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Love-buster helpline stirs sectarian fears

- Sangh campaign in western UP

Sarawa (Meerut), Aug. 10: To the villagers in Sarawa, fear has a phone number: 09410494559.

It’s the “Hindu Helpline” that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh opened on Friday for purported victims of what it labels a “love jihad” — an alleged plot to trap Hindu girls in western Uttar Pradesh into forced conversion and marriage through feigned love or rape.

Many Muslim families in Sarawa, home to a 20-year-old woman whose kidnap-rape-conversion allegations on August 3 kicked off the Sangh campaign, have sent their women and children away to relatives’ homes fearing a backlash.

However, senior police officers and bureaucrats have cited holes in the complaint by the woman, who taught English and Hindi in a madarsa and alleges she was abducted, gang-raped and forcibly converted by a local maulvi and others.

Muslims and Hindus in Sarawa, a semi-urban village about 28km from Meerut city, say they want the guilty punished if the charges are true. But the only “plot” they can see is a political one to deepen the communal polarisation in western Uttar Pradesh, where four Assembly by-elections are scheduled next month.

The political parties seem to be looking at polarisation as a sure-fire formula for electoral success in the region ever since the BJP swept the state in the general election following last September’s Muzaffarnagar riots.

During last month’s violence in poll-bound Saharanpur and Moradabad, local people and police had accused politicians from across the spectrum of fishing in troubled waters.

“Our girls are falling prey to this love jihad. We won’t tolerate this humiliation any longer and will protect their honour,” said the bespectacled Ajay Tyagi, a local Sangh leader, in his small office at Khargoda, 20km from Meerut city and 8km from Sarawa.

It’s his office that is monitoring the helpline. “We have already received over 200 calls from worried parents,” Tyagi told The Telegraph on Saturday evening.

“Our cadres are travelling door to door to make parents aware of the helpline so they can contact us immediately whenever they suspect Muslim youths of luring their daughters,” Tyagi added as three subordinates uploaded messages against the “love jihad” on their Facebook pages.

The police on Friday banned the protest rallies, marked by hate speeches, that the Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had been holding in Sarawa. But the protests are continuing elsewhere in Meerut, accusing the police of protecting the guilty at the Samajwadi Party government’s behest.

Tyagi, also a member of the Hindu Behen Beti Bachao Sangharsh Committee, set up a few months before the Muzaffarnagar violence, said he had just returned from a Sangh-VHP meeting that had decided on a weeklong “awareness drive”.

On Sunday morning he told this newspaper: “Each of our cadres today tied rakhis on Hindus’ wrists and asked them to take a pledge to protect their sisters and daughters.”

A senior officer in Meerut city who didn’t wish to be quoted said the Sangh parivar had run a similar campaign in Karnataka and Kerala in the past, but with limited success.

“Sangh and VHP leaders are campaigning in the villages, alleging a larger Muslim conspiracy to expand their population by using Hindu girls,” the officer said.

“We have registered an FIR against unnamed people for making inflammatory speeches.”

Pall of fear

Sarawa’s Muslims, who make up 60 per cent of the village’s 10,000 people, say they are living in fear of a Muzaffarnagar rerun.

“We too want the culprits punished if they are involved in this heinous crime. But we are hearing so many stories —we want the truth to come out,” said Abdul Karim, 55.

“We would not tolerate it, either, if our daughters were subjected to this kind of beastly acts. But the political parties should not spread poison.”

Both Hindus and Muslims say they had always lived in harmony in the village, home to seven mosques and seven temples.

“We never switch on the temple loudspeakers during namaaz time. This is the kind of understanding and mutual respect we have, but the political parties are bent on dividing us for electoral gain,” said Moolchand Sharma, the village postmaster.

A large police team was patrolling Sarawa’s lanes, asking people not to believe rumours.

The complainant was discharged today from a hospital in Ghaziabad where she was being treated for her injuries, said Manoj Kumar Singh, station house officer at Khargoda police station.

“She’s back in Sarawa but we are not allowing outsiders to enter the village and meet her,” Singh said.

Date discrepancy

According to the complaint lodged by the Sarawa woman and her father, she was kidnapped on July 23 and taken to a madarsa in Hapur, about 12km away, where she was gang-raped and converted before being freed on July 27.

She says she was abducted a second time on July 29, taken to a madarsa in Muzaffarnagar and gang-raped again. She apparently escaped and returned home on August 3 to lodge the complaint, sparking a furore.

State home secretary Kamal Saxena raised questions about her account.

“According to hospital records, she was admitted to Meerut Medical College Hospital on July 23 and discharged on July 27. It’s the same period she claims she spent as a hostage in a madarsa,” Saxena said.

“She went to the hospital accompanied by a man named Kaleem, a resident of the Khargoda area, who is mentioned as her husband.”

Meerut senior superintendent of police Onkar Singh said the hospital’s doctors had told the police the unmarried woman was 45 days pregnant and had come with severe abdominal pain and complications arising from the foetus having got stuck in her fallopian tube. Singh said the doctors operated on her and removed the foetus.

No one at the Meerut hospital was willing to comment to the media.

“We are examining her call details to solve the case. If she was kidnapped, how come she was in touch with several people over the phone?” the Meerut officer who didn’t want to be named said.

The police have arrested five persons, including Kaleem, who had not been named in the complaint. Officers said Kaleem had been in touch with the woman over the phone but would not spell out the charges against him.

The other four, who were named in the complaint, are the Sarawa pradhan, the wife of the accused but absconding maulvi, a woman friend of the complainant and another Sarawa resident. An arrest warrant has been issued against the maulvi, Sanaullah.

“This is a very sensitive issue. A probe is on to ascertain the facts. The law will take its course if we find the complainant’s version is true,” the Meerut officer said.

In Sarawa, postmaster Sharma said the woman’s statement seemed “suspicious” but he principally blamed “certain political parties” for the situation.

“The country can develop only if communal politics comes to an end. But political parties talk of development only during poll campaigns.”

The four western Uttar Pradesh Assembly seats headed for by-elections are Kairana in Shamli district neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur city, Bijnore in Bijnore district adjoining Meerut, and Thakurdwara in Moradabad.