“My daughter is just 17 and is under the spell of a Muslim boy. She says she will marry only him,” wails Ranjan, as soon as the baba, known to be the ‘rescuer of Hindu Samaj’ makes an appearance in the hall. Ranjan’s wife adds the details: the girl has not only been texting her ‘Muslim’ lover but has also been spotted with him once. Yes of course, they have taken away the mobile phone, and she is not allowed to go out anymore.
That the chasm dividing Hindus and Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh is widening every day has been exemplified by the recurring riots. But if you want to know how far the communal cancer has eaten into the social fabric, all you need is to spend an hour or two with Rijakdas.
The 61-year-old ‘monk’ specialises in ‘curing’ young Hindu girls off their Muslim lovers – a therapy of sorts for what they call ‘Love Jihad’. Hindu girls who fall in love with (or are married to) Muslim boys are brought to him for ‘rescue’ and the baba treats them with a bottle of ‘blessed’ mineral water and a bed of rice. Rijakdas is revered by Hindu families of Saharanpur, some of whom have him on speed dial, and come to him at the slightest instance of their daughter sending a text message to a Muslim friend.
“It is a conspiracy by Muslims to ruin our families. They hypnotise our daughters so badly that many of them refuse to touch the water. Only in those cases we use force, otherwise we let the effect of black magic get nullified by the power of mantras,” says Rijakdas. As western UP makes its peace with communal flare-ups, the ‘Love jihad’ theory has now resurfaced mixing in more suspicion and mistrust to the boiling pot.
The BJP office in Saharanpur says there have been at least 250 ‘verified’ cases of love jihad in Saharanpur, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar in the past one year. “It is a planned campaign by the Muslim community to target Hindu women, especially minor girls,” says BJP MP from Saharanpur Raghav Lakhanpal, who says “the situation” has escalated in the past few months. An NGO — Mahila Sahyog Samiti — run by the MP’s family counsels runaway girls to return to home. “We know for certain that it is planned because the boy often from a poor family is provided with money, cars, tickets to elope and stay during elopement and the nikaah is also arranged by them. That cannot happen without support from the community,” he adds.
Cut to the other side of the divide: the story is filled with a certain sense of bewilderment and humiliation. Mohammed Ansari, an engineering student, says youngsters are closely monitored by both communities. Saeed Bukhari, a retired professor and part of clergy in Saharanpur, says in the madrasas of the region, boys are now asked to lower their eyes when they walk in public places. “The distrust among the communities is so intense that nowhere will you find a Hindu woman talking to a Muslim youth,” he says.
Sudha Pai, professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, who has studied UP for many years, said the resurgence of such incidents only showed the extent of polarisation the region was undergoing. “The level of distrust that has developed between the communities is evident in this. This is also happening because people who created polarisation before the elections got rewarded with ministerial posts,” she says.
In Saharanpur, Superintendent of Police Dharamveer Singh feels all this is just an attempt to create fear and tension in the society along communal lines. “Youngsters fall in love and wish to be with each other. The Muslim community has been far more accepting of them, but many of the Hindus are not ready to accept changing patterns in youth behaviour and treat it as a conspiracy by the Muslims,” he says.