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Shraddha murder: Why some see religious angle where seemingly, religion was not motive of murder, and why it can’t just be dismissed as ‘bigotry’

With a Hindu woman being at greater risk when the perpetrator is a Muslim, it is natural for Hindus to talk about the Muslim identity of the perpetrator, given the historical oppression that Hindu women have faced and the oppression that they continue to face to this date.

On 18th May 2022, Aftab Poonawalla strangled Shraddha Walkar, chopped her body into 35 pieces and stored her body parts in a newly purchased fridge, so he could take his time to dispose of her body parts, one at a time. Reportedly, he used to look at her severed head often, hitting it, displaying rage even after he had murdered and brutalised her. He had a history of abusing her, but Shraddha did not walk away – like many victims of intimate partner violence. Her parents, who were against Shraddha marrying Aftab because he was a Muslim, were abandoned by Shraddha so she could be with the man who eventually murdered her.

It was on the 12th of November that the police managed to nab Aftab. Initial reports had indicated that Aftab was miffed with Shraddha for repeatedly asking him to marry her. It was only later that news emerged that Aftab was physically abusive towards her for the past 2 years. In fact, chats suggested that Shraddha had confessed to her friend that Aftab might kill her.

When we come face to face with the barbarity man is capable of, an avalanche of despair and questions is only natural – why did she not leave Aftab? How important is the traditional family structure as the first step to stopping such crimes? Would Shraddha still be alive had she just listened to her parents? Did Aftab Amin have accomplices? Is there more to the case than meets the eye? How will our system help in keeping our daughters safe? What drove Aftab to be this barbaric? Were there signs and finally – was there a “Love Jihad” angle that we don’t know of? Is it so unthinkable since we see hundreds of cases where non-Muslim women are targeted and the media often suppresses such cases? Is it unthinkable given that in the week following Aftab’s arrest, several other cases of non-Muslims being targeted came to the fore? Is there a pattern?

While every question seems legitimate, one question that has resulted in a debate online and elsewhere is the religious angle that many seem to be talking about – Did Aftab’s religious identity play a role in this gruesome murder?

Simply put, so far, there is no evidence that Aftab’s religious identity played a role in this case in any manner. There have been no reports of forced conversion, him hiding or misrepresenting his religious identity to Shraddha at any point in time or Aftab harbouring any specific hatred towards non-Muslim women (specifically Hindu women) from a cursory perusal of his social media accounts. However, the fact that Aftab was a Muslim has been the subject of conversation among several Hindu circles with the Left decrying this conversation either as bigotry or a brutal murder being used to spread “Islamophobia” for political gains.

There are two sides to this argument that we must address.

First – for the Hindus. It is extremely important for the Hindus to realise that accurate categorisation of cases is an extremely important aspect of creating a legitimate conversation around the threat that Hindus face. In our experience, there are 5 kinds of cases where Hindu women are victimised by Muslim men.

  1. Where a Muslim man pretends to be a Hindu and traps a Hindu woman. Thereafter, his real identity is revealed either as an accident or, when they force the women to convert to Islam. Thereafter, the man proceeds to, more often than not, murder the Hindu woman.
  2. The Hindu woman and the Muslim man get married, knowing each other’s identity fully well, however, after marriage, torture to convert to Islam ensues. 
  3. Hindu woman is raped in the name of Islam – the case was most evident in the Kausambhi gang rape case where a minor Hindu girl was raped and asked to beg for mercy in the name of Allah. The perpetrators specifically asked the girl not to beg for mercy in the name of Bhagwan. In these cases, the aim could either be the conversion of the Hindu woman or, it could be seen as a mere punishment being dished out to Kafir women. 
  4. The one-sided obsession of a Muslim man with a Hindu girl ends in murder, rape or torture when the girl refuses his advances. In several cases, the refusal also includes the refusal to convert to Islam, like in the case of Nikita Tomar, however, even without the element of conversion to Islam, these cases have been widely seen as an act of Jihad. 
  5. Where Hindu women or underage girls are married to Muslim men after being raped and converted to Islam. Such cases are most prominent in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and elsewhere. In such cases, one often sees that after the marriage and conversion, the girl says that she has converted to Islam and married the man out of her own free will. One such case was recently seen in Pakistan where a 13-year-old Christian girl was handed over to her 44-year-old abductor, and while the parents wailed, she claimed that she had converted willingly. In such cases, a parallel to UK grooming gangs becomes necessary to understand that the mere statement of the girl cannot and should not get us to assume that there was no angle of Jihad here.

While emotions run high, Hindus need to truly and honestly evaluate if Shraddha’s case falls under any of these categories. If not, it would be inaccurate to call it a case of Love Jihad (or Grooming Jihad) even if we believe that religious hatred often plays a role when Hindu girls turn up murdered, stuffed in suitcases or strewn in jungles. The mischaracterisation of such cases only dampens the cases where there is real, hard evidence to suggest religious subjugation, thereby weakening the argument of the Hindu side – a self-defeating exercise by any measure.

