NEW DELHI: 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.