National Commission for Women Chairperson Rekha Sharma sparked a controversy on social media on Tuesday, after the panel announced that she had met Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and discussed “rise in love jihad cases” with him.
“Our Chairperson Rekha Sharma met with Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, His Excellency, Governor of Maharashtra and discussed issues related to women safety in the state including defunct One Stop Centres, molestation and rape of women patients at Covid-19 centres and rise in love jihad cases,” the NCW said.
Sharma spoke to the governor about the distinction between consensual inter-faith marriages and “love jihad” and said that the latter required attention, according to PTI. Love jihad is a term frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions solely to convert them to Islam.
The Bhararatiya Janata Party government admitted in Parliament as recently as February that there was no evidence of such a phenomenon.
All India Progressive Women’s Association Secretary Kavita Krishnan criticised Sharma and said that she had no right to continue in her position. “What on earth is a ‘love jehad’ case,” she asked. “Any case in which a Muslim man and Hindu woman are in love? How dare you remain in your chair as NCW India chief and use a term that a) treats women as property of communities b) hates Muslims? You bring shame to NCW.”
Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s political party also criticised Sharma. “This is an example how casteist and communal Rekha Sharma is,” Azad Samaj Party spokesperson Suraj Kumar Bauddh said. “Rise in Love Jihad? You are openly serving hate in society. Disgusting. You’ve no right to remain as chief.”
The row over the “love jihad” tweet snowballed as Twitter users dug out controversial tweets Sharma had posted over the years. “Will NSW take cognizance of these demeaning tweets made on women by its chairperson?” said AltNews Co-founder Mohammed Zubair, tweeting screenshots from Sharma’s handle. Twitter users said that some of Sharma’s tweets were misogynistic and Islamophobic.
Amid the fracas, Sharma restricted access to her Twitter handle. “Twitter discovers NCW India chairperson Rekha Sharma’s past tweets, and it is so incredibly embarrassing that she has to restrict her account, possibly to obliterate some of that past,” Zubair’s colleague Pratik Sinha said.
Right to Information activist Saket Gokhale said Sharma’s comments were “beyond disgusting”. “This incredibly misogynist and disgusting person is in charge of safeguarding women’s rights in India,” he added.
Some of Sharma’s tweets spoke disparagingly about members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The Congress’ youth wing asked Sharma why she was hiding her “cheap and misogynistic” tweets now. “The BJP government should hang its head in shame,” the Youth Congress said.
One of her tweets was against Prime Minister Narendra Modi while another said she hated the word feminist.