As a country we have a curious tendency to distract from all crime against women by turning it into a minefield to further our communal or political agendas. The same factions of the misogynistic patriarchy that led to Nikita Tomar’s death are out fighting love jihad in her name on the streets, but are women getting any safer?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.
On October 26, Nikita Tomar, a 21-year old B.Com student from Ballabhgarh, Haryana, was shot dead in front of her college. The alleged shooter, a man by the name of Tauseef, was also accused of stalking her and is now in custody along with his accomplice. A day after Nikita’s murder a Mahapanchayat was called in Ballabgarh where it was vowed that Nikita would be last of the women in Haryana to suffer this way. As the case developed it was discovered that Tauseef had been harassing Nikita for a long time, even attempting to kidnap her before, and had made multiple proposals of marriage to her, all of which she had turned down. Allegations of love-jihad began to be heard more clearly than anything else and as almost a direct result of the Mahapanchayat, violence was stoked in Haryana. Thirty-two people have been arrested over the violence while the Faridabad police works on arresting more.
That’s the news story.
The news story is accurate. It does give you facts. A girl was shot by a stalker using a homemade gun. He is Muslim, she was Hindu. He had attempted to marry her before and had been turned down. He killed her outside her college. Mahapanchayat happened. People violently protested love jihad in the name of a dead-girl.
The first time I heard this term was in early 2014, I was working my first job as a journalist in a beautiful office where the coffee cost more than my shoes, there was a discussion about this idea and everyone around me seemed to condemn it as a conspiracy theory. I had no idea what it meant so I looked it up. Love jihad is a theory that young Muslim men all over the country feign love to Hindu women with the goal of marrying them to convert them to Islam so that eventually the population of muslims grows bigger than the population of Hindus and they..take over the country? It makes much less sense the more math you do. However in our current political environment where communal riots are blamed on students instead of right-wing leaders who provide the batons, love jihad is the perfect scare-strategy to stoke divisiveness. It’s the perfect rallying point. The perfect political strategy to get people angry enough to demand “change” without calculating what really needs to be changed. It’s the perfect method to distract from something extremely important —
These people who scream and riot in the streets in the name of Nikita Tomar are the same people who make up the misogynistic social environment that allows for women like Nikita to be murdered in broad daylight because they said no to a man.
Harayana is a curious place. It’s culturally rich and interesting and also sad with its skewed sex-ratio and rapey rights of passage coupled with caste-based disparity and social structure. It makes for a difficult, unsafe and constrictive social environment for a lot of women. I attended my first Mahapanchayat there in 2014 as well. At some point in the event, a sarpanch (or panch), took me aside and asked me to come “do shooting” in their village.
“But come alone,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder, “Don’t bring your crew and all along.”
I was creeped out as fuck. Over the years I did a lot more work in Haryana, and in that I saw a lot more of the state than I would have in the normal course of my life. The women lived strange lives here, with one of them, no more than 20-years old, chiding me for wasting my time talking about rape as if that didn’t happen to everyone. Another one saying that it’s just important to ensure it doesn’t happen to you before marriage. The receptionist a local, bucolic hotel once told me to change my clothes before I stepped out. A farmer tending cows once yelled at me for leaving my husband and kids at home and being out doing this nonsense instead (and I wasn’t even married then, he couldn’t even fathom this). A 15-year old boy once said I didn’t know how to show respect to men. A man hanging out of a bus, in Faridabad, no less, offered to make me the “next Nirbhaya”. So forgive me if I don’t spend all my time worrying about the 14% Muslim population taking over the 80% Hindu population by playing love games.
And yes, yes, you may ask why I wouldn’t report any of those instances and the dozen others I can list offhand.
Well, Nikita Tomar and her family reported her stalker and what exactly was the benefit of that?
As of this morning we have three states in India that are mulling a law tackling love-jihad as if women are only killed by their Muslim stalkers. As if the same members of the Mahapanchayat that cry for the life of Nikita, wouldn’t have ordered her killing in the name of honour if she had expressed interest in a Muslim man. The truth, and the real issue here, is that women are killed in India by their stalkers and jilted lovers regardless of religion. Women are killed in India for exercising their right to consent. Women are killed in India for not having a suitable “lifestyle”. Women are killed in India for exercising choice. We kill our women and then use their coffins as the soap-boxes from which we further our political agendas. For once it would be refreshing to see the angry men do the math and realise they are the problem.
That is the issue we fail to tackle each time we get embroiled in caste, religion, politics and morality. Those things are important but not when you constantly tackle them in the name of another issue that needs urgent attention. Nikita’s family complained about this man, instead of doing anything or advising the family get an injunction order against the boy (which is what you get against stalkers in India instead of restraining orders), no one did anything. He attempted to kidnap her before and his family begged them to let it go and promised it would never happen again. A man attempted to kidnap a woman and all it took to get her to silence was an apology. The crime of Love jihad begets death but the crime of repeated violation of a woman can be handled with a fervent apology. A woman had to spend years watching her back and feeling unsafe, but no one did anything. No one had a problem with it until she died. No one wanted to do battle for her until she was dead and then what we did was battle against a conspiracy theory.
While the reality of women in India is that you could realistically die for it anywhere and for any reason.
We kill our women.
Then we pretend it’s only the Muslims doing it so we can justify killing them too. Now you have two bodies, while the misogynistic patriarchy lives on. Loud and proud. I’m sure I’ll see them on Twitter in like an hour crying about how the corpse of press freedom is dead now that their spokesperson is in jail.