Meerut: With their chief patron having become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini is working with renewed vigour on one of its original missions: stopping 'love jihad'.
This time, the campaign to stop Hindu girls from “falling prey” to Muslim men is centered around a new tool: WhatsApp groups. It sure has helped that the outfit has seen a heavy spike in membership ever since Yogi ascended to the high seat in Lucknow.
Leading from the front is Sachin Mittal, president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s Meerut division, who proudly says that by virtue of his position in the organisation, he is part of seven such WhatsApp groups.
“Social media has changed this country. Many of our boys who study in schools, colleges and coaching institutes act like watchdogs now,” Mittal told News18.
Vahini keeps an eagle eye on campuses, which they believe, are the hub of all ‘love jihad’ activities.
"If they see that a girl is being bothered by a boy, they report it to us and we take it up,” Mittal said, adding the context of Muslim-Hindu relationship for good measure. "If a boy with bad intentions tries to woo a well-meaning girl, we bring it to the girl's notice. If she still wants to go with him, well, best of luck to her."
Vahini’s surveillance mechanism using social networks targets couples of mixed faith from across the state in this manner. Some are able to withstand the pressure. Some aren't.
Priyanka and Nasir (names changed) were among those whose relationship survived despite Vahini's best attempts.
They were students at a college in Meerut. They became friends and soon, their friendship blossomed into romance. What they did not know, however, was that they were being watched.
A boy in their college had been sending out WhatsApp flashes to Vahini, telling them about a “Hindu girl being bothered by a boy from another community”. Before she even realised what was happening, Priyanka was flooded with “damaging information” about Nasir.
She received ‘advice’ from ‘well-wishers’ about how Nasir was “not good for her”. In the end, she stood her ground and the two got married. And the “information” stopped coming in.
Of course, those behind this “spy network” moved on to look for the next inter-faith couple.
Mittal looks after six districts for the outfit. Sitting at a shed he has built for rescued cattle, he talks of the grand narrative of ‘love jihad’ – a right-wing conspiracy theory that claims Muslim men are trying to woo Hindu girls to convert them to Islam.
“Our opponents claim that love jihad is a fiction created by Hindutva groups, but it is the reality of the society today. In fact, the term love jihad first originated in Kerala. A communist Chief Minister (VS Achuthanandan) had raised this issue. So, how can it be a Hindutva conspiracy?” he asks.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha bypolls, Adityanath was appointed the BJP’s ‘star campaigner’ in the state. In a charged poll campaign, Adityanath had made ‘love jihad’ one of his central planks.
But how does the outfit separate ‘love jihad’ from a genuine case of young couples falling in love? Who takes the final call?
According to Mittal, it will always be the girl’s call.
“Sometimes, these boys hide their real name and masquerade as Hindus. They claim to have generic names like Sonu or Monu. In Hinduism, we have a tradition of doing a background check of the boy and the family that our girl will marry into. We simply carry out that practice. We then take all the information to the girl and she has to decide for herself. If she still chooses to go with him, we back off,” he said.
Just down the road from the cowshed is the district headquarters of the outfit, which is also Mittal’s house. Here, a young 20-something boy listens attentively to all talk of ‘love jihad’ and nods in agreement to every word Mittal utters. When asked if he is part of the network as well, he says, “Yeh ek spy network ki tarah hai. Hum aapko bata nahi sakte isme kaun-kaun hai (This is like a spy network. We cannot tell you who all is in it).