“Love Jihad”- Hindu Nationalist Gendered Narratives and Their Perpetuation of Sexist Norms

Written by Riyah Bakshi-Choudhury

India’s democratic success despite failure in its neighbouring countries has been a great source of pride for the nation since its independence. However, with the rise to power of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country has witnessed the implementation of exclusionary policies that have the aim of consolidating a pure ‘Hindu Rashtra (Nation)’. The ‘Hindutva’ ideology, followed by the BJP, portrays Muslims as ‘invaders’. From their perspective. Muslims have acted as a threat to the security of Hindus and their land since the Mughal era. The right-wing conspiracy theory of ‘Love Jihad’ is an example of the fallacies created and circulated by right-wing politicians to accentuate the already deep-seated anti-Muslim sentiment. The term refers to a ploy devised by Muslims to manipulate Hindu and Christian women into conversion to Islam through false suggestions of love. It also accuses Muslims of the abduction and deliberate impregnation of Hindu women in-line with their long- term strategy to alter India’s demographic composition to more Islamic. The implication of ‘Love Jihad’ extends beyond fuelling religious animosity- it exploits and reinforces gender norms through the patriarchal construction of ideas of honour and protection.

‘Love Jihad’ conceptualises the threat posed by Muslims through a masculine ‘evil’ which threatens Hindu women. Hindu nationalist groups’ repeated use
of Hindu women as a symbol of honour and homogeneity through their victimisation perpetuates the patriarchal ideal of female honour and its dependence on sexual and romantic decisions. It also reinforces the idea that women’s right to free choice of choosing a partner or marriage is negligible due to its implications for the family if it is disapproved along casteist, religious or racial lines. Hindu women’s public shaming regarding romantic choices or association to anything ‘Islamic’ undermines their perceived deserving of respect. For instance, a Hindu women named Dhanyashree was driven to suicide less than a year ago due to the perceived wearing of a Hijab in a picture on social media. However, as is frequent with Indian media and the general public, nuanced and subtle reinforcement of gender norms has not quite caught anyone’s attention. Despite social media being inundated with two trending hashtags (#lovejihad and #lovejihadexposed), the media and public frenzy did not extend to acknowledgement or scrutiny of the deeper implications of this unsubstantiated conspiracy. The masses are blinded by their islamophobia, rendering their social awareness non-existent when it comes to inaccurate information dissipated by the BJP. Due to the embeddedness of the value systems pertaining to honour, shame and pride at a societal level, hypocrisy and gender inequality is a rarely examined implication of the BJP’s policies for the nation.

It simultaneously dehumanises an entire sphere of the Indian population through false accusation and helps legitimise aggression, violence and illegal means undertaken predominantly by male figures in order to stop an entirely imaginary evil scheme. A woman’s right to choose is being consistently undermined across the country as familial male figures act as the word of law often expressing violent means to ensure that it cannot be exercised. Phrases such as ‘I would rather kill or be killed than let my daughter marry a Muslim man’ are seen as normalised narratives, which often play out as made evident by the brutal killing of Muslim men who find themselves romantically entangled with Hindu women. Beyond this, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, referring to Muslim men regarding their manipulation in ‘Love Jihad’, preached ‘if they don’t stop, their funerals with start’, thus, fuelling the flames of the politics of hate.
The issue is also symbolic of the all-encompassing impact of anti-Muslim sentiment, often casting a dark shadow over other pertinent issues in the nation. Prominent politicians from the BJP party such as the Lok Sabha MP Nalin
Kumar Kateel from Karnataka have been extremely vocal on the issue of ‘Love Jihad’. Kateel urged Indians to speak about the threat of Muslim men and not about “little concerns like roads and sewage”, and then went ahead to make the claim- “the BJP will be the one to pass a law prohibiting ‘Love Jihad.’” The criminalisation of faith- conversion seems to be up next on the BJP docket. Under the guise of ‘protection’, officials have legitimised even the arrest of women who are increasingly being infantilised and put under a sort of ‘community control’. The sensationalism of ‘Love Jihad’ also negates the importance of issue such as health care, infrastructure and women’s rights by encouraging politicians to mobilise anti- Muslim sentiment to garner support for themselves, above all else. The blatant lack of addressal of gender- politics under the Hindu nationalist regime is reflective of the stark denial of the problematic prioritization of the politics of hate above all else, including gender politics. ‘Love Jihad’ also exposes the fallacy of Narendra Modi as a crusader for women’s rights. With the criminalisation of ‘Triple Talaq’ (immediate divorce), a Muslim practice which gives men the right to end a marriage solely by saying the words, Modi rode the wave of opinion in favour of his pro-feminist ideology. However, the hypocrisy is blatant, as the façade of empowerment has not extended to Hindu women. He has failed to speak up against issue of Hindu women being dragged into the ‘Love Jihad’ frenzy. When unmasked, the BJP’s hypocrisy and lack of concern for women’s rights becomes apparent.

All this is ultimately concerning in a nation whose constitution is aimed at safeguarding rights to secularism, freedom and equality. Hindu nationalist politics have enacted unconstitutional policies since their rise to power. Starting with the anti- Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which sought to make the process of Muslims to achieve citizenship more difficult, to the curb on freedom of speech with the imprisonment of journalists whose commentary were not in line with that of the BJP, the relentless assault on civil liberties has been astounding. The conspiracy of ‘Love Jihad’ makes clear that this will extend to women’s freedoms, which will affect any societal progress the nation has made in the realm of gender equality gender and religious equality since the adoption of its democratic constitution in 1948.

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