Interfaith love a risk amid India's Hindu nationalist surge

Nazima Shaikh, mother of Arbaz Mullah weeps as she speaks to the Associated Press at her home in Belagavi, India, Oct. 6, 2021. Arbaz Mullah was a Muslim man in love with a Hindu woman. But the romance so angered the woman’s family that — according t
Image Icon
The Associated PressNazima Shaikh, mother of Arbaz Mullah weeps as she speaks to the Associated Press at her home in Belagavi, India, Oct. 6, 2021. Arbaz Mullah was a Muslim man in love with a Hindu woman. But the romance so angered the woman’s family that — according to police — they hired members of a hard-line Hindu group to murder him. It’s a grim illustration of the risks facing interfaith couples as Hindu nationalism surges in India. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

BELAGAVI, India — Arbaz Mullah’s love story began, as romances often do, when he first laid eyes on the woman of his dreams, Shweta Kumbhar.

Over nearly three years, their courtship in many ways resembled that of any other couple: They went on dates and to movies, snapped selfies, frequented public parks, made each other promises to get married. But those secret vows would never be fulfilled.

The romance so angered relatives of Kumbhar, a Hindu, that they allegedly hired members of a hard-line Hindu nationalist group to kill 24-year-old Mullah, who was Muslim.

They did exactly that, according to police. On Sept. 28, his bloodied and dismembered body was found on a stretch of railroad tracks.

While interfaith unions between Hindus and Muslims are rare in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and other Hindu nationalists have forcefully decried what they call “love jihad.” The discredited conspiracy theory holds that supposedly predatory Muslim men deceive women to coerce them into changing their religion, with the ultimate aim of establishing domination in the majority-Hindu nation.

The “love jihad” issue has pitted the BJP against secular activists who warn it undermines constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and puts Muslims in the crosshairs of hard-line Hindu nationalists, emboldened by a prime minister who has mostly stayed mum about rising attacks on Muslims since he was first elected in 2014.

“This conspiracy theory demonizes the Muslim as the other and creates victimhood and fears in the Hindus that India is going to be converted into a Muslim country,” said Mohan Rao, a retired professor of social sciences at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University who has researched interfaith marriages. “It’s absurd.”

Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a BJP spokesman, said the party has no objection in principle to interfaith marriages, which are legal, but suggested that concerns about “love jihad” are valid.

“BJP is not completely against interfaith marriages. Basically, it is an individual choice,” Agarwal said. “But to lure somebody through financial means, or some coercion, or some sort of motive to convert, that is not acceptable.”

India’s National Investigation Agency and some court rulings have rejected the “love jihad” theory as baseless. Census data show the country’s religious mix has been stable since 1951, and India remains predominantly Hindu with Muslims making up about 14% of its nearly 1.4 billion people.

Nonetheless, rights groups say violence against interfaith couples has increased in recent years, perpetrated by hard-line Hindu nationalists out to stop such relationships. Hundreds of Muslim men have been assaulted, and many couples have been forced to go into hiding. Some have been killed.

It was against that backdrop of fear that Mullah and Kumbhar began dating in 2018 in the city of Belagavi, in the southern state of Karnataka.

They hit it off instantly. But soon their conservative neighborhood was abuzz with gossip about a romance between a Hindu woman and Muslim man.

Mullah’s mother, Nazima Shaikh, was worried. She was all too familiar with the frequent news stories about interfaith couples being targeted in Karnataka, which is governed by Modi’s party.

“I was unsettled because I knew how it could end,” Shaikh said.

She tried to persuade Mullah to end the relationship, but he refused. Their love was too great, and he was determined.

Meanwhile Kumbhar’s family was aghast. Shaikh said she appealed to them to give the relationship their blessing but was told that “they will kill or get killed but won’t let their daughter marry my son.”

Soon, Mullah began receiving threatening calls. First they came from Kumbhar’s family, then from members of the hard-line Hindu nationalist group Sri Ram Sena Hindustan, or Lord Ram’s Army in India. They demanded money and for Mullah to break up with Kumbhar.

Kumbhar’s parents also sought to stop her from seeing him, so the couple began meeting clandestinely in faraway towns and in fields in the countryside, according to friends.

When the threats grew, Mullah reluctantly agreed to end the relationship after being told it would mean he would no longer be bothered. But the couple continued to correspond in secret — and her family was incensed when they found out. It wasn’t long before he was summoned to meet again with the members of Sri Ram Sena Hindustan.

Late that night the phone rang at Shaikh’s home.

“Life would never be the same,” she said.