Having said that, there might be a grain of truth to what the Left is saying in terms of a certain amount of “Islamophobia” being the cause of the conversation surrounding Aftab’s religion. The question, however, is whether that “fear of Islam” is irrational, to begin with.

While there is no evidence of religious motivations so far, it is also true that the world is not privy to what Aftab was truly like in the relationship. That is something that only Shraddha could tell us and she is no longer with us. It is also true that while Shraddha’s parents were against the relationship, they did approach the parents of Aftab, for the sake of their daughter’s happiness, and were insulted and asked to leave.

Vikas Walkar said that in August 2019, he and his wife Harshila Walkar went to meet the family of Aftab. They had proposed that Aftab should marry Shraddha, as they already love each other. But the family didn’t agree to the marriage. Not only that but Shraddha’s family was also insulted by Aftab’s family members. Aftab’s cousin asked them to leave the house and told them to never step into the house again in future.

Vikas Walkar said that Aftab’s family should have at least ensured some solution to this issue by mutual understanding because both girl and boy were in love with each other. So, if marriage was not possible, then there could be some solutions like staying away and breaking contact, etc. But the family was not even ready to discuss the matter.

‘Had Aftab’s family taken such serious steps with a mutual understanding with us, such big incident would not have happened,’ Vikas Walkar said. He said that had there been talks on the matter, this would not have reached this stage, but the parents were not even ready to discuss the relationship. Therefore, Aftab and Shraddha left Mumbai and went to Delhi. He added that Shraddha’s mother died six months after this humiliating experience, and after that, he never tried to meet the family.

If reports are to be believed, it is also true that Aftab had reportedly assaulted Shraddha once for refusing to eat non-vegetarian food and Shraddha’s father had on record said that he suspected a “Love Jihad” angle in the murder of his daughter.

With this, there is certainly a reason to discuss the possibility that there was more going on in that relationship that we are privy to or will ever be privy to. As for the Hindus, their suspicions are not born out of bigotry per se. And even if it is, one needs to analyse why Hindus have been so jaded that a case where there is no explicit religious angle gets them to talk about Aftab being a Muslim.

While the Shraddha case was being reported in the past week, here are the cases that were documented by OpIndia with a religious angle, that hardly got spoken about:

  1. 18th November: Mehmood Khan posed as Raunak Chaurasiya to trap a Hindu girl, forcibly converted her to Islam and performed Nikah, arrested: Details
  2. 19th November: Bihar: Already married Taufiq pretends to be Raj to marry Julie Kumari; asked her to convert to Islam after his identity became known
  3. 19th November: Madhya Pradesh: Muslim man arrested for forcing Hindu wife to convert to Islam, woman says he was also harassing her for dowry
  4. 19th November: Maharashtra: Sana lures Dipak Sonawane, her family circumcizes Dipak, extorts Rs. 11 lakh, torture him for more than two years, AIMIM leader named too

While these three cases had a clear religious angle, there were three other cases where a religious angle did not exist on the face of it.

  1. 20th November: Vasai interfaith marriage: The couple’s parents confirm a limited ceremony following a death in family, deny rumours of cancellation over any tweet. In this case, it was the Left media that blamed Hindus for the cancellation of the ceremony. Turns out, they were spreading misinformation to delegitimise conversation around actual cases where Hindu women are subjugated.
  2. 18th November: Uttar Pradesh: Mohd Sufiyan arrested after an encounter, had pushed 19-year-old girlfriend to death in Lucknow
  3. 17th November: Bangladesh: Abu Bakr trapped a Hindu woman in love, then killed her and cut the body into pieces

In a span of 4 days, 3 Hindu girls were forced to convert to Islam, 1 man was brutalised and forcefully circumcised by the family of his Muslim wife, 2 Hindu girls were murdered (apparently with no religious motive) and 1 fake news was spread against Hindus to delegitimise all the outrage surrounding the torture of Hindu women by Muslim men.

Now, if one truly thinks logically, can one blame the Hindus for looking at the two murders of Hindu women (where no seeming religious angle existed) with the religious lens? Can one truly blame Hindus for talking about the religious identity of the perpetrators when they count the dead bodies of their daughters on a regular basis? Can one truly blame Hindus for questioning the media and their motives when fake news is created simply to discredit cases where an obvious religious angle exists? One is reminded of the Juhi Colony investigation where The Wire claimed that the SIT found no evidence of rising Love Jihad, terming the brainwashing of minor girls as “consensual relationships”. When a clear pattern of persecution exists, it is natural for the Hindu community to look at such cases with a religious lens, focusing on the faith of the perpetrator when the media is clearly trying to invalidate their persecution on a regular basis. Is it bigotry to look at every Muslim perpetrator through a religious lens, maybe, after all, bigotry only means a prejudice that is harboured against a particular community. Has that community given Hindus enough reason to be prejudiced against them? Undeniably so.

