A marked rise in vigilante incidents against couples in inter-faith relationships is a cause for concern in Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state where the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP recently enjoyed massive electoral success, reports the Woolf Institute, a UK-based interfaith research unit.
It says incidents like the lynching on 2 May of Muslim farmer Gulam Mohammad by the extremist right-wing youth group, Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Force), are becoming “commonplace”. Before his murder, Mohammad had helped a Muslim neighbour elope with a Hindu woman. Incidents of so-called “cow vigilantism” – at the hands of Hindus demanding a ban on cattle slaughter – are also on the rise. In some cases people working in the beef industry have been lynched.
But of particular concern is the positioning of the BJP’s new Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. A long-term Hindu nationalist, he was involved in a purification drive in 2006 that saw almost 2,000 Christians convert to Hinduism. Although Adityanath was arrested for his incendiary rhetoric during riots in 2007, being newly elected as Chief Minister will only further stoke communal tensions, the Institute said. He is also the founder of Hindu Yuva Vahini, the group behind Gulam Mohammad’s murder.
At the top of Hindu Yuva Vahini’s agenda has been reacting to what is referred to in India as “love jihad”, referring to suspected efforts by Muslims to convert Hindus through marriage. Yogi Adityanath created “anti-Romea squads” – often vigilante groups – to protect women from sexual harassment on the streets. But videos emerged showing couples being harassed by the squads, causing many to fear that their real purpose was to discourage interfaith relationships.
Interfaith couples are officially allowed to marry in India but it is still rare. Interfaith couples, unlike same-faith couples, have to register their details with a marriage registrar, leaving personal details public for 30 days, during which anyone can object to the union.
In recent years, although several efforts to support interfaith marriage have emerged, with non-profits offering shelter and safe houses around the country to interfaith couples, vigilantism will only be emboldened by India’s continued shift to the right, the Institute warns.