Investigators say that at the meeting, Sri Ram Sena Hindustan members bludgeoned Mullah with clubs and decapitated him using a knife. They then allegedly placed his body on the railroad tracks to try to make it look like he died when a train ran over him.

Ten people were soon arrested, though formal charges have yet to be brought. They include Kumbhar’s parents, who according to senior investigator Laxman Nimbargi have confessed to paying the killers.

The Associated Press was unable to speak with Kumbhar. After a brief time in police custody, she is now staying with relatives who declined to make her available or even say where she is.

Sri Ram Sena Hindustan denied that its members killed Mullah and said the group is being targeted for “working for the benefit of Hindus.”

Its leader, Ramakant Konduskar, who calls himself a foot soldier in the battle to save Hinduism, said he is not against any religion but people should marry within their own. He considers “love jihad” a threat to society.

“Our Hindu culture is thousands of years old,” he said, “and we should preserve it and value it.”

A 2020 Pew Research Center study found that roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India want to prevent their own from marrying outside the faith. An even larger share of Muslims, nearly 80%, said they favored preventing interreligious marriages.

Some jurisdictions governed by Modi’s party have begun trying to codify that sentiment into law.

Last year lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh, a state headed by Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, passed India’s first “love jihad” bill, requiring couples from different religions to provide two months’ notice to an official before getting married. The legislation applies to all interfaith marriages but primarily affects Muslims as Islam requires a non-Muslim to convert in order to sanctify the union.

Under the law it’s up to the official to determine whether a conversion came about through compulsion, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Because authorities can make couples’ names public during the process, hard-liners have sometimes intervened to pressure women’s families to bring charges of forced conversion.

Experts say proving the conversion is forced is not easy unless the woman acknowledges it because she invariably signs a statement before marriage saying she is willing.

So far nearly 100 people have been arrested under the law, though only a few have been convicted. Three other states governed by the BJP have introduced similar measures.

Critics say the bills violate the constitutional right to privacy. They also view the laws as deeply patriarchal in that they target Hindu women, portrayed as hapless victims of Muslim men.

“Women are not assets,” said Renu Mishra, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Uttar Pradesh. “They can make their own decisions, and no one has the right to tell them whom to love and whom not to love.”

Others worry the laws could further widen religious fault lines and accuse the BJP of stoking imaginary fears.

“What the love jihad theory does quite successfully is to introduce demographic anxieties, which is a politically potent weapon,” said Rao, the retired professor.

Couples in major cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai are increasingly likely to eschew traditional norms such as arranged marriages and choose life partners irrespective of religion. Some liberal activists, most of them Hindus, have formed social and legal aid groups for interfaith couples and celebrate their stories on social media.

But in Belagavi, a relatively small city, such resources and support are lacking. Karnataka state has recently seen a rise in anti-Muslim attacks, exacerbating fears among the community.

In that environment, Mullah felt he had nowhere to turn, according to those close to him.

“Loving somebody is not a crime. It just happens. Nobody can plan it,” said Hyder Khan, one of his friends. “But it is very difficult in these times to be a Muslim and to fall in love with someone from another religion.”

Another friend, Muzaffar Tinwal, recalled speeding to the scene on his motorcycle after learning of the killing. Taking it in, he said, his “mind stopped working.”

Mullah’s decapitated body lay on the ground, hands lashed together tightly behind the back, his head was at the edge of the railroad tracks and his severed legs were scattered about.

It was Tinwal who phoned Shaikh with the news that night. The next morning, police called her to identify the body.

“My son made a terrible mistake of loving a Hindu woman,” Shaikh said on a recent afternoon at her modest home in a congested neighborhood where webs of electrical wires crisscross the streets. She paused, searching for the right words, before continuing, “Is this what you get for loving someone?”

———

Associated Press journalists Shonal Ganguly, Aijaz Rahi and Chonchui Ngashangva contributed to this report.

———

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

IPO listings see Rs 2L cr erosion, tech startups account for half

© Provided by The Times of India Partha Sinha & Shilpa Phadnis | TNN Mumbai/Bengaluru: The selloff in the market in the past few weeks has wiped out over Rs ... Read more »

Ethics office says Reps. Newman, Lamborn may have broken law

© Provided by Associated Press FILE – Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., asks a question to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the House Armed Services ... Read more »

Annuar Musa organises special prayers for Dr Mahathir in KL and Kelantan

© Provided by MalaysiaNow Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa today organised a prayer session for former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is undergoing treatment at the National Heart ... Read more »