At this point, one must ask a broader question independent of the Shraddha murder case – is it fair to focus on the religious identity of the perpetrator when the victim is a Hindu?

It is often noticed that the caste identity of a Dalit victim is mentioned by the media and the Left while reporting crimes. The non-Left has theorised that this is perhaps to drive a wedge in the society and further the narrative that in Hindu majority India, Dalits and lower-castes are brutalised on a regular basis and therefore, further the ‘Muslim-Dalit unity’ trope that would then help ‘secular fronts’ electorally. Essentially, the non-Left has religated this practice of mentioning the caste identity of Dalit victims to the ‘break-India project’ and the project to demonise Hindus.

While that may be the agenda for several media houses and Left intelligentsia, the rationale behind highlighting the caste identity of Dalit victims has a separate origin altogether. The theory essentially believes that the victim would have been at a lower risk had her identity not been that of a Dalit and hence, mentioning the caste identity is essential as even if the crime is not motivated by caste animosity, the victim was at a higher risk by virtue of her caste. To reach this conclusion, the sociological theory of ‘Intersectionality’ must be understood threadbare.

‘Intersection’ is essentially the point where two entities meet. This concept is then extrapolated to society in general. When talking about the sociological concept of Intersectionality, one must understand what society and people are defined as. The society is defined by the people, the social constructs, way of living and belief system. When it comes to the people who make up that society, one needs to understand what a person’s identity is. Identity itself is essential ‘who a person is and what he identifies himself as’. An individual is made up of his beliefs and qualities and those which are unique to him, identify him as a person which, in turn, shapes his perceptions and value systems. A person, through his own perceptions and value systems, identifies himself and what his relationship is with the society on the whole. The perception and value system of the individual is shaped by the messages he receives from the society, his school, parents, neighbourhood, religious institutions, so on and so forth.

Intersectionality is thus a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of one’s social and political identities (e.g., gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.) might combine to create unique modes of discrimination. So for example, a Jewish woman might be discriminated against not exclusively for her Jewish identity or gender identity but because both these identities intersect and create a unique form of discrimination in a place where Christian women are not discriminated against. Or, where a black woman is more discriminated against than a black man. For instance, a White woman is less privileged than a White Man but more privileged than a Black Man.

Applying this theory, the caste and gender identities of a Dalit woman are mentioned in the media when a crime is committed, since the victim was at a higher risk of being discriminated against not just because of the historical suppression of Dalits on the whole but also because of her gender identity even if the crime is not motivated specifically by caste animosity.

While the media does overdo it and their motivations might be suspect, there is merit to the argument that a Dalit woman living in a disadvantaged area is more at risk than an upper-caste woman in the same area or in a more affluent area and thus, it is not incorrect to mention the caste and gender identity of the victim who might have been at a higher risk due to the intersectionality of her identities.

Intersectionality is a sociological concept that says that intersecting identities give rise to unique models of oppression. We have already established the Hindu identity itself puts a victim at a higher risk when the perpetrator is a Muslim. With intersecting identities of gender and religion, the Hindu woman is placed at a higher risk than Hindu men, for example, Muslim women when the perpetrator is a Muslim.

Historically, Hindu women have been oppressed brutally by Muslims. One recalls the rampant rapes during the Islamic rule, and even in Kashmir where women were brutally raped by Islamists. It is a technique that many Islamists adopt to convert Kafir women to Islam. In recent times too, we have seen several cases where the Muslim perpetrator victimised a Hindu woman. There have been rampant cases of Love-Jihad where Muslim men trap Hindu women with the excuse of a relationship and then, convert, rape and/or murder.

It is thus established that the intersecting identities of gender (women) and religion (Hindu) do put women at a higher risk. In individual cases, one can never judge the risk factor. Even when Dalit women are victimised and their identities are mentioned as such, it is entirely possible that in a particular case, the intersecting identities of gender and caste played no role in her victimisation. However, the identity is mentioned due to Intersectionality, as a matter of principle keeping in mind the history of abuse and oppression faced by Dalit women.

In the case of Hindu women too, nobody says that in every case, the Hindu woman’s religion and gender identity is necessarily a contributing factor for the Muslim perpetrator, but as a principle, considering the historicity of atrocities by Muslims on Hindu women, the identity of the perpetrator is an essential ingredient that cannot be ignored.

With a Hindu woman being at greater risk when the perpetrator is a Muslim, it is natural for Hindus to talk about the Muslim identity of the perpetrator, given the historical oppression that Hindu women have faced and the oppression that they continue to face to this date. It is therefore unfair to brand Hindus as bigots if they see the Shraddha murder case from the lens of Aftab’s religious identity – it is undeniable that there is enough precedence and reason for them to do so.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Nupur J Sharma
Nupur J Sharma
Editor-in-Chief, OpIndia.

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