Hindutva nationalists developed the concept of love jihad as an imaginary but
potent tool through which they could spread more hatred against Muslims.
Tanishq is India’s leading brand of high-end jewellery stores owned by the Titan Company. In October 2020, the brand found itself embroiled in a deep controversy when it released a commercial showing a Muslim family celebrating the expected arrival of a baby with their Hindu daughter-in-law. Tanishq was accused of promoting ‘Love Jihad’ – a baseless conspiracy theory conceived, crafted and promoted by right-wing Hindu nationalists.
Love Jihad allegedly involves Muslim men trying to change India’s demography in their favour by wooing Hindu girls, marrying them and making them bear Muslim offspring. As bizarre as this idea may seem to a person with even a modicum of IQ, the majority of Hindus seem to have bought this concept wholesale.
As soon as the Tanishq ad was released, the company faced a severe backlash on social media. This was not all. One of its showrooms in Gujrat was attacked by extremists. The angry mob forced the store manager to write an apology letter for showing such an inappropriate ad. Several other employees were also threatened.
Tanishq withdrew the advertisement citing concerns for the well-being of its employees. Despite this retraction, there are still cries of boycotting Tanishq and its products.
The outcry against Tanishq’s harmless commercial and its subsequent forced withdrawal illustrates the prevailing mood of extreme intolerance within the world’s so-called largest democracy. The fact that Tanishq is owned by India’s prestigious Tata group could not save it from the excesses of Hindutva hordes. Tata is also one of the biggest financial supporters of the ruling BJP.
Love Jihad is not a novel concept. It came to the fore in 2017 when a 24 year old urban-educated woman from Kerala converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. She renamed herself Hadiya and moved to a bigger city in order to pursue education in medicine.
Her father did not approve of the marriage and lodged an official complaint. The Kerala High Court ordered the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the matter. The NIA, after carrying out its investigation, stated that it was a typical case of Love Jihad. The agency described Hadiya’s husband as a terrorist who had deliberately converted a Hindu woman to Islam.
A legal battle for Hadiya’s custody started between her husband and her father. Despite her repeated pleas to the apex court, Hadiya was sent to a hostel under the guardianship of the college dean. This was a flagrant violation of an adult woman’s basic right to choose her husband and cohabit with him. It was also a symbolic victory for Hindutva supporters who successfully injected the idea of Love Jihad into India’s contemporary political discourse.
Ways of Love Jihad
In Kanpur, Shalini Yadav aka Fiza Fatima married Mohammed Faisal on her own consent and converted to Islam. She confirmed that the FIRs against her husband were false and that she had married him voluntarily. After a while, Yogi Adityanath’s media consultant tweeted that she was an example of Love Jihad and should be punished.
On August 4, Ekta Verma’s father filed a complaint against Mohsin for forcibly marrying his daughter in the name of Love Jihad but the girl presented her conversion certificate and proved that she married him at her own will. The Bajrang Dal organization threatened her and asked her to give a statement against her husband.
A 19-year old boy from Kerala, Muhammad Jasin was taken into custody for raping his classmate and forcing her to adopt Islam. He asked the girl if she wanted to get married and she had no option but to convert. They were in a two-year relationship in which he tried to compel her in the name of Love Jihad.
Kerala-based woman Hadiya told the high court that she had changed her beliefs because she wanted to change. She proved that her husband was wrongly convicted by the NIA. She had married Shafin Jahan on her own consent as her parents tried to isolate her and the court had given her permission to live as his wife.
A 16 year old girl’s brother from Kanpur filed a case against a boy that he had taken his sister from home and forcibly converted her. The girl pressed charges against the boy as Bajrang Dal was behind it. She got married at her own will.
Through the prism of Hadiya’s case, it is easier to analyze the concept of Love Jihad, and why it is gaining such traction within Indian society. Hindutva nationalists developed the concept of Love Jihad as an imaginary but potent tool through which they could spread further hatred against Muslims. It was also a regulatory measure for supervising modern educated Hindu women who had exposure to religious and sexual freedom. Love Jihad offers an opportunity to curb the liberty of these young Hindu women as was seen in the Hadiya case.
Against this backdrop, Tanishq’s ad that showed a visibly ecstatic Hindu girl with her conservative Muslim in-laws annulled Hindutva assertions. It could not be tolerated. In fact anything even remotely secular is intolerable in today’s India. Anyone who talks about inter-faith unity lands in the middle of a controversy.
Extremist Netizens make sure that every Hindu-Muslim marriage is seen in the context of Love Jihad because in their twisted ideology a Hindu woman can never fall genuinely in love with a Muslim man. Thus, any such marital union is part of a wider conspiracy to subdue the Hindu majority.
Even children are not spared. Last year another television commercial promoted by Surf Excel was targeted for the same reason. The ad showed a young Hindu girl protecting a boy from colours during the Holi festival. The boy was presumably a Muslim on his way to offer prayers at the local mosque. Nationalists dubbed the ad as promoting Love Jihad and unleashed a boycott campaign against the company.
The most alarming aspect of this entire charade is that popular TV anchors are singing the same extremist tune. They are justifying a ban on Tanishq and all others who depict communal relations between Muslims and Hindus. One such anchor belonging to Zee News, Sudhir Chaudhry, has gone a step further for majority Hindus and his show boasts nation-wide viewership because people listen to him and agree with his lop sided views.
Secularism has no place in India’s socio-political discourse. Tanishq has learned its lesson. It is time the rest of the world also wakes up to this reality.