Capital Gains: Swiggy turns decacorn with $10.7-billion valuation

© Provided by The Financial Express The latest funding makes Swiggy the fourth decacorn – valued at $10 billion or more – after Paytm, Oyo and Byju’s. By Salman SH ... Read more »

Malaysia tidak ketandusan para pemain berkualiti

© Provided by Sinar Harian MALAYSIA tidak akan ketandusan para pemain berkualiti pada masa depan…. Itu luahan pemain beregu wanita negara, Teoh Mei Xing, bukti sukan badminton negara masih berada ... Read more »

Delhi records 5,760 fresh COVID infections, positivity rate falls to 11.79 per cent

© Provided by Pinkvilla On Monday, the national capital saw a sharp dip in its daily COVID-19 tally as 5,760 fresh infections were reported in the last 24 hours. On ... Read more »

RM460 juta laksana PKPN tingkat taraf hidup nelayan

© Provided by Sinar Harian BESUT – Kerajaan telah menyalurkan peruntukkan berjumlah RM460 juta setakat ini bagi melaksanakan Projek Khas Perumahan Nelayan (PKPN) sebagai usaha meningkatkan taraf hidup komuniti nelayan ... Read more »

Kanak-kanak buat 'live' jumpa ular sawa tular

© Provided by Sinar Harian SUNGAI PETANI – Tindakan seorang kanak-kanak lelaki melaporkan penemuan ular sawa yang ditemui dalam longkang secara siaran langsung (Live) di Facebook menjadi tular hingga meraih ... Read more »

Cavaliers are the NBA feel-good story the Knicks were last season

CLEVELAND — With the pandemic and a snowstorm, downtown Cleveland turned into deserted wasteland Monday. About two years ago, the Knicks were in town on Super Bowl Sunday and many ... Read more »

How Secret Packs work and how to unlock them in Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel

© Provided by GamePur Throughout playing Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, you might come across several Secret Packs from time to time. Secret Packs are a feature that owners of the title ... Read more »

How to calm and hide from Anna in Devour

© Provided by GamePur Anna Puerta is the first boss of Devour, if you’re playing the levels chronologically. Being the first map, you can expect some straightforward mechanics in regards ... Read more »

How to enter the Housing Lottery in Final Fantasy XIV

© Provided by Dot Esports Housing is one of the most expensive and rarest features in Final Fantasy XIV, and its acquisition system is being reworked following Endwalker’s release. On ... Read more »

What is the release date of Call of Duty: Vanguard's Ranked Play mode?

© Provided by GamePur Since first debuting in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Ranked Play modes have become a widely-beloved feature for hardcore fans of the series. That being ... Read more »

Akhilesh Yadav's Pakistan remark gives BJP ammo for attack

© Provided by The Times of India LUCKNOW: BJP launched a blistering attack on SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on Monday for his remark in an interview saying Pakistan is “not ... Read more »

2 creators build Flappy Bird in Minecraft

© Provided by Dot Esports Have you ever wished that you could play one game within another game? Look no further than this awesome Minecraft–Flappy Bird mash-up. Reddit user Cyclopso ... Read more »

Alex Trebek's longtime, final LA home lists for $7 million

Alex Trebek’s longtime home lists for $7 million. realtor.com; Getty Images for AF Alex Trebek’s longtime, final home in Los Angeles has hit the market for $7 million over a ... Read more »

Amarinder: Pakistani ‘acquaintance' wanted Sidhu reinstated

© Provided by The Times of India NEW DELHI: Leading the NDA charge against Congress in Punjab, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday made a sensational claim that ... Read more »

Levy MUST spend money this month to keep Antonio Conte happy at Spurs

Time is ticking, Daniel Levy. There are just days left until the transfer window slams shut at the end of the month, and there is still business to be done. ... Read more »

Alexander-Arnold is 3rd in list of 10 players with most league assists in Europe since '18/19

© GiveMeSport Jadon Sancho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Lionel Messi Trent Alexander-Arnold is having another incredible season for Liverpool. The defender has been an assist machine for the Reds over the ... Read more »

Burkina Faso coup: Burkina Faso's military seizes power in a coup, detains president

Burkina Faso’s army said it took control of the country on Monday, deposing President Roch Kabore, dissolving the government and parliament, suspending the constitution and shuttering its borders. © ISSOUF ... Read more »

Fiorentina director claims 'offers have been made' for Arsenal target Dusan Vlahovic

Fiorentina have received offers for highly-rated forward Dusan Vlahovic, according to Fiorentina’s sporting director Daniele Prade. Vlahovic, 21, continues to be linked with a move to one of European football’s ... Read more »

