When Anil Sharma’s period romantic drama, Gadar—Ek Prem Katha released in the summer of 2001, its thundering commercial success was marred by heavy protests by Muslim extremist groups who took offence when Sunny Deol’s character of Tara Singh, in an impulsive moment, declared, Lo, ab ho gayi Sikhni! as he smeared his blood on the hair parting of Amisha Patel’s character Sakina, an aristocratic Muslim, to save her from a Sikh lynch mob during a Partition frenzy. This pivotal scene in the film, loosely based on the Partition-era love tragedy of a Sikh called Boota Singh, had courted severe flak from Islamic radicals from across the country, particularly in cities such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bhopal with a history of religious strife. Sporadic incidents of violence and arson interrupted shows in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar where Muslims and Hindus came to blows before the police dispersed mobs.
In Sangam theatre, groups of Muslims had hurled petrol pouches on the screen before setting it ablaze. On June 25, 2001, in Bhopal, a mob of 400, led by Arif Masood, the then president of the district Youth Congress, used petrol bombs, swords, rods and stones to attack a cinema hall screening the movie. A police constable was grievously injured and dozens received minor wounds.
An attack on free speech, of a lesser degree though, was hurled at Mani Ratnam earlier because he had dared to show a Hindu man, Shekhar (Arvind Swamy) marrying a Muslim girl, Shaila (Manisha Koirala) in Bombay, an inter-faith romance set against the backdrop of communal riots in 1993’s Mumbai. Ratnam had to be hospitalised when two crude but powerful bombs were thrown at his house in Chennai. While no one claimed responsibility for the incident in 1995, the police had suspected a radical Muslim group, Al Umah of the attack.
After these two scares, Bollywood never really dared to cross the line in the department of interfaith romances where a Hindu man would marry a Muslim woman. Whatever chances were taken, the tone and tenor were judiciously balanced. While high octave action hogged screen time in Ek Tha Tiger, a heavy sense of foreboding prevailed in Veer Zaara, Ishaqzaade and Raanjhanaa. Unnecessary glorification was avoided.
This balance though has been conspicuous by its absence while showing the opposite, where a Muslim lover boy sweeps a Hindu girl off her feet on screen. Blame it on the lack of outrage by the Hindu audience or the secular grain that runs amidst most liberal Bharatiyas, it never really occurred to them how Bollywood has been blatantly peddling the Love Jihad narrative for ages by glorifying onscreen romances of this nature. The latest one was the unsuccessful Atrangi Re where the makers showed a Muslim man being burnt alive by the Hindu parents of his lover. The victim card has always been dangled before the Muslim man’s temples while the wile and wicked are always the relatives or parents of the Hindu girl thus drilling into the consciousness of the mainstream audience how the villain of the piece in interfaith love stories is, and always is the Hindu. Remember Kedarnath’s Mansoor ending his life for Mandakini? While Sushant Singh Rajput’s character will always be viewed through a sentimental prism, how does a logical brain not deconstruct the propaganda? Or the farcical idea of Hindu Muslim unity propagated by Tanishq in their jewellery commercial where a Muslim mother-in-law is shown respecting the Hindu faith of her daughter-in-law!
Love Jihad in our Neighbourhood
As the urban chatterati recognises the brutality unleashed in the murder of Hyderabad’s Nagaraju, a Hindu Dalit, by the brothers of a Ashrin Sulthana, the Muslim girl he married without consenting to convert to Islam, India is forced to confront the reality of communal hatred hurled by Muslims against members of a different faith who dare to defy their religious dogmas. But, there is no denying that the series of recent cases unfurling at a steady pace in the country has been eating into the social fabric as well as toppling the demographics because as per Islamic law, once married to a Muslim man, a Hindu girl has to convert to Islam and the children they bear must follow the father’s faith. However, disturbing reports of most girls, either attacked or killed, by their Muslim lovers or spouses, point at the purported agenda of Love Jihad in more ways than one.
