The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), furthering its Hindutva push ahead of the Assembly elections in Karnataka, has emboldened Hindutva outfits.
With elections barely months away, the Karnataka unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has set up a “Love Jihad Helpline” in communally sensitive Mangaluru.
The VHP is part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological parent of the BJP.
The VHP, along with other Hindutva outfits like the Bajrang Dal, claims that the “helpline” is to “assist” Hindu women being “lured for religious conversion”.
The move is expected to add to an already communally charged atmosphere in coastal Karnataka, leading to further polarisation ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections.
‘Love Jihad helpline’
The VHP has collaborated with various Hindu outfits, including the Bajrang Dal, to establish a helpline claiming to offer legal and medical aid — such as counselling — to girls and their families who complain about coerced religious conversions and interfaith marriages, said leaders of the outfit.
Pradeep Saripalla, the Mangaluru district head of VHP, told South First: “We have started this helpline not only to fight against ‘love jihad’ but also against the ‘drugs jihad’ in the coastal region, mainly in Mangaluru and Udupi districts.”
He added: “It was decided after all the leaders and members of various Hindu outfits chaired a meeting and discussed extensively on the matter concerning Hindus in the region.”
According to Hindutva outfits, “Love Jihad” is a concept or conspiracy — depending on whom you ask — that “Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam by means of love and marriage”.
Although the Union Home Ministry has denied the existence of such a term under Indian laws, Hindutva outfits have repeatedly accused Muslim men of resorting to “Love Jihad”.
“The number of cases of forced religious conversions and trapping Hindu women in the name of love and marriage is on the rise in coastal areas. This helpline is to curb such anti-Hindu activities and protect Hindu girls and women,” said Pradeep.
On the services the helpline offers, he said: “Many women are reluctant to go to the police when they fall victim to ‘Love Jihad’, fearing the accused could use money or muscle power to bury the case. If such victims approach the helpline, we could assist them legally and medically, and also help to register a case.”
He elaborated “We will not take the law into our hands. Instead, we will help the victims pursue the matter legally. We will also keep the complainants’ identities confidential. Around 20 people are working in the helpline centre in Mangaluru. We are already receiving many calls from victims.”
‘Helpline well within the law’
The members of Hindu outfits claimed that they started this helpline after the horrific murder of Shraddha Walkar, who was allegedly killed and cut into 35 pieces by her live-in partner and boyfriend Afatab Poonawala in Delhi.
He has been arrested and is being held in judicial custody in Tihar Jail.
Although similar instances involving kin from the same faith committing heinous murders came to light following the Shraddha case, those find no mention in the discourse.
A former IPS officer-turned-politician, Bhaskar Rao, said about the Love Jihad Helpline: “This has been set up well within the law.”
Rao, who is associated with Aam Aadmi Party in Karnataka, said: “It is purely optional for anyone to establish these helplines and offer service to the needy. They want to help through this helpline. If curbed, it will increase.”
Workers of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, however, have been booked in several instances for assaulting interfaith couples, and harassing people of different faiths for travelling, eating, sitting or even moving around together. The outfits are notorious for violent moral policing.
Government run by fringe groups: Congress
The BJP government in Karnataka, it seems, has found nothing out of the ordinary over the Love Jihad Helpline.
“If this was something that went beyond the bounds of the government or was illegal, the police would have taken appropriate action. Discussions are underway. Nothing else,” Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra told reporters.
Venting anguish over the government, KPCC communications chairman and Chittapur MLA Priyank Kharge said: “The Karnataka government is run by these fringe groups (the VHP and the Bajrang Dal).”
The current Congress national president’s son added: “The government does not take any action against these groups for breaking the law. The government is incapable.”
KPCC Campaign Committee chairman MB Patil said: “If we comment on the matter, they (the Hindu outfits) will get more publicity. It is better to refrain from reacting to these things.”
Hindu outfits demand law on ‘Love Jihad’
In December last year, many Hindu outfits approached the Basavaraj Bommai-led Karnataka government seeking a separate law or a special task force to fight against Love Jihad cases.
Responding to the demands, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra told reporters: “The Karnataka Protection for Right to Freedom of Religion Act, which seeks to regulate religious conversion, came into effect in May 2022. That law is enough to pursue the alleged ‘love jihad’ cases.”
He told reporters in December: “There is no need for a separate law. There is no need for a special task force to tackle these cases.”
The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act prohibits forced religious conversions by direct or indirect means.
This was introduced in the Karnataka Assembly on 21 December, 2021, and passed in 2022.
This law also specifies the procedure for undertaking a religious conversion.
If any person is booked under this law, the punishment might range from three to 10 years of imprisonment, and a penalty of up to ₹1 lakh.