Gujarat: Over 500 women get training to fight 'love jihad'
A Hindu vigilante group in Gujarat is providing weapons to girls and young women to fight against what they call ‘love jihad’.
At a three-day event recently organised by the caste-based group Kadva Patidar (Patel) Samaj in Kutch, more than 500 women were given daggers (katars) to protect themselves from men from other religions.
Over 700 women attended the programme, including senior women leaders of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its MLAs and controversial rightwing activist Kajal Hindustani.
A press release from the organisers said the event sought to raise awareness against ‘love jihad” – a Hindu rightwing euphemism to mean Muslims men who allegedly seduce Hindu women into marrying them and embrace Islam.
“It is important to be ready to teach a lesson to the vagrants as much as it is important for Hindu daughters to be vigilant against love jihad being spread through fear, inducement and with the help of social media,” read the press note.
Harsukh Rudani, the general secretary of the group, said 530 women were presented the daggers “to be used in self-defense”.
The event was presided over by Kajal Singhalia aka Kajal Hindustani, a rightwing activist based in Gujarat who was arrested over a hate speech during Ramnavani in Una this year and released on bail.
Interestingly, the police in Kutch denied knowledge of any such event in the district.
In February this year, a similar event was held by Durga Vahini, the women wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in the state capital Gandhinagar to empower women against ‘love jihad’.
There, the more than 1,000 attendees aged 15 to 35 were urged to get training in martial arts and learn the use of swords and knives.
Dozens of women displayed their skills with the sword on the stage.
“The women were told about the perils of love jihad. Apart from speeches, slides were shown to portray how girls get lured by a person of a different religion which leads to suffering after marriage,” said Nupurben Patel, a local leader.
Amongst the examples cited was the murder of Shraddha Walkar in Delhi and the role of her boyfriend Aftab Poonawala.
“Hindu teenage girls are being trapped, kidnapped and tortured. There needs to be awareness about this. Our aim is to empower Hindu women,” said Rajendra Rajagore of VHP.
Another such event took place also in February this year in Ahmedabad. This was sponsored by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the country’s most influential Hindu rightwing group.
The Bhartiya Vichar Manch, affiliated with the RSS, held a talk on interfaith marriages and forced religious conversion at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad on February 27. Among the speakers were Dilipbhai Amin, a scientist, and Richaben Gautam, a senior research associate at Indus University.
In May, a week-long training session was organised by the VHP from May 7 to 14 to teach women how to use rifles, sword and lathis. All these weapons have been freely used in communal riots in Gujarat and elsewhere.
Bhumiben from Dehgam taluka in Gandhinagar said she was proud of her both daughters who took part in one such camp in Gandhinagar.
Critics who feel otherwise say the exercise is yet another bid by the Hindu rightwing to inject communalism into people’s lives and to exaggerate problems caused by inter-faith weddings.
“We all know that in today’s age, marriages keep collapsing; divorces are shooting up. Hindus divorce Hindus and Muslims divorce Muslims. In short, all people face problems. These have nothing to do with religion. Also, people from different faiths and languages marry and are happy,” said a resident who did not want to be named. “At the same time, don’t Hindu families kill their Hindu daughters-in-law for dowry?”
The Gujarat Assembly has passed an amendment to the Freedom of Religion Act, popularly known as anti-love jihad law. The Bajrang Dal has formed an anti-love jihad unit across the state to act as vigilantes at the garba venues (a traditional Gujarati dance) during Navaratri.
The anti ‘love jihad law’ In 2008, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act came into force making it mandatory for a person to obtain prior approval from the district authority for consensual conversion.
“The act came into force primarily as a counter to stop conversions in the tribal belts of Gujarat. It was the time BJP and organisations like VHP and RSS used terms like ‘ghar wapsi’ to stop tribals from converting to Christianity,” Shamshad Pathan, an Ahmedabad-based senior advocate, told The Federal.
“However, the law was enforced in retrospect and was called the Gujarat Freedom of Religion 2003 so that any conversion dating back to 2003 stands to be null and void as the Collector’s permission was not taken prior to the conversion,” added Pathan.
“Since 2014, the narrative of rightwing groups changed. They use the word ‘love jihad’ and the law began to be used to target Muslims instead of Christians,” he added.
Under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 there was provision for imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 50,000. In the case of forced conversion of a minor, a woman or someone from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the maximum imprisonment was that of four years and fine up to Rs 1 lakh.
An amendment in 2021 included the word “better lifestyle” as an allurement to force someone to convert into another religion with punishment of three to 10 years of imprisonment.