Hate Watch: Himanta Biswas Sarma on ‘Love Jihad’ during the Gujarat poll campaign

Unmindful of the fact that the state he leads, Assam, is among the five worst when it comes to domestic violence, the aggressive chief minister, uses the murder of Shraddha Walkar to stigmatise inter-faith relationships

Himanta Biswa

Selectively pin-pointing the gruesome murder of Shraddha Walkar by her boyfriend, Aaftab Poonawala, a crime that has received prominent news coverage in the past week, strongman chief minister of Assam, BJP leader Himanto Biswas Sarma, while campaigning in Kutch for the forthcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, declared that “if the country did not elect a strong leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024, a monster like Aftab, who hacked his partner’s body into pieces and was also a perpetrator of ‘love jihad’, would rise up in every city of the country.” Extreme right wing trolls and their mentors in the political establishment have been single-handedly playing up this instance of brute intimate partner violence, because it involves a Muslim male and a Hindu woman. In this particular case, the boyfriend and girlfriend were living together as a couple, and got into a fight. As a result of it, the boyfriend allegedly strangled the girl and later chopped up her body into 35 pieces.

Then again, while campaigning for his party, the BJP in Surat, Gujarat, Sarma exhorted, “Vote for Modi – without a strong leader in the country, murderers like Aftab will emerge in every city, and we will not be able to safeguard our society.” As pointed out by Ms Brinda Karat, senior leader of the CPI-M in a piece for NDTV, Mr Sarma is chief minister of a state where the extent of domestic violence against women according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is among the five worst states in the country. “It is among the states where there is underreporting of such violence. It is among the states where justification of domestic violence is also high. Has he ever addressed this issue either through public statements or government policy? The NFHS -5 reveals the startling figure in its 2021 report that one-third of women in India experienced domestic violence and/or sexual violence. What is even more disturbing is that 77 per cent did not report the issue.”

Yet, Mr Sarma.in a clear-cut bid to polarize votes in the upcoming Gujarat state elections, has thrown reason and caution to the winds.

As analysed by Citizens for Justice and Peace (cjp.org.in) in this hate buster, 80 per cent of inter-faith marriages do not end up in murder! Besides, as pointed out by Ms Karat, “ The perpetrator of a crime against a woman is a criminal to be punished whether his name is Aftab or Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana – the rapists and murderers in the Bilkis Bano case; or Sandeep, Ramu, Lavkush and Ravi, the rapists and killers of the young Dalit woman in Hathras. Communalising a crime is an assault on the legal framework of India.”

Besides Sarma, Kaushal Kishore, Minister of State for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in the Modi Government, is reported to have said “Educated girls should not get into such relationships. They should learn from such incidents. They should stay with someone with the approval of their parents – and register the relationship.” Clearly Sarma and Kishore share a mind-set that is endorsed by the top political leadership in the country given the stony silence from the top!

His statement has been rightly slammed by many as blaming the girl for her own murder. In the view held by the minister (1) she was wrong to choose her own partner defying her parents (2) if she had registered her relationship, got married, instead of being in a live-in relationship, this would not have happened. (3) she should have known this because she was educated. As mentioned earlier, Kishore’s view has to be taken seriously because it has not been refuted or disowned by a single person in government or a functionary of the party.

Significantly, the latest NCRB report notes that 6, 589 women were killed in dowry/related deaths last year (2021). These are almost all within marriages “approved by parents”. The NFHS data is also of families mainly in this category. Did approval of parents for the marriage prevent the killing of these young women or the domestic violence faced by one-third of women?

Reason and argument are not however, the forte of the likes of Sarma and Kishore. They have been trained well by senior mentors in the political establishment on the use of innuendo, hate and division, something that has cost the Indian social fabric dear. Presently the Supreme Court of India, hearing three major cases against hate speech, has slammed television anchors for spewing hate and venom. What about political leaders occupying constitutional positions, should their tongues wag unchecked?


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