Sanjay Ballayan, Union Minister of State for Agriculture, Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament
Sangeet Som, BJP, Member of Legislative Assembly, Uttar Pradesh
Sanjay Agrawal, BJP leader, contested municipal elections on BJP ticket in 2014
Umesh Malik, BJP leader, contested Assembly election from Budana, Uttar Pradesh
These were among some of the statements that were caught on a spy camera in Cobrapost and Gulail’s latest exposé. Christened Operation Juliet, the one-year long investigation aims to demolish the “bogey of Love Jihad” and the notion that it is a rallying point for the “fringe” Right-wing in India.
Indeed, this is as mainstream as it gets — the video report has members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad talking about using violence, coercion and the state machinery to tackle what they call “Love Jihad”.
Patriarchy repackaged: “Ladki ka kya hai, ladki ko toh jaise bhi mould karoge, ho jayegi”
At the heart of the idea of Love Jihad is a disregard for women’s autonomy and freedom. Leaders featuring in Operation Juliet describe Love Jihad as an act of a Muslim man “luring” young Hindu girls, or Hindu women “going away”.
The luring, according to them, is done by wearing the sacred Hindu thread around the wrist or riding motorcycles, and the most good-looking of Muslim men are selected for this mission at the nearest Madrasa.
Because it’s that simple to “trap” women.
It is after the women are seduced and decide to go away to the “other side” that these leaders step in to “rescue” the girl. It is apparent in the exposé that almost never do the girls come to these leaders asking them for help. The rescuing is done by “explaining” to the girl how out of line she is in choosing a partner for herself from the other community.
When the girl does not “understand”, some of them admit to using physical force, and almost all of them state that they put false rape and kidnapping charges on Muslim boys to separate Hindu-Muslim couples. BJP MLA from Thana Bhawan, Suresh Rana, cites an instance where he got Muslim boys charged with rape to teach them a lesson all because they went out with a Hindu girl. Rana says he got the girl to give a false statement against the boys: “Now I will tell you the truth. We charged them with rape, but it wasn’t rape, it was consensual. We slapped a rape case against them to teach them a lesson. The girl wasn’t ready to give a statement against them.”
Rana further explains that it is easy to get girls to listen because it is easy to “mould” them. “Pehle se inke baare main kaha gaya ki paristhithi ke anusaar paanch minute main badal jayein (it is known about women that they change according to circumstances).”
In carrying out their “rescue operations”, most admit that they use the help of lawyers and officers in the police force who are sympathetic towards their cause. A BJP Member of the Legislative Council from Karnataka says “60 per cent of young constables are our sympathisers”. In one incident, BJP leader Sanjay Agrawal explains how a lawyer affiliated with the Sangh Parivar alerted him about a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy eloping and registering their marriage at a court. Agrawal goes on to explain how his team managed to separate the two and beat up the Muslim boy.
Operation Juliet puts on record several such statements by leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and so on. The familiar thread across these stories is the bizarre conclusion that women who choose partners from other religious communities, especially Islam, are necessarily tricked into doing so — that it is unlikely for one to fall in love with someone keeping aside religious considerations.
Freelance journalist Neha Dixit, who was present at the screening and was part of the panel discussion that followed, states that Right-wing forces, both Hindu and Islamic, share this disregard for women’s choice. Dixit has reported extensively on the Muzzafarnagar riots and says Islamists organisations there have come up with this theory called “Dharam Yuddh”, which is a Hindu man luring a Muslim woman.
Cobrapost Editor Aniruddha Bahal, too, talks about Right-wing’s disregard for consensual relationships. He says it’s important to remember that several Muslim men have been incarcerated on charges of false rape cases.
Fear of the ‘libidinous’ Muslim man
Operation Juliet also highlights how by calling for the protection of women against one common enemy, local leaders are able to unite various castes under a consolidated Hindu vote base.
Journalist Akshaya Mukul, present at the screening, stated that the fear of the Muslim man, who is often described as the “other”, is more than 150 years old but came to prominence in the 1920s. He talks about a journal from the time, called Hindu Panch, which published unsubstantiated reports on Hindu women being abducted. “Politically, it manifested in the coming together of Hindu nationalists groups like the Hindu Mahasabha,” says Mukul, adding that this was also a way of telling the Congress that it’s not doing enough.
Mukul says the opposition of the Hindu Right to the Hindu Code Bill also used this fear. The logic was that the law would allow Hindu women to marry anyone outside the religion and allow men from other religions and castes to walk away with property.
Who will call the bluff?
A section of the journalists present at the screening discussed how there wasn’t a need to “sting” these leaders because most of them say everything they said on the spy camera pretty openly. Indeed, when the undercover reporters of Cobrapost and Gulail contacted the leaders, most of them agreed to have said what the camera had caught and wanted to elaborate more on their fight against “Love Jihad”. Despite this, there has been very little concerted effort on part of the media to expose Love Jihad claims of some on the Right-wing.
In July, many in the mainstream media lapped up the conspiracy surrounding the alleged abduction of Tuktuki Mondal in West Bengal. Last year, the alleged case of a Hindu girl gangraped by Muslim men in Meerut made it to the mainstream media — many reported on the Love Jihad angle without questioning it as a Right-wing conspiracy, despite several loopholes in the story. It was reported much later that the girl had run away with a Muslim man of her own free will.
While reports of alleged cases of Love Jihad make it to front pages, Cobrapost and Gulail’s revelations have not even found a single-column space in major English newspapers today, nor did they elicit a prime-time debate. It is unlikely that channels decided against playing clips of saffron leaders saying they beat up women who dare fall in love with Muslim men because it forms part of a sting operation and isn’t exactly “traditional journalism”. Viral videos and Facebook posts from unconfirmed sources have been making prime-time news for a while now.
Cobrapost and Gulail have interviewed a few of the women who were portrayed as victims of Love Jihad — they openly and squarely dismiss the concept. What explains the media’s reluctance to do so in as clear terms?