Remember how Sahil Khan, the jilted lover of Tanishka Sharma, pumped six bullets into the girl’s body on the day of her wedding? Or how Uma was burnt alive by Arif Khan, the man she eloped to marry. Saddam Hossain from Barrackpore had physical relations with both mother Rina and daughter, Rama Dey. When Rama demanded marriage, he burnt alive both the women with his associate, SK Manjur. Mohd Shamshad, a Muslim man who was already married and had kids, trapped Priya Chaudhury, a divorcee with a daughter. Once married, he throttled both Priya and her daughter to death with his brother-in-law, Dilawar. Manasi Sharma converted and became Aalia to marry Jafar, who already had Shabana as his wife. The first wife shot a pregnant Aalia in broad daylight. There are many, many such instances where death or mutilation was meted out to the Hindu woman to further the heinous act of Love Jihad. Something films and commercials conveniently hide from being discovered or understood.
The Celebrity Mirror
With ‘art imitating life’ being the popular notion, we perhaps wouldn’t have woken up to the reality of how art inspires and influences our minds as well when it comes to important decisions and ways of living if these questions hadn’t become mainstream. Ever wondered why media reports on Sharmila Tagore never called her Ayesha Begum, the name given to her when she converted to Islam after her wedding to Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi? It’s called privilege. The license celebrities enjoy somehow depicts a fake image showing interfaith marriages as everything hunky-dory. The diktats of indoctrination brandished by Islamic priests that must be followed by Muslim women from the middle or lower classes needn’t necessarily be adhered to by the celebrities and socialites. This false sense of freedom to choose gets misconstrued. Small town Hindu girls never really understand how their lives would change if they marry a Muslim lover. When a Kareena Kapoor Khan moves around without a burqa or a Gauri Khan roams around town in high fashion, the starry-eyed Hindu girl from a two-tier city believes her Abdul would probably be just as liberal and modern as a Saif Ali Khan or a Shah Rukh Khan. It is when only after she marries that she realies that she has to hide in an obnoxious black veil or she is forbidden from enjoying Holi or Diwali. But by that time, Love Jihad has taken its ugly form.
The Bollywood Couple Clique
Talk of leading by example, Hindi film actors have made interfaith marriages gold standard, thus normalising them for people who are smitten by the lives of celebrities. Earlier Mughal kings and Islamic invaders married Rajput princesses as political alliances or otherwise. The regularity of this ensured the whole process was normalised. Bollywood, an industry represented by a large Muslim percentage, followed this pattern, too. Noted music director Anu Malik married Anjali Vasudev Bhat, a Saraswat Brahmin. Popular star Feroz Khan had married Sundari, a Hindu lady. His brother Sanjay Khan had married Zarine Katrak, a Parsi who converted to Islam.
In the 90s, Shah Rukh Khan broke into the consciousness of the Indian audience who swooned over his love story with Gauri Chhiber, a Punjabi Hindu. His colleague and contemporary Aamir Khan had hidden his marriage to Reena Dutt, a Mohyal Brahmin just so that girls find this young actor more endearing when he hit screens with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. He divorced her many years later to marry another Hindu, Kiran Rao, before divorcing her last year. Saif Ali Khan’s marriage to Amrita Singh filled tabloids of the time with quite interesting snippets considering he was many years younger than his first wife. While that didn’t last, his union with Kareena Kapoor continues to keep the gossip mills and shutterbugs busy even as young girls find themselves enamoured by these celebrities interfaith marriages without realising how Bollywood’s rich and famous have doggedly furthered the trend of Muslim men marrying Hindu women.
Sohail Khan was married to Seema Sajdeh, while his brother Arbaaz had married Malaika Arora. Their father, Salim Khan lives with two wives. Sushila Charak (Salma Khan) and actress Helen Khan (nee Richardson). Sure we will witness their relaxed, happy lives but the inspiration when translated to the masses results in dangerous denouements.
