When renowned writer-poet Madhavikutty (rechristened Kamala Surayya at the twilight of her life following her conversion to Islam) died, she was buried as per Islamic customs. And her sons showed no qualms in standing in the front row to offer the customary final prayer to the departed soul. While it is a measure of their sublime sensibility and dignified equanimity, it is also a testament to the great tradition Kerala is known for which essentially bred such finer souls.
But today, that tradition is at the mercy of the Hindu rightwing nationalists in Kerala who yearn to milk political capital by disturbing the state’s placid social ecosystem. The cow claptrap, thankfully, did not cut any ice among the Malayalees, for, beef continues to be a succulent and secular dish among the majority Hindus here. The state-level minions of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi then had to find something anew. And they stumbled upon the bogey of religious conversions, the pet national-level dish that has been baked in the putrid kitchen of the Sangh Parivar.
The fact is that the practice of inter-religious marriages is one of the many sweet icings that decorate the syncretic monochrome that we call Kerala. Here in the state, it is not unusual for men and women to marry from other religions. When they are thrown themselves into the delirious orbit of love, some undergo religious conversions in order to peacefully fit themselves within the society-approved and family-blessed institution called marriage. Some don’t, and continue to live with the religion they were born into.
But, the Sangh Parivar, allergic to humanitarian scruples and sanctimonious about religious conversions, shows remarkable facility in according noxious communal color to such benign conversions. And they have a name for it: love jihad. Marriages between Hindu girls and Muslim men are bracketed with this highly mischievous term, painting the estrogen- and testosterone-induced predilections of youngsters with the poisonous brush of love jihad.
In Kerala, the canard of love jihad, once ruled out by the High Court of Kerala as a non-existent figment of imagination, continues to be peddled by the righting Sangh Parivar with the same street-smart guile of a snake-oil seller. Stray incidents of religious conversions involving Hindu girls and Muslim men are branded as the products of love jihad.
The obvious tripe of love jihad as being the hackneyed plot straight out of a fourth-grade film notwithstanding, the notion that it exists has gained some amount of mainstream acceptability in the modish conversion-talk. At the height of the love jihad campaign not long ago in Kerala, when the vicious campaign reached its malicious pinnacle, there have been instances where even innocuous friendships between Hindu girls and Muslim boys in society were viewed with suspicion. Not a small feat for the Hindu right which has been striving hard to enter the state’s mainstream politics with its ideology based on hatred for the minorities.
The bogey of love jihad is now followed by, not supplanted with, another humbuggery: Islamic State. The theory is that, like in the case of love jihad, there are organized gangs of Muslim men who lure Hindu girls into Islam, marry them and take them to the IS camps abroad. What a way to recruit foot soldiers for the Islamic State imbeciles!
RSS and BJP minions extensively used this theory in the now-controversial conversion of Akhila aka Hadiya, a 24-year-old homeopathic doctor. Despite stating before the Kerala High Court that she converted to Islam on her own free volition and married as per her wish, the court, in an unprecedented move, sent her to her parents’ home against her wish to go with her husband. Personal choice and constitutional freedom to choose religion be damned! The court appeared to have been swayed by her father’s concern that she might join Islamic State. (He sought to substantiate his claim with an unverified phone call with his daughter in this regard.) Hadiya case is a classic case where even the judiciary impulsively falls into the bottomless pit of vicious propaganda unleashed by the regressive forces in the society.
The Sangh Parivar leaders, best known for regurgitating nocturnal nostrums in TV news debates to all the vexing problems under the sun, are out to save the Hindu religion from sinking to the abyss of obscurity and anonymity at the hands of ‘conversion-happy’ Islamists and Christians. A Ghar Vaapasi (return to home) centre – part of the much-ballyhooed national-level campaign to bring all the wayward sons back into the ‘mother religion’ – was unearthed recently in central Kerala. The Ghar Vappasi centre functioned as a yoga centre. But scratch the false veneer of Yoga centre and you have a torture centre run by one of the branches of the Hindu right. The centre would brainwash Hindu women who have married non-Hindu men.
The shady existence of the ‘Yoga’ centre was revealed the other day by a woman, an Ayurveda doctor, who had married a Christian. She was tortured for 22 days at this ‘Yoga’ centre either to leave her husband or force him to become a Hindu. She revealed that 65 such women were held captive there. They faced constant torture, including sexual harassment, at the centre, which has since been shut down with one person arrested. A probe is also on.
It is unlikely that the rightwing will succeed in its ghoulish motives in a state like Kerala. But the disharmony and mutual hatred that the rightwing elements sow using such nasty campaigns can have long-term ramifications in the state known for its lovely syncretism. The question we need to ask is: How long the purveyors of hatred keep on sprinkling communal venom into the fabulous realms of man-woman relationships? Will they leave love alone?
(The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist)