In part 2, we bring you what the social activists who deal regularly with cases of grooming jihad in Gujarat have to say about the modus operandi, funding and training part of it.
Note: Some names and place are changed to protect the privacy and safety of individuals who opened up to us to tell their stories.
There are two type of girls who fall victim to grooming jihad, said Kavita Dubey, a social worker in Surat who has been dealing with cases of grooming jihad for a few years now. The target girls are divided into two parts: Poor Dalit Hindu girls or upper-caste Hindu girls belonging to low income group, mostly migrant Maharashtrian Brahmin girls or upper-caste affluent girls from financially well off families.
Dubey, who hails from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, now calls Surat her home. We had earlier shared the ordeal of Pooja (name changed) from Sachin, an industrial area near Surat, who fell victim to grooming jihad when she was a minor but is now back home with her parents.
“One girl of Soni community, who was a gold medalist in M. Sc. and was also pursuing higher studies gave it all up after she ‘fell in love’ with a Muslim boy who worked as a waiter in a nearby hotel. At that time she only knew him as Sameer and was not aware that he was a not Hindu,” said an activist who did not want to be named. The duo eloped to Mumbai and got married.
However, two years later she decided to return. The girl contacted her mother who took help of police, government officials and social activists to bring her back.
Upon her return she revealed the horrifying tales of harassment she had to endure. The girl was tortured for over one and a half years. She said she was forced to have sex with other male friends of Sameer and was also forced to convert to Islam. The torture began soon after she discovered that Sameer had hidden his religious identity.
She revealed that she was beaten up, forced to wear burqa, read Quran, drink alcohol and forced to have sex with other men but she did not agree to it. “She returned safely, but many, many girls just disappear,” the activist revealed.
Over the years, OpIndia has reported multiple cases where the perpetrator has changed his Muslim identity to lure a Hindu girl into a romantic relationship and then either exploited her or later forced her to convert to Islam. In November 2020, the Uttar Pradesh administration formed an SIT to look into cases of grooming jihad and the police found criminality in 11 out of the 14 cases that were being probed by the SIT. In September 2020, we had reported a list of 20 cases of grooming jihad from Uttar Pradesh and states in just two months.
“Another such story is of a girl from Jain community. Her family was financially very well off and very educated. The conversion in such cases is not very obvious. The marriage happens as per Special Marriage Act, but soon, after just few months, they get the girl to convert to Islam. In most cases we have seen that the girl is usually taken to dargahs and maulvis make them tie some thread or drink some ‘holy water’, after which they start getting more inclined towards Islam,” the activist said.
“After the girl converted to Islam, her family broke all relations with her and went to rescue her after they got to know the boy was bringing another wife. The girl, along with her three children, returned to her parents’ home, but because after her conversion she is governed by the Islamic personal law, she has very little legal recourse,” the activist explained.
The activist said that in most cases, the couple elopes to either Junagadh, if they are in Saurashtra region or to Mumbai if they are in South Gujarat region. “Mumbai, Thane, Navapur and Malegaon are preferred destination. The laws regarding conversion are not as strict in Maharashtra and hence they find it safe to go there,” he said. “You won’t believe, we got one case where the nikahnama was registered in Delhi but the girl had never been to Delhi in her life,” he added.
Well-oiled mechanism for grooming jihad
“Maulvis in many masjids and dargahs on the outskirts of cities play a huge role in such cases. There is one dargah in Limbayat near Surat where training is given to young, ‘good looking’ Muslim boys on how to flirt with girls and lure them into relationships. Other training for anti-social activities are also given. They also fund their lavish lifestyles. How else do explain a young boy who lives in 10×10 kholi riding a bullet when his salary is hardly two to five thousand?” said the activist.
“Dargahs and madarsas in the outer part of the cities are the epicentres for such activities,” he explained. Madarsas are Islamic religious educational institutions for the study of Islam. Dargahs are shrines or tombs of Sufi saints and visits to dargahs is referred to as ‘ziyarat’. Some Muslims believe that they are divine portals and visiting these shrines gives them blessings of the deceased saint. Surprising for a faith that considers idol worship one of the biggest sins, revering tombs is considered pilgrimage.
In Bharuch, the nursing colleges and hospitals run by some trusts are targets to convert tribal women to Islam. Speaking to OpIndia, an activist from Bharuch said that a lot of tribal women are trained to be nurses and are then employed at hospitals run by trusts run by Muslims. A lot of these doctors are associated with Ahl al-Hadith. Adherents of Ahl al-Hadith are often referred to as ‘traditionalists’ and consider the Quran and authentic Hadith to be only authority in matter of law.
The nursing staff of these colleges are often victims of forced conversion. “They are lured by providing them with job, food and promise of better future. Do you know there is one dargah right on the railway station of Bharuch on platform no. 3? These are all encroachments but one can’t do anything about them,” the activist said. The dargah on the Bharuch railway station has been there for years now. My grandmother was born and brought up in Bharuch and as a child I have gone to Bharuch a few times. I saw it but never noticed it.
Other dargahs which are often frequented by Hindus are in Kim, Paryej, Palej. Around 7-8 dargahs in and around Bharuch and Surat are involved in such activities. “There is one village Tankaria in Bharuch, where the population is about 12-13 thousand of which about 4 thousand are Hindus. But there is no temple. When Hindus don’t have a place of aastha, their faith will get diluted,” he said.
