Et was the father who filed the lawsuit. The Hindu reported to the police in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India. He accused a student named Owais Ahmed – a Muslim – of trying to convert his 20-year-old daughter to Islam and marry her. He wanted to “persuade and seduce” her. Ahmed, 21, was taken into custody.
A few days earlier, the law against “Love Jihad” came into force in the state with the largest number of Muslims nationwide – 38 million after all – and other states are planning it. It criminalizes “unlawful conversion to a religion”. For “forced” or “fraudulent” religious conversions there is a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.
The term itself does not appear in the text, but even the state’s prime minister, Yogi Adityanath, described it on Indian television as the “law against love jihad”. The monk, a member of the Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP, who always appears shaved and dressed in saffron-colored robes, threatened Muslim men in interreligious relationships quite bluntly: “I warn all those who hide their identity and play with the honor of our sisters and daughters. If they don’t get better, their last journey begins. “
With the new law, the Hindu nationalists are once again making a front against Islam. Its declared goal is to Hindu the multiethnic country – in complete contrast to the founders of the republic, who enshrined a secular state model in the constitution.
Hindu nationalism, also known as “Hindutva”, has its roots in the Indian independence movement of the 1920s. During this time, for example, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded, a cadre organization that still meets every evening in squares and parks all over the country for drill exercises and instructions – in brown uniforms and shorts.
But it is the BJP, founded in the 1980s, that has led the movement into the present with rapidly growing success. In 1998 and 2004 it formed the government in New Delhi for the first time. Since 2014, it has once again provided the Indian central government. Today the BJP advertises to be the political party with the largest number of members in the world. But their rise was accompanied by excesses of violence – consistently along the religious dividing line between Hindus and Muslims.
Hatred between religions is growing
In 1992 a mob destroyed the Babri Mosque, which was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. As a result, nationwide riots claimed hundreds of lives.
The tough course of the Hindu nationalists also gained support through the rise of political Islam. In the early 2000s, for example, there was a threat of open war between India and its archenemy Pakistan after militant Islamists poured into the controversial Kashmir Valley from the neighboring country.
In 2002, after an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, Hindus used violence against Muslims in Gujarat. The then head of government of the state and today’s Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened only half-heartedly. In 2008, a group of terrorists who had come by boat from Pakistan attacked tourist and Jewish destinations in the financial metropolis of Mumbai, killing 166 people.
Over the past decades hatred between religions has grown steadily on both sides, and the radicals have largely succeeded in dividing society. The Muslims are outnumbered. Today there are radical Hindu groups who violently enforce the rights of their sacred cows in the villages.
Muslims who allegedly bought or ate beef are hunted or lynched. In December last year, the BJP passed a citizenship reform that grants religiously persecuted refugees faster asylum in India – with the exception of Muslims.
The new law against “Love Jihad” is now another, explosive building block in the interfaith barricade that the BJP is building. It can be a powerful tool in a country where 90 percent of all marriages are arranged to this day. It has therefore sparked protests across the country among Muslims and liberal Hindus. Because it is based on a highly questionable construction. Critics say this is a conspiracy theory that Muslim men are trying to covertly change India’s demographic balance.
“Apparently there is an organization called Love Jihad or Romeo Jihad, which is said to have been started by Muslim fundamentalists and young Muslim men,” says Charu Gupta, a historian at the University of Delhi. “It is to be funded from abroad in order to woo and lure Hindu women away with designer clothes, cars, cell phones and expensive gifts.”
The allegations are as little new as Hindu nationalism, said Gupta. “As early as the twenties there was a campaign in northern India against Muslims who allegedly roamed cities and villages in carts to kidnap women.”
In the recent past, Hindu nationalists had drawn the specter of the alleged kidnapping and conversion of Hindu women by Muslim men before federal elections, both on social media and with billboards. Publications of the RSS cadre opened up with cover stories on the topic.
According to the historian, the old and the more recent campaigns against the alleged “Love Jihad” portrayed an aggressively driven Muslim man, they constructed stereotypes that created a common enemy. The women, who are actually involved, would become nothing more than sacrifices: “It is not least the patriarchal ideas of traditional Hindus that are reflected in such campaigns. The idea that women exercise their legitimate right to love and freedom of choice does not appear in it at all. “