India lost in 'love jihad'
BANGALORE - As part of an organized campaign, young Muslim men are deliberately luring women from different faiths into marriage so they will convert to Islam, say radical Indian Hindu and Christian groups in south India.
The alleged plot has been dubbed "love jihad".
It first surfaced in September, when two Muslim men from Pathanamthitta town in the southwestern state of Kerala reportedly enticed two women - a Hindu and a Christian - into marriage and forced them to convert to Islam.
The women first claimed to have became Muslims voluntarily, but after being allowed back to their parents' houses said they had been abducted and coerced to convert. The men were reportedly members of Campus Front, a student wing of radical Muslim group the Popular Front of India (PFI).
The Pathanamthitta incident was followed by an avalanche of media reports on "love jihad". Some described it as a movement, others claimed that forced conversions through marriage were actually being run by an organization called Love Jihad, or Romeo Jihad.
Hindu and Christian groups have weighed in with their own "facts" on the "love jihad".
The Sri Ram Sene, a fundamentalist Hindu group, now claims thousands of girls were forcibly converted to Islam in the past few years after marrying Muslim men. It says that after conversion the women were "trained in anti-national activities". India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said "love jihadis" have receiving foreign aid - from the Middle East - for the campaign.
Senior Christian leaders are now campaigning against the alleged threat.
"Around 4,000 girls have been subjected to religious conversion since 2005 after they fell in love," Father Johny Kochuparambil, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council's Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance, wrote in an article in the church council's newsletter.
The article lists 2,868 girls who fell into the "love jihad" net between 2006 to 2009. Kochuparambil has not clarified where the statistics came from, citing only "highly reliable sources".
The phenomenon has spread to Kerala's neighboring state, Karnataka. This month, the father of a woman who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim filed a habeas corpus petition in a Karnataka court, alleging his daughter was a victim of "love jihad". The woman told the court that her conversion was voluntary.
The court, however, said it has "serious suspicions" regarding the statement of the petitioner's daughter and that the case "has ramifications for national security". "It has raised questions of unlawful trafficking of girls and women in the state. So it has to be investigated by the police," the court said.
On the orders of the court, police in Kerala and Karnataka launched an investigation into whether an organization called Love Jihad or Romeo Jihad actually exists. They concluded that it doesn't.
Kerala's director general of police said no such organization had been identified in the state, but there were reasons to suspect there had been "concentrated attempts" by Muslim boys to persuade non-Muslim girls to convert to Islam after they fell in love.
The PFI, meanwhile, has denied it is waging a "love jihad".
"Religious conversion is not a crime; conversion takes place to Hinduism and Christianity also ... One cannot paint all love affairs as cases of forced conversions meant for extremist activity," said PFI spokesman Naseerudheen Elamaram.
In India, religious conversion is not a crime - article 25 of the constitution recognizes the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. However, the issue of conversion is extremely sensitive. In recent years, Hindu groups have opposed, sometimes violently, the conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity.
For centuries, Hindus converted to Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity, some out of conviction, others to escape the tyranny of the Hindu caste system or to benefit from professing the religion of the ruling class. However, Hindu groups maintain that it was through the use of the sword that Islam spread in India. They also accuse Christians of using economic incentives to attract Hindus to the faith.
Ironically, "love jihad" is now the bringing the sworn enemies together. Christian and Hindu groups that had been at each other's throat over religious conversions have now vowed to join forces to combat the alleged campaign.
"Both Hindu and Christian girls are falling prey to this. So we are cooperating with the VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a fundamentalist Hindu group] on this," K S Samson, from the Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), told the Times of India.
When CASA got to know of a Hindu schoolgirl who had become a victim of "love jihad", it "immediately referred the case to the VHP", he said.
The "love jihad" phenomenon - which may just be linked to a few religious-minded Romeos - could have been comical had it not deepened domestic hostility towards India's Muslim minority. There are fears that the use of the word "jihad", often interpreted as meaning holy war, may give extremist Hindu and Christian groups an excuse to justify attacks on Muslims.
"Certain fundamentalist groups that have been carrying out vigilante attacks against inter-community couples for several years have now started using the 'love jihad' theory to justify their attacks," a police official told The Hindu newspaper. He did not name the groups, but was probably referring to the Sri Ram Sene and the Bajrang Dal, which target women and religious minorities.
Sri Ram Sene is now preparing for a nationwide campaign on the issue. Its leader, Pramod Mutalik, has said 150 party activists have been deployed in public places to keep an eye on "suspicious activities". When a "love jihad" activity is identified, "it will be stopped then and there", he said.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council has issued "love jihad" guidelines, calling on parents and schools to monitor children's activities and discourage them from using mobile phones or spend long hours on the Internet. "Bringing up children the spiritual way is the best means to fight the love jihad," said the Christian group.