By Vasudha Venugopal
Armed with peacock feathers and blessed water, a Saharanpur godman is on a love jihad to ‘save’ Hindu girlsIn riot-hit Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, it’s important to read the writing on the wall. On an old building near the railway station is scrawled, ‘Dharam bechne ka paap na kare.’ (Don’t commit the sin of converting.) Barely a kilometre away, the portly Baba Rijakdas reiterates the warning. “Young Hindu girls get easily carried away by Muslim boys here. They don’t understand they are being exploited,” he claims. Rijakdas’ disciples revere him for his ‘expertise’ in ‘rescuing’ Hindu women.
People flock to Saharanpur’s court area in large numbers to hear him talk about how girls of a certain age need to be controlled and how TV and internet are only doing harm to society. Seated on his gaddi, he tells a college girl who is accused of riding pillion with a Muslim boy twice, “Today you will be happy but tomorrow when he leaves you alone with three children, you will end up with no other option but to commit suicide.” While there are other babas in the vicinity who offer similar ‘cures’, none have been as successful as Rijakdas, who has allegedly ‘cured’ over 200 girls in Saharanpur alone and over 500 in neighbouring Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. His ‘love jihad’ treatment has various levels depending on the ‘patient’. “It is no different from medical treatment,” he claims, adding, “It takes time but it uproots all feelings.” Women caught in a nascent stage of an affair with an ineligible youth are asked to come to the ashram with their parents for a month to listen to religious lectures. Those who refuse to give up their relationship are stroked with peacock feathers; if they still persist they are made to drink a bottle of water prepared by the Baba after a night of tapasya. Those who disobey him are sent to NGOs run allegedly by political leaders and kept there for months.
Disciple Suresh Sharma says Baba Rijakdas uses his expertise in tantra vidya only for a “good cause”. “Baba uses the power of mantras as much as possible, and only when the girl refuses the water does he employ his prowess in tantra,” he claims. Baba does not charge money for this ‘service’, but is gifted fruits, silver heirlooms and gold biscuits. His method takes five to six months to bear fruit, he claims. “But these women return to their families and never again gone astray,” he proudly claims.
How Baba came to become a community ‘saviour’ is another tale. His devotees claim that three years ago, Baba had brain haemorrhage and was in coma for many days. “But he magically sprang to life,” his disciple Ratnakar says. Often in the midst of discourse, the 61-year-old Baba diverts to his own story. “When I was just a month old, my mother gave me to a guru she believed in. I have grown up under his patronage,” he says, revealing little else.
The Hindu women of Saharanpur have little to say about Baba’s charms. At businessman Mohit Tandon’s home, his daughters Preeti and Shyama turn away when their father praises him.
“I am a postgraduate but my father doesn’t let me work. Mobile phones are monitored by parents. They think we can easily be influenced by anybody,” says Preeti.
A 21-year-old who requested anonymity recalls her experience of being ‘treated’. “There is no use of fighting because the entire community gets together and pressurizes you,” she says. “I hated being at the NGO. I promised to forget my boyfriend so that I could be sent home.” Professor Rooprekha Verma, founder secretary of Sajhi Duniya, a UP-based NGO that promotes women’s rights and secularism and has run campaigns to protest similar superstitious activities in the past, says, “Such lumpen elements in society sharpen communal feelings and divide people. It is unfortunate that there is no clear message from the government denouncing such activities.” But Baba remains unfazed. “It is for the families, and the welfare of the Hindu community that I am doing this. The protection of the Hindu kanya is very important,” he adds.
KERALA, WHERE THE LOVE JIHAD BEGAN
It started with a few posters in the northern districts of Kerala warning of the “evil designs” of Muslim terrorists who would feign love for Hindu girls and convert them to Islam and their cause. The word ‘love jihad’ was coined, and became one of the most-discussed topics in Kerala around 2009.
The conspiracy theory actually resulted in a court case. The parents of two Kochi girls, both MBA students, filed habeas corpus in Kerala High Court alleging that their daughters were trapped into relationships by two Muslim young men, Shahansha and Sirajudeen, with the intent to convert them. In 2010, the court quashed the case against Shahansha and Sirajudeen, pointing out that it specifically targeted a community. It was, the judge pointed out, quite normal for boys and girls from different religions to fall in love.
However, the allegations continued to do the rounds. The Hindu Aikya Vedi started a helpline to take calls from “victims” and it even alleged a ‘clinical jihad’ -as per this theory Muslim doctors were prescribing “wrong or expensive” medicines to Hindu patients.
Today, the whole campaign has died down except when it is whipped up by the VHP at various public meetings.