Ground Reports

The Toxic World Of ‘Bhagwa Love Trap’ Conspiracy Theorists And Its Foot Soldiers

Swati Goel Sharma

May 25, 2023, 03:49 PM | Updated 08:37 PM IST

A poster in a rally
A poster in a rally
  • The conspiracy theory of ‘bhagwa love trap’ is backed by little evidence on the ground in terms of police cases filed by Muslim women against Hindu men.
  • Alia (named changed) was all set to go to Mumbai for a month from her hometown Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. This meant she was going to be out of station on her birthday on 16 May.

    Her friends, Satyam and Atul, who she had met a few months ago at an examination centre, suggested a meet-up to celebrate her upcoming birthday. Satyam is a teacher at a school laboratory while Atul is a student like Alia.

    The three friends met at a coffee shop in their town on 16 April. Alia was wearing her routine dress of a loose burqa and a headscarf to cover her hair and neck. 

    Four men, who Alia identified as neighbours named Azhar, Shadab, Mohsin and Irfan, interrupted their conversation. They demanded the three friends come out of the cafe “for a talk”.

    The men roughed up Satyam and Atul, and pushed Alia to the ground, accusing her of betraying her religion by hanging out with Hindu men. A videos of the incident can be watched here.

    The attackers can be heard questioning the girl if she even was a namazi and if there was any dearth of Muslim men to go out with.

    Alia told the police that the four men snatched her purse and mobile phone, threatening her of disclosing her whereabouts to her parents. She said she did not fear it as her parents already knew who she was meeting. 

    The same evening, Alia filed a first information report (FIR) against the four men, alleging harassment, intimidation and physical assault. She called her friends as “Satyam Sir” and “Atul bhaiya” in her statement (read the details here).

    In the last week of April, a similar incident emerged from Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar district of Maharashtra, where vigilantes harassed and inappropriately touched a burqa-clad woman in a market. They also snatched her phone.

    A video of the incident (watch here) shows the vigilantes repeatedly demanding why she was roaming with a Hindu man. Police took suo moto action in the case after the incident triggered outrage on social media (read the details here).

    Earlier this month, a similar incident took place in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

    A man was going to the market with a burqa-clad woman on his motorcycle when a group of five men in a car stopped the duo (watch here). The bike-borne man, Shivansh, replied that they were classmates and were going to buy some things for the college farewell.

    The men in the car abused him, but let him go. However, they turned up in his colony the next day, menacingly inquiring about his whereabouts. When neighbours alerted Shivansh, he went to the police. Shivansh identified the main person as Mohammed Arshad.

    He told the media that the woman, Rukhsana, was “just his classmate, not even a friend”. He said he had offered to drop Rukhsana to the market because she needed to make some purchases related to the farewell party, but had no vehicle.

    He said he was forced to change his accommodation due to the threats (read the details here).

    Last week, a mob beat up a Hindu man in Bihar for taking a burqa-clad woman on a bike. A video of the incident shows the vigilantes accusing the Hindu man, named Sagar Kumar Mishra, of “bhagwa love trap” even as the woman keeps telling them that the two were just classmates and out on an errand.

    The incident took place in the main market area of Patna city (read the details here).

    Three days ago, a burqa-clad woman seen shopping with a Hindu man triggered a group of vigilantes and they beat him up. They also harassed the woman by asking her if she did not plan on going to the grave, a reference to dying as a Muslim.

    They asked her (watch here) why she was hanging out with a Hindu man even as the woman kept pushing them away. The incident was reported from Moradabad district of UP.

    The woman later told the police that she had asked the bike-borne man for a lift while walking to the market. The man had offered to wait for her while she finished her shopping and take her back to the village (read the details here). 

    Yesterday (24 May), the Bijnor police in UP arrested four men named Altamas, Fardeen, Anas and Aamir for harassing a man taking two burqa-clad women on his motorcycle.

    The arrested men told the police that they were a team always on the lookout for Muslim women accompanied by men from a different religion (read the police note here). 

    These are only some of the scores of cases that have emerged in public in recent months where vigilantes have been captured on camera harassing and physically assaulting Hindu men and abusing Muslim women for hanging out together, despite the women’s consent. 

    The propaganda of 'Bhagwa Love Trap'

    For some time now, a conspiracy theory has been circulating among Muslim groups that Hindu men are targeting Muslim women for relationships in order to make them leave Islam, and such men are especially trained for the purpose by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

    The conspiracy theorists call it ‘bhagwa love trap’, where ‘bhagwa’ means saffron in English, a clear reference to Hindus.

    Promoters of this propaganda include prominent clerics, supporters of certain political parties, influencers, journalists and anonymous social media accounts. 

    Senior cleric Khalil-ur-Rahman Sajjad Nomani, spokesperson of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, is a prominent name spreading it, but is not the only one. 

    In various speeches, he has made sensational claims to push the narrative. Some of the bizarre claims made by Nomani in his speeches (watch here) are:

    - Eight lakh Muslim women have become “murtad” (apostate, one who leaves Islam) after marrying Hindu men. Nomani has so far not cited any evidence of the claim

    - RSS has trained and created a large team of men under a deep conspiracy for this purpose

    - Hindu men undergo training of three to four months for ‘bhagwa love trap’ where they learn chaste Urdu and use of phrases such as ‘tashreef rakhiye’, 'khairiyat hai’, ‘aapki duaien hain’ and ‘mashallah’

    - A Hindu man who becomes successful in getting at least one Muslim woman leave Islam gets a cheque of Rs 2.5 lakh, a house and a job.

