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India

On 'Love Jihad,' When India's Patriarchy Mixes With Bad Faith

'Love jihad' is a brutally constructed political agenda combining patriarchal notions of 'our women' and communal notions of 'their men.'

Woman on a train in Karnataka
Woman on a train in Karnataka
Veena Gowda*

There is a part of an old Kannada song that has remained with me throughout my life, the words of which go something like this, "keliddu sullagabahudu, nodiddu sullagabahudu, nidanisi yochisidaaga nijavu thilivudu" (what is heard may be a lie, what is seen may be a lie, one understands the truth only when one thinks through it). I am reminded of this verse more and more in the present political environment. As elections in Karnataka approach, political rhetoric is reaching a crescendo even as citizens' rights and lives are fading away. Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten to pause and think about what is happening around us, and to us — socially and politically.

Dhanyashree, a 20-year-old girl, committed suicide in my hometown of Mudigere, Chikkmagaluru district in Karnataka on January 6. According to media reports, a young man, Santosh, questioned her for associating with a Muslim boy. According to reports, after being questioned over caste and religion while chatting with Santosh on WhatsApp, Dhanyashree had replied that she loves Muslims and how she leads her life is her choice. A screenshot of this private conversation was circulated all over social media by Santosh, clearly to foment trouble against her. Five young men, including leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party outfit, Yuva Morcha, walked into her home, threatened her and her mother, and accused the girl of "roaming with a Muslim man" and paving the way for "love jihad." The suicide note left behind by Dhanyashree reportedly indicates that pressure from Hindutva groups, threats on social media and a disinclination to live a life as dictated by a few drove her to end it. This is not the first such incident, nor will it be the last.

This male intrusion strangled the girl before the noose ever did.

The response of a BJP leader that their party workers did nothing wrong and were just trying to inform the girl's family of the dangers of "love jihad" reflects not just communal politics but regressive patriarchal intent. He even undermines the mother's complaint by saying that none of the men from the girl's family have accused anyone of harassment. The proponents of Hindutva believe they have the right not only to draw the lakshman rekha, that traditional "red line" on ethical behavior, but also the exclusive privilege to breach it when they so desire. It is this male intrusion that strangled the girl even before the noose did, and the culprits will have to be held accountable.

20-year-old Dhanyashree commited suicide on Jan. 6 — Photo: Twitter

The bogey of "love jihad" is a brutally constructed political agenda combining patriarchal notions of "our women" and how to control them, and communal notions of "their men" and how to deal with them. While the central issue in communal politics is of religious identity and a desired prevalence of the majority community over the minority, communal politics is nothing but another face of patriarchy where women are treated as the property of men, a symbol of community identity who need to be controlled and reined in, where women have no choice in love. Communal politics affects women far more adversely than it affects men. Supporting right-wing religious politics with a fear of the ‘other", as is starkly visible here, exposes women to further oppression by their ‘own" men. In the name of religion and religious identities, a woman just about eligible to vote is forced to end her life even before she casts that vote.

It is time to pause and reflect on how women's lives are affected by this brazen display of patriarchal impunity and regressive form of religious machismo. We have forgotten that Karnataka is the land of Akkamahadevi, who, in the 12th century, created a space to express herself. The space where women speak without fear is already small and quickly shrinking.

B.R. Ambedkar said: "Unity is meaningless without the accompaniment of women, education is fruitless without educated women and agitation is incomplete without the strength of women". It is time for women to re-envision society and polity in our terms, and to foreground our concerns as citizens. We are entitled to be treated as adult voters in a democracy and not merely as subjects of patriarchal notions of pride and honour. We have to demand a change, not just in legal doctrines and societal norms, but in political ideologies.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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