There is one Dargah near Hansot where 95% of people who visit it are Hindus. “These are their institutions of faith. Hindus start considering these maulvis their gurus. While the Hindus visiting these dargahs continue to consider themselves Hindus, their faith has diluted. So one can’t say that they are victims of forced conversion, but there is indeed dilution of faith,” said the activist who has been associated with these cases for over two decades now.
“I have attended one such training session in disguise. They are told which Hindu areas to target. They get money for bikes, petrol and young girls who take public transport are their soft targets. They flirt with the girls, then start offering lifts to their college and such and increase closeness. Garbage collectors in the area, most of which are from their community, give them information about such girls,” the activist said.
Turns out, gyms, dance classes and salons are also such areas where they ‘target’ financially well off women, some of whom are even married. They give them attention and increase proximity. “In fact, many times Muslim girls act as their allies. They become friends with the Hindu girls and pass on their numbers to the Muslim boys,” he said. While in ‘friendship’ stage, the Hindu girls then start accompanying their Muslim girlfriends and even the boys to Dargahs.
At some such Dargahs, they are made to wear some threads or some sort of taveez. “They make the girls drink water at such Dargahs. This kind of vashikaran then takes pace at Dargahs where they start diluting their Hindu faith and it is very easy for them to lean towards Islam,” he said. “MTB College, Navyug College in Surat are prime targets where these guys stand outside and get their targets,” he said.
A lot of times Hindu Dalit girls or girls from lower-income groups are targeted. “It is an unfortunate truth about our times. These girls come from very poor backgrounds. Their fathers, brothers are usually addicted to alcohol and they have seen domestic abuse since childhood. Then comes this boy who gets her gifts, tells them how he does not drink because alcohol is haram in their religion and shows her empathy. The girl then starts getting attracted to him and eventually they elope, get married and she gets converted to Islam. In most of these cases, girls are made to believe that boy is financially well off enough to take care of her unlike her father, brother. Only later they get to know the truth, by when it is too late,” another activist from Surat said.
An activist from Bharuch while speaking to OpIndia said, “They take advantage of the years old divide of Savarnas vs Dalits. This is a targeted attack. Society also does not come forward proactively in such cases,” he said.
Escaping law because of loopholes and support
Lawyers who are involved in conversion are ready with all the documents and affidavits, the activist explains. “They have funding and financial support as high profile lawyers in the city defend them in the court of law. One jewellery store owner on Athawa lines, who is a Muslim, is one of the prominent persons who helps them with funding,” he explained.
Interestingly, in a lot of these cases, the boys who do these activities are also from other states. Their only proof of address is their rent agreement where they have often used fake names. Hence, even when these cases are pursued legally, they meet dead ends quite soon. “We are not against love or against marriage. But it is the intention with which they are done is an issue. The Special Marriage Act which is supposed to protect interest of both the parties is being exploited. It should be amended and provision should be brought in that at least one blood relative of both the parties should be present at the time of registration.
In fact, sometimes the religious conversion at some of these dargahs take place right outside the premises. Essentially inside the gates of the dargah, but not within the premises. “This way they claim no conversion activities take place in the dargah, but just because the maulvis step out of the door doesn’t give it a clean chit,” the activist said.
Dargahs are the epicentres for such criminal activities, especially religious conversion, he insisted.
1992 Ajmer sexual exploitation of Hindu girls
In 1992, Ajmer in Rajasthan woke up to a sordid tale of hundreds of Hindu girls sexually abused. Many of these girls were still in school. A local newspaper ‘Navjyoti’ published some nude images and a story that spoke about school students being blackmailed by local gangs. It turned out a specific group of influential men were targetting young girls where they would trap one girl and manage to take obscene images. Then they would blackmail the girl into familiarising them to her classmates and friends. Eventually, other girls would be raped, sexually exploited and have their pictures taken. The cycle continued so forth. The gang continued to expand its operations and victimise an increasing number of girls.
It turned out the local authorities were aware of the scandal for over a year before it became public knowledge. But they let the local politicians stall the investigation. Navjyoti Editor Deenbandhu Chaudhary himself had said that he was skeptical of running the story as one of the accused belonged to the influential family of ‘Khadims’. Khadims are the families of traditional caretakers of the Ajmer Dargah, they claim to be the direct descendants of the first followers of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty and hold significant influence in the local communities. The police had stalled the case because the local politicians warned action against the accused would lead to massive communal tension.
Finally, an FIR was lodged and investigations led to 18 being charged in the case. Most of the accused were Muslims, many from the families of Khadims and most victims were young Hindu girls. Farooq Chishty, one of the main accused who also happened to be a youth Congress leader, was declared mentally unstable. Farooq Chishty was the president of the Ajmer Youth Congress while two other accused, Nafis Chishty and Anwar Chishty were the vice-president and joint secretary respectively of the city Congress unit.
Another unfortunate realisation was that many of the victims, being young and vulnerable, had already committed suicide.
Ajmer town is often talked about as epitome of communal peace and harmony. The Ajmer Sharif Dargah is one of the most prominent Dargahs in India. It is the tomb of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti. Hindus and Muslims visit the shrine and even actors and politicians like Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Shashi Tharoor and even former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi have visited the Dargah. Many of the accused in the above rape and blackmail case belonged to the families of the caretakers of the Ajmer Sharif Dargah.
To be continued…