    - Billions of dollars have been allocated on a project aimed at snatching Islam from Muslims.

    Earlier this month, Nomani gave an interview to Millat Times, a popular portal for Muslim discourse that publishes content in Hindi, Urdu and English, on ‘bhagwa love trap’, where he advocated home-schooling for Muslim women.

    Besides Nomani, several clerics in their "takrir" (public discourse) given to a wholly Muslim audience, have been found spreading this conspiracy theory, warning Muslim women of “jahannum” (hell) when they die if they leave Islam for marriage (watch here).

    A few weeks ago, an organisation named ‘Ehsaas Foundation’ took out a street rally in Nagpur holding banners of ‘save Muslim girls’ and ‘bhagwa love trap’ (watch here). The banners, held by men in skull caps, had images of burqa-clad women carrying a copy of Quran. The accompanying text said, “Save daughters from becoming apostates” (translated).

    One of the banners sought to explain the conspiracy theory through representational images and graphics like this: Abbu and Ammi give mobile phone to daughter who joins WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, after which an orange hand tries to take her (see the pictures below). 

    Last month, a major misinformation campaign was run on social media where a forged letter attributed to RSS, carrying guidelines for Hindu men to trap Muslim women, was widely circulated. The fake letter vowed to provide a 15-day training programme to get Muslim women convert to Hinduism through marriages.

    The letter was circulated using the hashtags #Bhagwalovetrap and #bhagwa_love_trap (read the details here). 

    Among those who circulated the letter were a Qatar-based journalist whose Twitter profile says he works for Qatar government-owned Al Jazeera and Twitter accounts describing themselves as supporters of Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

    Several influencers with verified Twitter accounts, such as this account with more than 30,000 followers, routinely share videos of burqa-clad women accompanied by men with the caption of ‘bhagwa love trap’.

    Another account in the name of Mohammad Tanvir, who has described himself as journalist, recently posted a video of a cleric giving tips on how to save yourself from ‘bhagwa love trap’. He routinely shares videos with the ‘BhagwaLoveTrap’ hashtag.

    Comments on social media on such videos are liberal in their use of derogatory words such as “kaafir” for the men and “prostitute” for the women.

    Besides these, multiple YouTube and Instagram accounts are operating in the name of ‘bhagwa love trap’, where they share videos of vigilantes harassing couples and friends with fawning captions, 'takrir' by clerics asking Muslim parents to stop their daughters’ college education or plain misinformation to establish their case.

    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy
    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy
    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy
    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy
    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy
    Poster opposing 'Bhagwa Love Trap' conspiracy

    A desperate counter to 'Love Jihad'?

    'Love Jihad' has been described by Islamists and Leftist media as an Islamophobic conspiracy theory propagated by Hindutva groups by falsely claiming that Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam as part of a demographic war against Hindus in India. 

    However, hundreds of cases where Hindu women have filed police cases against Muslim men, accusing them of trapping them in relationships by pretending to be Hindus or forcing them to convert to their religion through immoral and illegal means, have been reported in the media, both regional and national. 

    A brief list of cases covered by Swarajya can be seen here.

    Verdict in several such cases has held the accused men guilty (read here and here).

    All of these cases have been ignored in the discourse dismissing ‘love jihad’ as an imagined pattern. Also missing from the discourse is that it’s not only Hindu groups, but also ChristianJainSikhBuddhist and tribal groups that have raised concerns over Islamic conversion of their daughters through relationships.

    The term ‘love jihad’ originated in Kerala, and was first used by Christian groups to describe the pattern of conversion of Christian girls through 'nikah'.

    Another glaring fact that is seldom part of this discussion is the rampant abduction and conversion of women from the minority Hindu, Christian and Sikh communities in Islamic countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

    In a book published a few years before Partition, BR Ambedkar had backed Hindus in their concern that any social contact between Hindus and Muslims results in only men from the Muslim side and women from the Hindu side coming together. 

    On the other hand, the conspiracy theory of ‘bhagwa love trap’ is backed by little evidence on the ground in terms of police cases filed by Muslim women against Hindu men of trapping them through a fake religious identity or forcing them to convert to Hinduism. 

    All we have as evidence is videos of goons attacking Muslim women and Hindu men if seen together in a public place, irrespective of whether she calls the man ‘bhaiya’, ‘sir’ or ‘padosi’.

    Is ‘bhagwa love trap’ then a desperate counter to growing awareness about a pattern, backed by actual police complaints, that has come to be known widely as ‘love jihad’?

    Or is it a fake but sinister propaganda being run to further push the mischievous Indian Muslim victimhood narrative already so prevalent in global media?

    Or is it a Taliban-like mission to replicate what is happening in Afghanistan today — bullying women into the orthodoxy of medieval subjugation in an era when the world is increasingly valuing their autonomy and empowerment?

    Or it it an agenda to instigate perverted men triggered by the lure of a paradise full of consenting virgin girls into attacking ”kaafirs” on the streets as a religious duty?

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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