be decided by the participants, and it should be nobody else’s business if money is involved. However, if organised industries come up in this regard, it is highly likely that several vulnerable women will be misled and exploited.
Even if organised industries are allowed to come up, they will have to be regulated, as the issue is no more about one man and woman, but protection of a larger group - the women - who are highly likely to be exploited.
Similarly, if there is organised and systematic ‘grooming’ to target young non-Muslim women for conversion by establishing relationships - it is no more just about individual rights - but also about protection of women in general, and inter-communal harmony.
Love Jihad and radicalism
Kerala, despite being the one of the most developed states in India, has seen radical Islam making deep inroads, and several residents leaving to fight for the Islamic state.
The family of 29-year-old Fathima, who left Kerala to go to Syria for the Islamic State, was located in Afghanistan. Fathima was identified by one Bindu Sampath as her daughter Nimisha, who was converted to Islam. The family had then alleged a case of love jihad.
On of the terror suspects in the Sri Lankan Easter attacks this year, which killed over 250, was Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sarah. In an interview, her mother Kavitha Mahendran alleged that her daughter was a victim of Love Jihad.
In September 2019, the chairman of minorities commission also wrote a letter to the Home Minister drawing attention to “the spate in organised religious conversion and using the victims for terror activities by trapping them through love jihad”.
Demographic goals have always been a part of the Islamic discourse. However, the goal acquired urgency for a terror-group like IS which needed more fighters. Love/Sex Jihad, therefore, became intertwined with terrorism.
The Islamic State also took the Yazidi women as sex slaves - justifying it by saying that they were kafirs. The IS bought and sold them, passed them around to be raped by the fighters, as well as produce children who would be future fighters.
Many converts from non-Muslim backgrounds were found to have travelled to Middle East to fight for the IS. The IS itself shared many videos of them beheading and killing the enemies, inviting other non-Muslims to convert, and declaring that Jihad was the fastest way to paradise.
A Washington Post report stated that one out of the six people who travelled to Middle East to join IS were converts from non-Muslim backgrounds - and this number is only for Europe. For France, the number was one out of four.
Seemingly, the recent converts, in order to prove their loyalty to the new religion and hatred of their previous identities, are more zealous.
The report also stated that young women were especially targeted for conversion. Young women formed the “single largest pool of converts” going to fight for the Islamic State.
“You find that a lot of converts going to the Islamic State are girls, girls with problems...and then someone comes along and promises that Allah is going to give them a second chance.”
The report also quoted the statistics of a mosque in Netherlands that converted 97 persons to Islam in 2014 - highest since it was opened. Most of these converts were aged 19 to 21 years, and 70 per cent were women.
History in Indian subcontinent
The major lacunae in the discourse over Love Jihad is its complete divorce from the reality and history of Hindu-hatred.
Just like the cow, the body of Hindu woman has long been the instrument of expressing the ‘might of Islam’ and subjugation of Hindus.
The Hindu men were derided as weak and effeminate, and Hindu women taken away as the legitimate reward of conquest for the Muslim invaders.
Prof K S Lal notes in an essay, “..the largest number of slave girls was collected during raids, campaigns and wars throughout the medieval period.. from the time of Muhammad bin Qasim, it was a consistent policy to kill all males, especially those capable of bearing arms, and enslave their hapless women.”
The captured women and children were forcibly converted to Islam. Those who resisted were tortured and killed.
Lal further notes that the enslaved women had two main functions to perform, domestic service and providing sex if and when required.
This preference for non-Muslim women as a slave is also noted in the slave-trade carried out by the Arab Muslims.
Since the Islamic law allowed slavery but prohibited enslaving pre-existing Muslims, the main target became the people who lived in the frontier areas of the Muslim world.
Bernard Lewis notes that "polytheists and idolaters were seen primarily as sources of slaves, to be imported into the Islamic world and moulded in Islamic ways, and, since they possessed no religion of their own worth the mention, as natural recruits for Islam."
