As election approaches, saffron groups smell love jihad in Bengal’s air

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Kolkata: West Bengal has been a focal point for the right-wing ideologues for some time now. Reports of foot soldiers of the saffron brigade making inroads into Bengal are now frequent in Bengal. The news from the right wing camp being that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), has been distributing pamphlets in colleges of West Bengal, trying to warn Hindu girls of the dire consequences of so called love jihad, they might face if they marry a Muslim man.

To counter VHP’s campaign of creating an atmosphere of hate and fear in Kolkata, a city which till date is known for its liberal ideology, had a round table discussion organised by Al-Eman Mission, a Kolkata-based social organisation, on Saturday at the Academy of Fine Arts.

The event had people from different communities participating to come up with ideas to counter the campaign of hate in colleges of Bengal by propagating the bogey term of love jihad coined by the saffron brigade to describe the inter-faith marriage of a Muslim man with a Hindu girl. The saffron outfits, till date, have effectively used this terminology, to create a divide between the Hindu and Muslim community, in the Hindi belt to get votes in their favour. With the 2019 General Election approaching, VHP seems to be using the same strategy in Bengal, to polarise votes. In fact, at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress in Chicago, the posters of Sharmila Tagore, who had married former Indian cricket skipper Nawab Pataudi used to exhibit the case of love-jihad. Sharmila, who hails from the prestigious Tagore clan of Bengal had a love marriage with Nawab Pataudi in 1969.

Abdul Aziz, an Urdu writer and member of Milli Etayar Parishad, a social organisation, which aims at building unity and propagating communal peace, began by saying, “Where there is love, there cannot be Jihad. The two are quite opposite in nature. Love conquers all, but Jihad cannot.”

He then went on to explain the meaning of Jihad. ‘It is a struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam. How can love be an enemy?’ questioned Aziz.

However, VHP has decided to go ahead with their plan of circulating leaflets and pamphlets, which comes laden with instructions like wearing sindoor and mangalsutra and celebrating all Hindu festivals to assert one’s Hindu identity. The leaflet also has a solution for girls ‘trapped’ in an inter-faith marriage – make your husband accept Hinduism. These pamphlets are all set to be distributed across Bengal’s educational institutes. Not only that, the VHP cadres will be doing a door to door campaign to make girls wake up to the conspiracy of love-jihad. Around 35,000 cadres of Durga Vahini and 40,000 members of Bajrang Dal, both affiliated to VHP, will be a part of this campaign.

“The members of Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal will be doing the legwork. Initially, we will start with the sensitisation programme at various educational institutes and will then move ahead with our door to door campaign. We have already flagged off this campaign in some of the districts but in a scattered way. By the end of this month, we will begin this campaign in Kolkata,” informed Sourish Mukherjee, state spokesperson of VHP. He added that his party has already prepared a list of families whose daughters have been trapped. “We will counsel the girls and the parents. We will tell them the danger of such marriages,” said Mukherjee.

The pamphlets and booklets have a detailed report on how to identify cases of ‘love-jihad’, its prevention and what needs to be done, if ‘a Hindu girl falls prey’. The pamphlet even directs families to avail counselling and to contact members of VHP or Bajrang Dal, lodge police complaints and accept these rescued girls and unite them with the rest of the families. “In Hindu families, these girls are not accepted but we counsel the family members to accept them and reintegrate them with the rest of the family,” said Mukherjee.

Speaking to eNewsroom from Port Blair, Sachindranath Sinha, VHP organising secretary for Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Andaman Island claimed, “For the past five to six years, this has become a major issue in Bengal. Districts with higher Muslim population like North and South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas such things (inter-faith marriages) are being encouraged. We are not against love or not against Muslim or Christian communities. We are against conversion. We are trying to create awareness about it,” said Sinha.

Interestingly, it is not only ‘love jihad’ issue being a common practice in Bengal a worry for VHP workers, but they see an infiltrator angle in it too.

“Infiltrators from Bangladesh are posing a problem. In Port Blair too, most of the golgappa wallas and chaat wallas are from Bangladesh. They leave their families behind in Bangladesh and marry a local girl. The demographic picture is changing fast and its socio-cultural effect can no longer be ignored,” claimed Sinha.

But, Asif Khan, chairman of El-Eman said that divisive agenda of VHP would not be as easily implemented in Bengal. “We too will begin our campaign. We will not let Bengal be converted into another UP,” said Khan. He added, “Supreme Court has decriminalised 377.  Now, men can love men and can freely move around without being harassed by police. Then why Hindus and Muslims cannot move freely. In this way, we will be moving backwards. We will not let Bengal move backwards,” added Khan.

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In recent times, people-centric journalism is being done mostly by independent digital media. These organizations run on public support. Founded in 2017, eNewsroom India has been doing meaningful stories for over four years now. We practice ‘Old School Journalism’ and focus on under-reported stories from Bengal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan regularly. Our opinion pieces come from across the country.

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