The Big Story: High level hysteria

A new video of murder emerged on social media on Thursday. It shows a Rajasthani man, Shambhulal Regar, leading a Muslim migrant worker, Mohammad Afrazul, into a thicket. Suddenly, Regar starts to attack Afrazul with a pickaxe and then a machete. Regar turns to the camera and declares that he has committed the murder to send a warning to people who commit “love jihad” – evoking the conspiracy theory of an organised plot by Muslim men to woo non-Muslim women with the express aim of converting them to Islam.

Regar then douses Afrazul with kerosene and sets him on fire. Regar had lured Afrazul into the woods on Wednesday by claiming that he needed directions. Accompanying Regar were his 11-year old daughter and his 14-year old nephew – who shot the video on a mobile phone. Murderers usually attempt to their crime because they know they will be punished. But Regar made sure his brutal act was recorded and distributed widely.

Regar belief that he was a righteous warrior in the battle against “love jihad” has not emerged out of the blue. For the past few years, numerous politicians and media houses have allowed the conspiracy theory to gain wide currency by treating it with gratuitous seriousness.

The term “love jihad” dates back to around 2009, when church groups in Kerala accused Muslim men of forging romantic relationships with Christian women with a vew to converting them to Islam. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a group that is part of the larger Sangh Parivar, soon seized on the term to further its anti-Muslim agenda.

Inter-religious marriages have always created friction in conservative India so this campaign by fringe religious groups was not surprising. What was unusual, though, was that the love jihad bogey was also taken up by the Kerala High Court in 2009. Unsurprisingly, the police itself found no evidence to back up the court’s charge.

However, the fact that a high court seemed to place some credibility in the conspiracy theory provided a fillip to it. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders saw in it an opportunity to appeal to conservative Hindus who were wary of the idea that women should be allowed to make their own choices in the matter of romantic relationships. BJP leaders Uma Bharti, a Union minister and Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister have deployed the love jihad bogey in their statements.

The final straw came in August when the Supreme Court itself gave credence to the conspiracy theory, ordering a National Investigative Agency inquiry into the case of Hadiya, a Hindu women who had converted to Islam. Although Hadiya had married a Muslim man a full year after her conversion, a template that does not even fit into the love jihad conspiracy narrative, the Supreme Court last month rejected Hadiya’s plea that she be allowed to live with her husband.

The media too has played a pernicious role in fanning the flames. In Wednesday’s hacking and burning, one prominent newspaper described the murder as a “reprisal for love jihad”. The authority given to this conspiracy theory has meant violence in the name of combatting inter-religious relationships is now viewed as legitimate.

That a man could be hacked and burnt to death and the act shared triumphantly on social media is just one outcome of the climate of hate that has gripped India.

The Big Scroll

  • Rajasthan hate crime: Police looking for motive – no leads for links with Hindutva groups so far, reports Abhishek Dey.

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  • In order to restore public confidence, India needs to abandon electronic voting machines and go back to paper ballots, contends Prashant Bhushan in the Hindu.
  • Moody’s rating should persuade the government that good economics pays, says Bhaskar Dutta in the Telegraph.


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