At the centre of the Meerut story is a young girl running for her life. A relationship that was twisted out of shape, a girl who was made and clearly as it turns out forced to give false statements about her relationship with a Muslim man, all was used to feed into a communal campaign being run in western Uttar Pradesh to divide the people and target the minorities.

Love jihad, the slogan given by the right wing groups to spread venom and violence in the state, had strong anti-women overtones. As pointed out by The Citizen at the time, the campaign was intended to give muscle to lumpens as they prowled through the countryside looking for Hindu-Muslim relationships, and in the name of targeting the minorities, were actually hitting out at the women.

The story is not thus of a Muslim man using force to marry a young Hindu woman. That is the story that was created and written according to a script by those seeking to exploit situations for communal ends. The young woman now is running for her life and according to reports, landed at a police station in Meerut seeking protection. She also revealed that she had eloped with the man in question, who of course was the first to be arrested, of her own free will. Unwilling to go back home, and unable to go back to the man given the volatile conditions and the fact he is in jail for a crime he did not commit, the girl has been sent to Nari Niketan, a home for women where conditions are worse than a prison. However, the authorities were protective enough to ensure that her father was not allowed to meet her when he arrived at Nari Niketan.

The case has overtones of ‘honour’ reprisal, with the family angry and upset about the girl’s relationship with a Muslim man. The “help” extended by the right wing groups turned this into a communal issue with the father, according to the local media, even now maintaining that the girl’s life was endangered by the man she had eloped with, and that she needed protection from them. Clearly her current statement with the police is different, although it is likely that this particular story that has far eclipsed the relationship between two individuals is far from over.

Love Jihad has not been given up in its entirety by the outfits that mushroomed across western UP to take up the ‘cause’ of ‘protecting’ the Hindu girls from the dangerous Muslim men. The Meerut story is an indication of the kind of ‘protection’ this slogan gives not to the girls, but to patriarchal controls that are used to dominate and subjugate the rights of women at all levels. The slogan allows not just muscle but authority to the gangs of lumpens to enter homes, determine relations, and call the shots insofar as the women of a particular household or village are concerned. Who they can have a relationship with, who they can marry, who they can speak with all extends to a Taliban kind of moral policing which then determines whether they can study, whether they can work, whether they can exercise their rights and freedoms in any aspect of their lives.

The 20 year old girl in Meerut has recovered from the first flush of publicity, followed by domination, to try and come out and protect herself. She has been given some protection by the state, but remains in danger from those who might have used her relationship with a Muslim man to target the minorities, but who have also ensured that in the process all girls in the area are terrified into following what can be broadly termed as the ‘khap’ will.

In the process a new stereotype of the “aggressive Muslim youth” has been introduced into the communal discourse, further added to by the Gujarat declaration banning Muslim men from participating in the garba dance. The ‘protect your women’ call did create mayhem in western UP leading to the Muzaffarnagar violence and large scale displacement. The districts were submerged in completely baseless and all unproven rumours of attacks on Hindu women by Muslim men, with a backdrop being deliberately created to give potency to the ‘love jihad’ slogan. This worked to sweep the BJP to power in the parliamentary elections in UP, but did not work for long with the BJP losing seats in the by-elections within three months in the same areas where the intense campaign had been run by their outfits.

The story of the young Meerut girl also reveals why this slogan and campaign cannot work. At least not beyond a point. Despite a huge effort, the right wing groups were unable to make it work in Karnataka ---beyond Mangalore---and in fact their campaign took a dive when confronted by the innovative ‘pink chaddi’ campaign that took on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its violence against women seeking to live their own lives. The new generation of women in India are not willing to be subjugated by zealots and have demonstrated this over and over again. Even in the districts as the sad, traumatic story of the 20 year old demonstrates. The patriarchs have not given up, but for the moment she has gathered the courage to stand up for her own rights and point out in the process, that Love Jihad might claim to be targeting the Muslims, but the real target of all fundamentalists, cutting across all religions, remain the women.

The jibes against women just do not end, and when these come from persons in power it is taken as a license by the hoodlums and others for action. It is reprehensible that almost the first words of the new Haryana BJP chief minister elect Manohar Lal Khattar was against women, insisting that they should dress decently if they do not want to attract unwarranted attention. What century are these people living in? And how is it that they harbour such disrespect for women? It is tragic that the BJP and senior leaders of its party in the government have not even bothered to counter these ugly remarks, and chastise Khattar for insulting women.

Women in India have, and are coming of age. A visit to the remotest village and a conversation with the younger generation will give an immediate insight into their aspirations, and these are very different from what right wing political parties and organisations would like it to be. They want to study, they want to work, and there are very few who want to sit at home and twiddle their thumbs until they get married. And the same people who do not let their daughters work are today, for sheer economic reasons in the cities particularly, the first to put their daughters-in-law into jobs to supplement their meagre earnings. So the girl does the housework, prepares breakfast for the entire family and then leaves for work, returns, does the same and is the last to eat and the last to sleep. But this is more than acceptable, as she then is a maid, cook, cleaning lady and of course bread earner all rolled into one.

The Khattar kind of politicians have little to say about this, and when confronted by criticism, the answer that one always hears is about the number of women in the BJP---or for that matter any other political party, the Congress leaders being no better on this issue. As if by giving tickets to women they have done a major favour. Amazing crassness that somehow is not getting better but worse with the years.

As a woman journalist colleague commented just now, “the more times change the worse they seem to get.” And women certainly cannot hope for better times as they are the large oppressed section of Indian society, for whom equality and rights remain a distant dream.