What Looks Good in Cinema
The audience has finally woken up to the Love Jihad propaganda deviously peddled by the Hindi film industry that glorified romances featuring a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl. A case in point is the jibes directed at the Netflix film Love Hostel starring Vikrant Massey and Sanya Malhotra. But, if we map the narratives set by filmmakers in Mumbai, the message clearly was that the Hindu girl must and should fall for the brave but poor Muslim boy because he takes on the world for her. Even if we keep the social divide and status aside, films like Jodhaa Akbar presented an erroneous, whitewashed history of how Emperor Akbar honoured the wishes of Jodhaa, the only Rajput princess he married, before consummating his marriage with her. In reality, though, love was never a factor for the Mughals when it came to bedding their innumerable wives and concubines. In My Name is Khan, Shah Rukh Khan’s character is etched in a way that garners sympathy from the audience. All these films and more never really talk about the woman having to convert, shed all the signs of her previous faith, donning the burqa apart from several other restrictions and often having to give in to mothering more than two children and relenting to her husband having co-wives. Vinod Tiwari’s new film The Conversion broaches these topics boldly while the problem had been spoken about in an urban context by SL Bhyrappa in his critically acclaimed novel Aavarana—The Veil.
Words of Wisdom
One can go about their daily jobs pretending that their cushy circles will never be punctured by an order that negates any other faith as inferior. But what happens when danger lurks at the doorstep. One might also say that isolated incidents cannot be the harbinger of an unsettling ploy to usurp every single sign of individuality or diversity. But what explains the trend repeating itself! When the perpetrator is always from the same religion and the victim from an identified target! When the means are conniving and the end is directed at annihilation, can we continue dwelling in denial? Won’t we bother about the attacker and the attacked? Who earns and who pays! And on what diktats is this mechanism based? What is the modus operandi or the mood behind them!
When a Kareena Kapoor Khan moves around without a burqa or a Gauri Khan roams around town in high fashion, the starry-eyed Hindu girl from a two-tier city believes her Abdul would probably be just as liberal and modern as a Saif Ali Khan or a Shah Rukh Khan. It is when only after she marries that she realies that she has to hide in an obnoxious black veil or she is forbidden from enjoying Holi or Diwali. But by that time, Love Jihad has taken its ugly form
Fortunately, there are books probing these questions now. Dr Sunila Sovani’s Love Jihad: Muted Horror addresses them citing real-life incidents and reports. The most incisive portions however are those where a woman’s position in Islam as per the Quran is vividly enumerated. Interestingly, these points never get raised when pseudo feminists, liberals and leftists thrash out women’s rights on international forums. The hypocrisy is unnerving but this is how we must see it. The only way to tackle the mess is to arm ourselves with knowledge of what we are pitted against so that we can slowly change the narrative in this battle for civilisational existence. That enlightenment might just also help us guide our youngsters so that they realise who or what the real enemy is. Books such as Love Jihad or Predatory Dawah (by Monica Arora, Sonali Chitalkar, Shruti Mishra and Monicca Agarwal) become a window hence, to the truth.
The Role of Institutionalised Machinery
A lot has been said about the role of individuals and socio-religious institutions in raising awareness against Love Jihad. Liberals and seculars have been propagating that governments have no business or legislative competence to interfere in the individual choices of adults regarding their marriage and conversion. They might rally that this might violate the fundamental rights of individuals enshrined in the Constitution of India as per Article 21 (Protection of life, personal liberty and dignity which includes the right to choose a partner for marriage and privacy) and Article 25 (Freedom of Conscience and Practising, Professing and Propagating their Religion). But then, while fundamental rights are sacrosanct and inviolable they are not absolute. Government can put reasonable restrictions within the framework of the constitution.
Fact is, unlawful conversion of religion is against the core spirit of fundamental rights enshrined in Article 21. Though Article 25 does give the right to practice and propagate religion but not to proselytize. In fact, conversion of religion without bonafide belief and conscience is unacceptable and termed null and void in the jurisprudence of all religions mainly because it defies the very concept of secularism and equality.