In the European slave trade, in which black male slaves outnumbered female counterparts by 2:1 or 3:1. However, in Islamic empire, the ratio was reversed.
The Islamic law permitted unlimited numbers of slaves and purchase of female slaves for sex by men. Latter was the most common motive for the purchase of slaves throughout Islamic history.
Lal quotes Ibn Battuta, an Moroccan Muslim traveller who visited Mohammad bin Tughlaq’s court, describing celebrations such as Id:
“First of all, daughters of Kafir (Hindu) Rajas captured during the course of the year, come and sing and dance. Thereafter they are bestowed upon Amirs and important foreigners. After this daughters of other Kafirs dance and sing... The Sultan gives them to his brothers, relatives, sons of Maliks etc. On the second day the durbar is held in a similar fashion after Asr. Female singers are brought out... the Sultan distributes them among the Mameluke Amirs”
Lal says that under Aurangzeb, not only the women and children of the Rajputs and Marathas were regularly enslaved during raids and invasions, but even nobles of lesser note indulged in reckless enslavement throughout. This implies that the abduction of Hindu women and using them as sex-slaves was not an exceptional occurrence, but commonplace.
Lal puts the number of non-Muslim women distributed in the above manner in later years in thousands. He further notes that the number of such captured slave girls was so high that all of their names couldn’t be changed to Islamic ones (a common practice during conversion).
Manucchi notes about such captured women that they “...are Hindus by race, who had been carried off in infancy from various villages or the houses of different rebel Hindu princes. In spite of their Hindu names, they are however, Mahomedans.”
Such abduction, enslavement and conversion was not just a case of the victorious party engaging in brutalising a defeated people, but a policy with clear and deliberate demographic goals.
Margoliouth observes, “Abu Bakr probably was aware that women are more amenable to conversion than men..” Women slaves turned concubines could increase Muslim population by leaps and bounds when captured in large numbers. Hence there was particular keenness on enslaving women from the very beginning of Islam, notes Lal.
It is important to note than targeting of non-Muslim women wasn’t only a war-time phenomena. Grounded in deeper ideological goals, it was promoted through art and literature as well.
A large corpus of Indo-Islamic texts including Persian, Urdu poems on the mystery of love, exclusively between a Muslim boy and Hindu girl, have underlying assumption of inferiority of polytheists and idol-worshippers, and their women, who need to saved by the glorious Muslim man.
Such poems, scholars point out, had a proselytising goal. The poems glorified the Muslim boy’s struggle against the Hindu society, which represented a degenerate structure to be destroyed by the heroic Muslim boy, while the Hindu girl symbolised the weak, desirable creature to be saved and savoured by the strong, masculine Muslim male.
In many such poems, the culmination was non-Muslim subject’s conversion to Islam, transforming their previous deviant behaviour as infidel to a manifestation of “true love”.
Also, the Islamic law permits conversion to Islam as a way out of punishments for different crimes, including blasphemy. “Convert to Islam or face slaughter” is a routine threat made by the Islamist organisations to the persons whom they accuse of insulting their prophet or the religion.
A lot of present-day scholars hold Hindu Right responsible for the "fake claim" of Love Jihad, arguing that the “the abducted and converted Hindu woman was metamorphosed into a symbol of both sacredness and humiliation, and hence of the victimisation of the whole Hindu community” by the Hindu Right.
It is quite surprising that our academicians inevitably start the story of ‘Love Jihad’ from the ‘virulent Hindutva’ of the 1920s instead of going back further in the search of truth. The assumption-cum-conclusion is that ‘Love Jihad’ it is a complete fiction pulled out of thin air.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Islamist ideological goals behind targeting of non-Muslim women is visible in their continuity to present times. The notions that motivated past Hindu persecution, largely unchallenged by scholars and activists, continue to this day.