Idris Elba bookies' favourite to become James Bond after film boss discusses him becoming spy

Idris Elba has been revealed as the bookies’ latest favourite to become the new James Bond. The 49 year old Luther actor has long been in the running to take ... Read more »

Israeli envoy recalls key role of India in WW-I

© Provided by Hindustan Times Israeli ambassador to India Naor Gilon said Jews have lived “for over 2,000 years in India in total equality and peacefully”. (ANI) Israeli ambassador Naor ... Read more »

Social media creates unhealthy pressures, says Paris Hilton

© Bang Showbiz Paris Hilton worries about the influence of social media Paris Hilton thinks influencer culture can be “toxic”. The 40-year-old star – who married Carter Reum in 2021 ... Read more »

US's longest-serving political prisoner Leonard Peltier says prison is ‘torture chamber' amid Covid lockdowns

© Sipa/Shutterstock Leonard Peltier has spent four decades in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit – Sipa/Shutterstock America’s longest-serving political prisoner Leonard Peltier has said that prison ... Read more »

Senegal XI vs Cape Verde: Predicted lineup, confirmed team news, injury and Covid latest for AFCON tie

© AFP via Getty Images sadiomane.jpg Senegal will be without Crystal Palace midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate for their Africa Cup of Nations last-16 clash against Cape Verde. Kouyate has played every ... Read more »

Six people dead after crush at Africa Cup of Nations match – reports

At least six people are reported to have died following a stampede before the Africa Cup of Nations game between tournament hosts Cameroon and Comoros. The incident, which is also ... Read more »

No plea deal to quit politics: Ex-Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu amid trial

No Plea Deal To Quit Politics: Ex-Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu Amid Trial Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday denied reports he had reached a deal with prosecutors that ... Read more »

Biden highlights efforts to fight inflation: 'Competition results in lower prices'

President Joe Biden joined the White House Competition Council for its second meeting Monday, providing a progress report on its efforts to promote economic competition and drive prices down as ... Read more »

Belarus hacktivists target railway in anti-Russia effort

A Belarusian hacktivist group says it has launched a limited cyberattack on the national railway company, aimed at impeding the movement of Russian troops and freight inside the Moscow-allied country. ... Read more »

We've Got Nothing But Love for These Adorable Valentine's Day Pajamas for Kids

© Courtesy of KicKee Pants; Leveret; The Children’s Place. If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SheKnows may receive an affiliate commission. ... Read more »

Anthony Martial: Sevilla reach agreement to sign Manchester United forward on loan for rest of season

Martial, who played a key role in United's late winner against West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday, had asked to leave the club this month in search of more game time; Sevilla had a loan offer rejected but are now set to sign the 26-year-old forward Read more »

FDA halts use of antibody drugs that don't work vs. omicron

WASHINGTON (AP) — COVID-19 antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly should no longer be used because they don’t work against the omicron variant that now accounts for nearly all ... Read more »

Boris Johnson's fate is in the hands of those he has snubbed. Can he survive with so many minds turned against him?

© Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street Boris Johnson’s fate is in the hands of those he has snubbed. Can he survive with so many minds turned against him? ... Read more »

Battle Creek organization giving out free Ring doorbell systems to residents

Free doorbell cameras are going out to Battle Creek residents in the next few months. The goal is to prevent and help solve crimes in the city, said Damon Brown, ... Read more »

Assembly elections: UP mantri, husband vie for same seat, leave BJP in a fix

© Provided by The Times of India LUCKNOW: Two aspirants from a single party seeking to contest from the same seat is not new, but what if they happen to ... Read more »

NASA's new space telescope arrives at its destination in solar orbit

© Northrop Grumman, AP The James Webb Space Telescope has fired its thrusters and reached its orbital destination around a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from our planet, NASA said Monday, a key milestone on its ... Read more »

10 kematian baharu Covid-19

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Jumlah kumulatif kes Covid-19 direkodkan di negara ini kini mencecah angka 2,836,159. PETALING JAYA: Kementerian Kesihatan (KKM) melaporkan 9 kes kematian Covid-19 semalam, menurut ... Read more »

Andrew Garfield says he 'had to get in shape' to fit into his original suit for 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'

© Provided by INSIDER Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Sony Pictures Releasing Andrew Garfield revealed that he wore his “Amazing Spider-Man” suit in “Spider-Man: No Way ... Read more »

US asks its citizens to leave Ukraine

© Provided by Hindustan Times In an advisory on Sunday night, the US state department authorised the “voluntary departure” of US direct hire employees, and “ordered the departure of eligible ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic