In the first week of August, a few days after the national media had descended on Meerut to cover the story of the alleged gang rape and forced conversion of a young woman, I received a call from Muzaffarnagar. The caller, a lawyer and Jat political activist recently aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, was irate that while the Meerut story received wall-to-wall coverage in the national press, there was no interest in another story of abduction, rape and forcible conversion of a Hindu woman from the town of Thana Bhawan in Shamli district.
A year ago, my caller, while trying to explain the communally vitiated atmosphere of Muzaffarnagar, had told me that some Hindu organisations had said that well-dressed young Muslim men on motorcycles, red puja threads tied on their wrists, and with ambiguous nick-names, hung around girls’ high schools and colleges with the intention of seducing them. He sounded unconvinced as he told me this. I asked him if they called it “love jihad” as they did in Kerala and Karnataka. He said he’d never heard of that term nor read about it in the papers.
Some months later at the Muzaffarnagar home of a BJP member, who described himself as a life-long swayamsevak, I was asked if I knew about “loving jihad.” It was a rhetorical question. My host, and his friend, who campaigned actively for the BJP MP Sanjeev Baliyan, proceeded to tell me that it was a conspiracy hatched in Deoband to get young Muslim men to ensnare Hindu women by feigning love in order to increase the Muslim population. The more Hindu women married Muslim men, were impregnated by them and converted to Islam, the fewer Hindu wombs there would be to produce Hindu children.
So, the Sangh was on a mission, they said, to save these women from betraying the communities of their birth. They recounted with glee how they had pounced on a courting couple at a restaurant in Muzaffarnagar town, painted the man’s face black and paraded him through the streets and escorted the woman to her parents. This one had been nipped in the bud. There was another case where they had hunted down a young married woman, snatched her from her new home and returned her to her parental village where they arranged for her to marry again (no one mentioned divorce), this time, a man from her own community.
The absolute illegality of their actions was of no consequence. After all, young people in western Uttar Pradesh who make choices in defiance of their community’s code of conduct sometimes end up dead—killed by their own parents. It is also not unusual across northern India for parents to file cases of kidnapping and rape when a daughter elopes or marries against their wishes, using the law in effect to deprive her of safeguards of the law—her personhood, her constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, while criminalising her entirely legal decision to leave their home, to cohabit with a man and to have consensual sex. The Sangh Parivar’s activities fit comfortably with this form of social violence.