It was like a scene straight out of the film The Kerala Story. Only this was real life, in Karnataka. The state unit of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) received a call on its ‘love jihad helpline’ from the parents of an underage girl from Ramanagara district seeking help to bring back their daughter from the arms of a Muslim man with whom she allegedly had fallen in love.
The undergraduate student claimed to have fallen in love with a Muslim boy who was the brother of one of her classmates. The incident, which took place in 2021, came to the notice of the VHP after the parents of the girl called its 24×7 helpline in distress.
“Not only was she a victim of love jihad but she was also forced to go against her parents’ wishes and start living with him. She became pregnant even before turning 18. The girl’s parents called our helpline to help save their daughter. We managed to bring her back and expose her to the truth—that he was already married and had trapped this young Hindu girl as part of the love jihad conspiracy. We were lucky to have saved this girl, but there are many more who need to be saved,” said a VHP official in charge of the helpline.
Smita (name changed), an IT professional from Mysuru, was married to a Bengaluru-based techie in May last year. After they shifted to Whitefield, she fell in love with a Muslim man and left her husband to live with him. Smita’s parents called the VHP helpline in distress and sought intervention to bring back their daughter.
“We tried to convince her and speak to her, but she would not budge. After several attempts, we had to give up as they were both adults and their decision was consensual,” explained another VHP functionary who attended the distress call and tried to help the girl’s family.
‘Love jihad’ is a term coined by right-wing organisations, alleging that Muslim men entice Hindu women into relationships with the intention of converting them to Islam.
The VHP’s helpline, which works in association with several other Hindu organisations, provides legal and medical assistance to girls or families seeking their intervention and legal assistance.
The spotlight is back on the helplines set up by the VHP and Bajrang Dal across the state to help BJP workers in distress and curb ‘love jihad’, especially in the background of cabinet minister MB Patil’s request to set up a helpline called ‘Peaceful Karnataka’ to ensure nobody spreads hatred or causes societal unrest.
“During the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka, many BJP workers were targeted, and it came to our notice that they were charged with false cases. To fight such atrocities against the party workers, the BJP decided to launch a helpline number for all party workers in the state in the next one week,” said Bengaluru MP Tejasvi Surya in a media statement.
In response to Surya’s announcement, Patil sought a ‘Peaceful Karnataka’ helpline.
He tweeted, “Requesting @DrParameshwara @PriyankKharge @DKShivakumar @CMofKarnataka to consider setting up a new helpline called ‘Peaceful Karnataka’ to ensure there is no hatred being spread in Karnataka and keep track of any such incidents. Our agenda is only Development & Progress, and to protect ‘Brand Karnataka’.”
The BJP’s state unit is currently in the advanced phase of launching a round-the-clock helpline that will provide prompt assistance and legal support to distressed or targeted party workers. Sources within the party have confirmed that a specialised team is being trained in collaboration with a legal cell to manage the helpline and initiate legal proceedings as required.
“The Congress must define the helpline, its scope, and who can call. They must frame rules regarding which issues will be addressed via that helpline and what action will be taken. They must clarify if they are doing this to help just one minority community or safeguarding the public at large,” questioned Udupi MLA Yashpal Suvarna of the BJP.
Suvarna also said that merely having a helpline will not work; those who are distressed should not be further troubled by making them shuttle between police stations to file a case.
On average, the helplines set up by the VHP across Karnataka receive 90 to 100 calls a month, most of which are from people in distress seeking the organisation’s intervention to save Hindu girls or act on atrocities against Hindus, say officials from the organisation.
“The calls range from police harassment, moral policing, and cases of forced conversions or love jihad,” explained Girish Bharadwaj, a Hindutva social activist who also works closely with the VHP. “The so-called Peace Helpline that the Congress is talking about is only to please a particular community. When the government speaks about controlling moral policing or zero tolerance for communal violence, why are they shy of naming the groups? Will they speak against the Popular Front of India? What action have they taken against those who conspired to attack our PM and were caught in Dakshina Kannada? “Let them clarify who the Peace helpline is for. Is it targeted only for a particular community or is it for everyone?”
The VHP claims that hundreds of women are falling into the blackmail tactics or the trap of ‘love jihad’. Apart from that, many young men working to save Hindu dharma and working towards building a strong Hindu Rashtra are being brutally attacked, and many times help does not reach them or their families, they say.
“Take the cases of Praveen Nettaru, Sharath Madiwala, and Rudresh. Maybe if they had communicated using the helpline, then we could have saved them. We want to ensure that Hindus feel safe, and so this helpline will help raise an alarm immediately,” explained another Mangaluru-based VHP leader.
When a distress call comes in, the caller, after narrating the incident, is connected to a 20-member team comprising doctors, counsellors, and social work volunteers, explained Pradeep Saripalla, Prachara Pramukh (publicity head) of the Mangaluru unit of the VHP.
“Many Hindu girls have been converted to Islam, killed, and used to smuggle drugs in the name of love. This happens a lot in coastal Karnataka, and to prevent all such incidents, we have started this ‘love jihad helpline’, which can be accessed by anyone who feels he or she has been trapped,” he told News18.
While a helpline for VHP workers has been operational nationwide since its establishment by former organisation chief Praveen Togadia, the Mangaluru unit took a step further in December 2022 by launching an ‘anti-love jihad helpline’. This helpline aims to support girls who claim to have experienced coerced religious conversions or interfaith marriages.