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Book Review: Love Jihad and Other Fictions

In today’s polarised atmosphere, a work of this stature is not only desperately needed, it also serves as a counterpoint to the outlandish claims that are produced and reproduced in the country, egged on by the state apparatus, every second of every day. In fact, the “oppositeness” of this work to the prevailing discourse is reflected in the oppositeness of its language—where the dominant narrative in the public sphere is one of fiction, myth, and fantasy, the language of this book is factual, rational, and rooted.

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Title: Love Jihad and Other Fictions
Author: Sreenivasan Jain, Mariyam Alavi, and Supriya Sharma
Publisher: Aleph
ISBN: 9788119635597

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” Mark Twain had said, commenting on the bizarreness and seeming improbability of events that actually happen in real life, which often are more peculiar and out of the way than anything that is a product of pure imagination. While fiction is constricted, bound by the constraints of plausibility, truth knows no such limits, often unfolding in ways that defy expectations and logic. Twain might have been commenting upon the immediate socio-political reality of his times, but his words were constantly ringing through my mind while reading Love Jihad and Other Fictions: Simple Facts to Counter Viral Falsehoods—a brave and much-needed investigative endeavour by the journalistic trio of Sreenivasan Jain, Mariyam Alavi, and Supriya Sharma—that attempts to provide a sense of clarity and balance, and level the playing field in the current socio-political atmosphere of Hindutva hatred and bigotry.

The Hindu nationalist—or Hindutva—imagination, lying (almost) dormant for the first sixty years or so, erupted out of its reverie with the election of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the central corridors of power of the country in 2014. This—contend the authors, based on rigorous groundwork and a list of sources that would put even the most conscientious researcher to shame—has cleared the way for an all-pervasive climate of suspicion and hostility against the nation’s many minorities, Muslims being the most prominent among them. Coupled with the magnified increase in connectivity that the advent of social media has brought about, this climate has provided fertile ground for an exponential rise of bigotry, hate speech, and hate crimes in the years since. Hindutva-orchestrated violence was not unheard of during the years when the Congress-led UPA government was in power at the centre, but now, with a Hindutva-backed government occupying the central position, the same violence now has the full sanction and support of those in power.

This “backing of power” means that what was once at the fringes of social and political discourse has now become stamped with legitimacy. What was once half-whispered in the shadows, and which could be laughed off as “fringe conspiracy” in more serious company, had, nevertheless, made inroads into the wider Hindu imagination over the years. After 2014, the same rhetoric that used to circulate in whispers was being brazenly broadcast by national television into living rooms across the country and across the spectrum. All notions of falsity and ridiculousness had dissipated, with fictions such as the ominous “love jihad” being forwarded an endless number of times on social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, and repeated so often and with such alacrity and enthusiasm that they had now become common knowledge, transcending all boundaries between fact and fiction and homing in on the nation’s collective consciousness. The result? There is a creation of a “truth,” that could be traced in real-time through endless repetition and increasing intensity, and which is manufactured in order to serve the interests of an expansive, exclusionary, and often sinister Hindu nationalist agenda.  

The authors methodically go through such “truths”—filing Right to Information (RTI) requests, looking up government records, scouring through parliamentary questions, contacting leaders of the BJP and Hindutva organisations, reading up on academic research, and doing on-the-ground reportage—to unearth some semblance of fact-based evidence that would lend credibility to them. In all cases, however, any concrete evidence that was dug up to back these fantastical claims is found to be circumstantial at best, or, in an alarming tendency, found to be cherry-picked and fabricated in order to lend oxygen to an already established narrative of fearmongering and otherisation. For example, the first chapter systematically goes through and investigates the only definitive list of love jihad cases, exploring in minute detail the reasons and the underlying context(s) for the arrests that have been made in the name of this “vast and sinister Muslim conspiracy that poses no less than an existential threat to India,” and conclusively showing, through “hard-nosed journalistic scrutiny,” that there is, in fact, no evidence of any such conspiracy. 

Chapter Two, similarly, incisively inquires into the Hindutva claim of “population jihad,” which posits that Muslims are “waging a holy war” to alter India’s demography by “producing more children and infiltrating India’s borders.” It unpacks the data surrounding such claims, finding that, in this case, the numbers just don’t add up. Citing hard figures and studies from world-renowned population experts, it comes to the conclusion that it is virtually impossible for Muslims, who are less than a fifth of India’s population, to ever overrun the Hindus. In a similar vein, Chapter Three delves into the spectre of forced religious conversions, bringing the ambiguous nature of the language of the Indian Constitution to light and problematising the very definition of religious “conversion.” It is important to foreground the ambiguity of the language of the Constitution here, because, in this context, it is being (and historically, has been) used to legislate “Freedom of Religion” laws that, instead of granting freedom of choice with regards to religion, restrict it.   

Chapter Four talks about the bogeyman of “Muslim appeasement,” or the idea that certain political parties “cultivate Muslims as a vote bank by giving them preferential treatment,” often in the form of budgetary allocations (as in the case of the hajj subsidy) or general state welfare. While a perfunctory look at the relevant statistics shows that this is not true, an in-depth analysis reveals, without a shadow of a doubt, that it cannot be true. This claim, as the authors demonstrate, is largely built upon an exaggeration of government expenditure on minorities—which is found to be, in reality, abysmally low—and aggrandisement of the amount of attention that is given by the government to special provisions in the Constitution for minority communities. The book also deals with pertinent issues such as the CAA/NRC bill, the issue of Muslim migration in the state of Assam, the problem of cow slaughter, the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code, and the question of reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims, and ends with a fitting epilogue, that details the role of power in platforming and propagating these “fictions” and conspiracies that have catalysed the introduction and passing of these divisive and otherising laws.

In today’s polarised atmosphere, a work of this stature is not only desperately needed, it also serves as a counterpoint to the outlandish claims that are produced and reproduced in the country, egged on by the state apparatus, every second of every day. In fact, the “oppositeness” of this work to the prevailing discourse is reflected in the oppositeness of its language—where the dominant narrative in the public sphere is one of fiction, myth, and fantasy, the language of this book is factual, rational, and rooted. The authors even convey their optimism, in so many words, that the majority of the voices that are left in the country are sane and sensible. I, personally, do not share the authors’ enthusiasm and conviction for the presence of this sanity amongst us. Nevertheless, their writing style is crisp and to-the-point, and self-styled connoisseurs of truth—no matter which background they come from—will have plenty of material to wrap their heads around, plenty of food for thought, and plenty of hard home truths to digest. That alone seems to me the sole purpose of this book—to disrupt the standardised narrative, to force one to confront the demons in their own backyard—in short, to make one uncomfortable enough to stop and think. 

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