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‘They cut him into pieces’: India’s ‘love jihad’ conspiracy theory turns lethal | India

It was darkish and pelting down with rain as Sameer Parishwadi ran alongside the railway tracks. Up forward, as torches darted throughout the tracks, they shone on to a pair of ft.

A couple of metres away, sliced clear from the physique, was a head, one which he recognised. It was Arbaaz Aftab Mullah, his cousin and finest pal from childhood.

Parishwadi turned over his cousin’s physique and noticed that his palms had been tightly certain. “I knew then that this was 100% a homicide,” he mentioned. “He had been tortured after which cruelly killed.”

Wiping his eyes, Parishwadi added: “He had not dedicated a criminal offense by loving somebody, but he paid the last word value.”

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Mullah, a 24-year-old Muslim man from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, was killed in September – allegedly for falling in love with a Hindu lady.

Sameer Parishwadi
Sameer Parishwadi on the place the place he discovered the physique of his cousin Arbaaz Aftab Mullah. {Photograph}: The Guardian

In India, interfaith marriages have at all times carried a social stigma and confronted resistance by all faiths as they typically require non secular conversion.

However, in recent times, because the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata get together (BJP) got here to energy, such unions – notably between Hindu ladies and Muslim males – have develop into a harmful political flashpoint on account of a discredited however pervasive conspiracy generally known as “love jihad”.

Those that imagine within the theory declare that Muslim males are luring Hindu ladies into marriage on false pretences, as a way to convert them to Islam and guarantee Muslim dominance over the Hindus in India.

In accordance with India’s nationwide investigation company, there isn’t a proof for “love jihad”, neither is it mirrored in India’s inhabitants information, the place Hindus proceed to make up about 80% and Muslims 14%.

However what was as soon as a fringe extremist theory has now been introduced into the political mainstream and, final yr, quite a few BJP-ruled states, together with Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, handed laws to clamp down on conversion for interfaith marriages – legal guidelines colloquially generally known as the “love jihad” legal guidelines.

Whereas the laws covers all religions, over the previous yr it has predominately been used to focus on minorities in addition to emboldening rightwing Hindu vigilante teams to halt interfaith marriage.

In Uttar Pradesh, Muslim males who’ve tried to marry consenting Hindu ladies have been violently attacked, pressured into hiding or despatched to jail. Of the 208 folks arrested underneath the brand new anti-conversion regulation between November 2020 and August 2021, all had been Muslim. None have been convicted to this point.

Hindu gesticulating at a Muslim man
Tensions between Hindus and Muslims can run excessive. {Photograph}: The Guardian

Asif Iqbal, who runs Dhanak For Humanity, an organisation that assists interfaith {couples} going through hostility, mentioned he had seen an increase in these in search of assist prior to now yr.

“They worry society, they worry their households, they worry they could get killed by these fanatic teams and now they’ve the added worry of false police circumstances being filed,” he mentioned.

In Bareilly, the realm of Uttar Pradesh which has had the best variety of love jihad arrests because the new regulation was handed, Ashu Agarwal, 52, a neighborhood chief of one of the vital lively rightwing Hindu teams, Vishva Hindu Parishad, claimed households approached them “day in, time out” for assist in stopping interfaith marriages and love jihad circumstances.

“For the final 50 years, we have now identified about love jihad however we weren’t in a position to specific ourselves and the problem was swept underneath the carpet,” mentioned Agarwal.

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Agarwal pointed to a current case of an alleged internationally funded “love jihad syndicate” in Bareilly, led by a neighborhood Muslim man, Syed Nizam, as proof of the issue.

However Nizam’s household mentioned the case was trumped up and getting used to punish him for getting concerned with an older Hindu girl. Nizam was allegedly kidnapped and overwhelmed by the girl’s family members, then handed over to the police, overwhelmed in jail till he made a video confession that he was accepting cash from overseas to rape and convert Hindu ladies.

Students take part in a protest against love jihad in front of Academy of Fine Art in Kolkata
College students participate in a protest towards love jihad in entrance of Academy of High-quality Artwork in Kolkata on Valentine’s Day final yr. {Photograph}: Dipa Chakraborty/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Nizam has now been behind bars for greater than 5 months. “He was a father of three and was [not] concerned in conversions, he wasn’t even very non secular. It is a false case however we’re Muslim, we will’t do something,” mentioned his mom, Latifan Begum.

Karnataka is without doubt one of the states additionally proposing to usher in a “love jihad” regulation, however, within the interim, rightwing Hindu teams have been lively themselves. It was one such group, Shri Ram Sena Hindustan, that received wind of the connection between Mullah, a Muslim, and Shweta Kumbhar, a Hindu, within the metropolis of Belgaum.

Mullah and Kumbhar lived reverse one another and have become romantically concerned in 2019. She would convey tiffin bins of meals over to his home, and they might go on lengthy walks collectively.

Although they knew their love was frowned upon, they felt no have to be discreet: their telephones had been crammed with selfies of one another and Mullah would speak of her typically to his buddies.

Mullah’s mom, Nazima Shaikh, tried desperately to intervene. “I informed him to steer clear of the lady, that it was harmful,” she mentioned. When he refused, Shaikh moved the household to a brand new home. However nonetheless the couple organised secret conferences and spoke recurrently on the telephone.

However final yr, Mullah started to get threatening telephone calls, allegedly from Kumbhar’s household after which from members of Shri Ram Sena Hindustan.

On 26 September, two leaders of the group summoned Mullah and his mom to a gathering on a bridge, the place they warned him to finish the connection and sever all contact, or face the implications. They broke Mullah’s sim card and deleted all photographs of Kumbhar from his telephone.

Two days later, whereas his mom was away travelling, he tried to name Kumbhar once more. In accordance with police, that evening two members of Hindu Shri Ram Sena Hindustan had been paid by Kumbhar’s household to homicide their daughter’s Muslim lover.

They allegedly stabbed him to loss of life, then transported Mullah’s physique to the railway tracks in Khanapur, the place they dismembered it to make it appear to be he had jumped in entrance of a prepare.

Ten folks have been charged, together with at the very least two identified members of Shri Ram Sena Hindustan and Kumbhar’s dad and mom.

Ramakant Konduskar, the founder and chief of Shri Ram Sena Hindustan, denied any involvement of his organisation within the killing. “Those that had been arrested had been doing nice work for Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] and that’s how they received trapped on this case,” he mentioned.

Konduskar alleged there was “large conspiracy of conversions occurring throughout the nation”, and mentioned that whereas Mullah’s case was “tragic … everybody ought to love their very own faith and never act towards the faith of others”.

Shaikh mentioned she would battle for justice for her son till her final breath. “How are there such hard-hearted folks on this world? He didn’t do any flawed to anybody and but they cut him into items,” she wept. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, my son’s picture is at all times with me.”

Mohammad Sartaj Alam contributed reporting

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