The manifestation of Hindu hatred in targeting Hindu women is starkly visible in Islamic Republic of Pakistan where Hindu minor girls are routinely abducted, converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men. All this happens with clear support and encouragement of the Muslim clerics and the state apparatus, and without any international outrage.
The infamous Muslim grooming gangs in Britain also revealed the selective targeting of non-Muslim young girls. Last year, the Sikh Mediation and Rehabilitation Team Charity made public a report saying that the Muslim gang members have been systematically targeting Sikh girls of Indian background, for almost 50 years!
The report stated that the the girls would be lured by “fashionably dressed Pakistani men pretending a modern outlook. They would roam around in flamboyant vehicles in areas and schools with predominantly Sikh population”.
Long back in 2007, reports emerged that Islamic extremists had gained ground in different universities of UK, and were targeting and forcibly converting Hindu women. They were reportedly paid £5,000 ‘commission’. Their aggressive conversion tactics included stalking, beating up those who protest, and forcing women to drop out of college.
It is also noteworthy that most of the convicted 'grooming gang’ members were married and well-respected within their community. One gang member convicted of sex trafficking was a religious studies teacher at a mosque and a married father of five.
In fact, one of the victims of the Muslim grooming gangs in UK who was raped over a 100 times said that the perpetrators were inspired by religious extremism and operated exactly like terrorist networks, with all the same strategies.
“Like terrorists, they firmly believe that the crimes they carry out are justified by their religious beliefs.. The camaraderie, protection, money, and kudos that these groups offer, makes them a strong pull for anyone.”
“I witnessed the ways young men are groomed to become perpetrators by older grooming gang members. It’s very similar to the tactics used in grooming for terrorism, with love-bombing, emotive language (“brother”, “cuz”, “blud”), and promises of wealth and fame, then humiliation, controlling with guilt and shame, training with weapons, and instilling hate and fear of outsiders..Always, at the same time, they continue to convince these young men that they must find girls to be gang-raped too.”
The victim also said that the religious indoctrination is a big part of the process of getting young men involved in grooming gang crimes and manifests as the difference between the Muslim and non-Muslim women. The latter are worthless and deserve to be gang-raped. “My main perpetrator quoted scriptures from the Quran to me as he beat men” she said.
In Shahan Sha A vs State Of Kerala, the High Court itself said that there was a “concerted effort” to convert girls of other religions to Islam and marry them off to Muslim men. The role of the organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) came out in the case.
The court noted that there had been 3,000-4,000 such conversions in the past four years, and it was clear there was a concerted effort to convert girls of a particular religion to another with the 'blessings of some outfits'.
In 2010, a Marxist leader of Kerala defied his own party line over ‘Love Jihad’. CPM member V S Achuthanandan, the then Chief Minister of Kerala, told the press in Delhi that the PFI was indulging in divisive activities with the aim of "turning Kerala into a Muslim majority state.
In 2017, a sting operation was carried out by India Today. In a report titled ‘Operation Conversion Mafia: Kerala’s Conversion Factories Unmasked’, the team reported what they caught on camera- the functionaries of PFI declaring their goal of converting India into an Islamic nation, and proudly boasting of converting thousands of women to Islam through institutions disguised as ‘educational’ or ‘charitable’.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, published data on conversion of Christian girls to Islam stating that “around 4,000 girls have been subjected to conversion since 2005 (till 2012) after they fell in love.”
Other videos have also emerged of Muslim religious leaders proclaiming their goal of converting Kerala into an Islamic state.
The hatred for polytheists and idol-worshippers, aspirations of demographic ascendance, and the targeting of non-Muslim women are deeply connected issues, and the Islamist rhetoric filled with the above is remarkably similar even when separated in space and time.
It is important to note here that all of the above- including the demographic goal- are stated by the Muslim leaders themselves, and not just a ‘fake claim’ by ‘Hindu nationalists’.
Victims of Love Jihad
Several courageous women victims of Love Jihad have come forward with their stories.
Their horrifying experiences include being deceived into a relationship/marriage by a boy disguised under a Hindu name, who only revealed later that he is a Muslim and forced the woman to convert.
The pressurising tactics include threatening to make viral their intimate photographs and videos, isolating the woman from her family by snatching away her phone, force-feeding beef, boy’s family members ganging up against the woman, beatings, snatching away her belongings, throwing away things of her pooja, threatening physical assault over usage of any Hindu symbols like Sindoor, insulting Hinduism and Hindus, telling her that god’s wrath will fall on her if she continued worshipping false gods of other religions and she will burn in hell.
The Islamic marriage involves a necessary conversion to Islam which is accompanied by a name-change. So, the woman not only has to leave her previous belief system, but also the name she has been known by all her life!
The nikah is a one-way street because the woman cannot convert out of Islam, as apostasy is punishable by death under Shariah, and the woman would invite serious danger to herself and her children if she gives any such indication. In fact, she has to try harder to prove otherwise.
Unfortunately, we only hear of the victims of Love Jihad when a woman can muster up enough courage, resources and support from family members that she chooses to speak up.
On the other hand, most women victims of such cases silently suffer for lack of options. They hold themselves responsible for their fate and are ashamed to speak up. Even if the nikah/conversion is voluntary and the women receive applause from their in-laws for for leaving the way of false faiths and coming to Islam, it slowly dawns on them that they have been a pawn in a larger scheme of things.
Their pain of losing their identities is occasionally expressed on social media under anonymity. They encounter hatred for the religion they were born in, are not allowed to express themselves in the ways they could before, they are not allowed to meet their parents and mingle with them as they may pollute their minds with Hinduism. They are not allowed to remember and cherish their past life as a ‘polytheist’. Special care is taken that the children don’t learn anything about Hinduism and the mother is forbidden to do so. Often, despite conversion, they are ill-treated and behind the veneer of affection, it is made quite clear that any deviance will resulting punishments as harsh as being turned into a sex-slave of the family.
In the light of above observations, the real questions that need to be asked are, one, isn’t using a romantic/marital/sexual relationship with a woman for proselytising goals a breach of her autonomy?
Does this process constitute, if not physical and verbal, serious psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse of a woman? Does conversion in such cases works as an instrument to control the woman by erasing her identity?
Despite the issue being deeply embedded in the history of Hindu persecution and continuing Hinduphobia, to try and hide the reality of such cases in the garb of patriarchal-in-general is utterly dishonest.
The approach fails to differentiate between the social practices and the practices that are motivated by religious beliefs. Former are based on the threat of social sanctions while latter operate by manipulating one’s deeply personal relationship with God - hijacking one’s spirituality.
Former operate on a community level, while latter operate on an individual level- a person considers it his personal religious duty to convert the woman to Islam to gain spiritual merit.
The latter are much more dangerous, as any criticism against it is taken as an attack against God, and not just one’s own community or identity.
This problem is succinctly summarised by B R Ambedkar who said that Indian Muslims in India not only had all of the social evils prevailing in the Hindu society but “something more”.
With regards to Purdah in Muslims, he says:
“..among the Muslims, purdah has a religious sanctity which it has not with the Hindus. Purdah has deeper roots among the Muslims than it has among the Hindus, and can only be removed by facing the inevitable conflict between religious injunctions and social needs. The problem of purdah is a real problem with the Muslims—apart from its origin—which it is not with the Hindus. Of any attempt by the Muslims to do away with it, there is no evidence.”
Anything against Love Jihad, therefore, becomes against Islam - or Islamophobic. A problem between two communities becomes a religious problem, when it shouldn’t.
To conclude, whatever perspective one takes on ‘Love Jihad’, it can be safely said that it is not a conspiracy cooked out of thin air by Hindu nationalists.
The phenomena has deeper historical roots and ideological motivations that need to be uncovered and understood. Intellectual dishonesty over such issues can only worsen the polarisation.