Gender & Love Jihad

Viewing women as persons with no agency, and Muslims as essentially sinister, are the twin pillars that support the concept of Love Jihad

Sanober Umar & Bhoomika Joshi Lucknow

Love jihad is back in the news all over again. This time, it even featured as an item on the official agenda of the BJP’s state executive meeting in Lucknow. The last time we heard anything of it was in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots. It also validates the need to look at the riots from a gender perspective. Mass violence needs no rational pretext, but was the motivation for these riots really that irrational? Of course, when one conflagrates these incidents in solely communal terminologies of indoctrination, the gender dimensions of communal interactions are often ignored as if religious ethnic nationalism is devoid of sexism. Even scratching the surface reveals a grim picture.

The deaths and trauma of the survivors in Muzaffarnagar is not a case of isolated violence, or an aberration to the politics of mobilisation of the Hindu right. Nor are the gendered depictions of the men and women they seek to target from ‘otherised’ communities. Time and again, be it through open hate speeches or ‘sting’ operations of Hindutva perpetrators of these crimes, the Indian Muslim has been represented as a threat to the Hindu ‘Samaj’. There is no distinction between Mahmood Mamdani’s conceptualisation of the ‘Good Muslim’ and the ‘Bad Muslim’ in their imagination, as the creation of the myth of ‘Love Jihad’ shows. A Muslim man in his traditional religious skullcap and a beard is assumed to be a fanatic at the least, or a dangerous terrorist at the most in mainstream media depictions. But the idea behind Love Jihad goes beyond older stereotypes of the ‘dangerous’ Muslim man. Love Jihad represents itself as a campaign which aims to warn Hindu men that ‘their women’ face another ‘jihadi’ threat, which is far more subtle in nature. The images of star-crossed lovers in these posters speak for themselves. The ‘Muslim man’ in this constructed campaign has a stubble, wears stylish Western clothes and rides cool motorbikes—a heartthrob that Bollywood movies like Dhoom define as sleek and hence desirable in popular cultural imagination. However, this man with the Hindu woman sitting behind him on his motorbike has ulterior motives. He lures Hindu women through promises of love and marriage, with diabolic intentions of converting them to Islam. Meanwhile, the Hindu woman of these custodians of patriarchal religious pride is represented as naïve and innocent: a woman who has led a chaste life under the protection of her father and brothers of the larger community, oblivious to the risks of her uninformed choices. The autonomy of her decisions is questionable, unlike the Hindu man’s.

Muslim women are not spared either by these hyper-masculine Hindutva forces, as noted by several scholars of Hindu nationalism such as Tanika Sarkar and Christopher Jaffrelot. Killing Muslim men and destroying their property and means of livelihood, including cattle, has happened during the Muzaffarnagar riots. Desecrating the bodies of Muslim women through acts of rape, sodomy and mutilation on the other hand, becomes a site of ‘dishonouring’ the Muslim community as a whole. It is crucial here to point to the significance of patriarchal similarities between both Hindu and Muslim communities. There is an unsaid consent that bodily violations of each other’s women is not simply an act of violence on the said woman’s body, but emblematic of the community’s ‘honour’ in North Indian patriarchal discourse: be it Muslim men harassing a Hindu woman or Hindu men committing violence against Muslim women. Several reports indicate that a large number of rape and torture victims from the Muslim community have not come forth to lodge cases with the police. Some fear lengthy judicial delays whilst their culprits roam  free, while most have been silenced by the ‘shame’ of being rape victims.

Muslim women face the additional wrath of Hindutva men who, as Paola Bachetta points out, see them as ‘baby factories’ whose reproductive power represents a demographic paranoia about Muslims overtaking Hindustan. She says, “The Hindu Nationalist cannot further retaliate by desecrating equivalent Muslim feminine symbols (such as mosques or livelihood means), because there aren’t any, and so he desecrates the real, material Muslim woman.” Whatever one’s opinion about the reasons behind these heinous acts, it remains uncontested that Hindutva forces are violent to all women. They may rape, mutilate and even murder Muslim women, but they also treat Hindu women as unthinking properties of the Hindu community. Their chivalry and politics of masculinity does not respect women; it renders them as objects of either pride or shame, but never as autonomous subjects. With a country seemingly introspecting on its perceived ‘rape culture’, it is important to give space to the victims of gendered violence living in the peripheries. In particular, questioning the gendered demonising depictions of men and women within and outside the spaces of riots is essential, to not let Muzaffarnagar happen again.   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2014