There is nothing on record to prove that the Muzaffarnagar riots were sparked off by a
Hindu girl being molested by a Muslim boy, or a romantic relationship between two such individuals, but there is little doubt that the rhetoric of protecting “our women”, our bahu-beti, from Muslim young men, fanned the swirling flames of violence. The bogey of “love jihad”, which the imagination of the Hindu right casts as an organised campaign by Muslim men to dupe innocent Hindu women into falling in love with them, with a view to convert them to Islam, was evoked recklessly.
In western Uttar Pradesh, which reports abysmal female sex ratios, this is a clever tool to both “control” women (who are increasingly asserting themselves) and cement the resentment against Muslims. There are similar anxieties about Hindu men taking away “our” women among Muslim groups. “This plays on the memory of Partition in this region, which was very focussed on women and property, forcibly taken away by both sides. The choice of a partner from another faith is seldom thought of as a choice here,” says political scientist Deepti Mehrotra.
The spectre of “love jihad” first arose in Kerala and coastal Karnataka. In Kerala, the police first said they had a case to investigate, and the High Court did too, before another bench of the Kerala High Court dismissed it a week later, in December 2009.
Historian Charu Gupta, who has researched the idea of love jihad, found it to be a political ruse to keep communal tempers high and women in check. She looks back at history to understand the current fears.“In the 1920s, a whole series of meetings were organised in UP, which addressed themselves exclusively to Hindu males. In 1925, the Hindu Sabha organised volunteer corps of Hindu men in Varanasi to prevent Hindu women from eloping with Muslim men. They were particularly active at railway stations. In Allahabad and Jaunpur, various notices and appeals were addressed to Hindu men, asking them to keep a watch on their women and prevent their interaction with Muslim men,” she says.
For political conservatives,