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Mapping Hindutva Discourse in India: Exploring ‘Love Jihad’ Narratives on X

Mapping Hindutva Discourse in India: Exploring ‘Love Jihad’ Narratives on X
3rd January 2024 Mohammad Amaan Siddiqui
In Insights


Over the last year, Indian politics has been infested with debates around ‘love jihad’ – the alleged Muslim mission to forcefully convert Hindu women to Islam with false promises of marriage. Between November 2022 and March 2023 alone, at least 50 rallies occurred in the state of Maharashtra against so-called love jihad at the behest of local Hindutva nationalist organisations. The rallies and rhetoric bolster decisions made by officials that further endanger Muslims, interfaith couples, and Hindu women’s autonomy. In recent years, the allegation has included alleged incidents of premarital physical relationships, sexual assault, murders, and other crimes, where it is claimed that a Muslim man ‘trapped’ a Hindu woman in a relationship. 

Love jihad is just one among many supposed jihads that Hindutva nationalists accuse Muslims of engaging in. However, it spreads the most because it effectively evokes core feelings of safety, security, women’s honour, and patriarchy among Hindus, compared to other jihad accusations that have fewer layers and background work done for them. Nevertheless, the idea of ‘economic jihad’, the conspiracy that the Islamic Halal food certification exists to drive out Hindu businesses, has also gained traction, resulting in a ban on Halal-certified product sales in Uttar Pradesh. 

So far, laws around love jihad exist in several states—Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Haryana, and Assam—all of which are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Maharashtra has also expressed intentions to enact love jihad laws tracking inter-faith marriagesDespite being bogus claims, love jihad narratives have continued to spread; they are part of broader structures of majoritarianism and patriarchy. Love jihad narratives seek to make Hindus feel victimised, oppose Muslims, and maintain control over both Hindu and Muslim women’s bodies.

This is the first piece in a two-part series exploring the construction of love jihad narratives online. This Insight will parse the frames used in spreading such narratives through data mining and content analysis on X/Twitter, outlining prominent frames in nationalists’ online discussions of love jihad. 

Origin and Motives of Love Jihad Narratives 

A love-jihad-like theory began in the 1900s, as Hindutva supremacists sought to frighten the public about the growing Muslim population. The term ‘love jihad’ itself was first used in 2009 through a deliberate fearmongering campaign by Hindutva organisations responding to an alleged kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage case from Kerala and the broader allegation that there was an Islamic organisation behind these crimes. Ultimately, allegations of love jihad “have no basis in fact” and constitute hearsay, misrepresentation, or entire falsifications. Judicial verdicts and legal research have generally opposed such laws, too; a Supreme Court judgment stated that marriage constitutes a private space “in which neither law nor the judges can intrude.” 

Social media has advanced the Hindutva nationalists’ agenda of misinformation and disinformation against their opponents, Muslims, and conventional media in creating an emotionally charged environment in which Hindus feel endangered and mobilise against religious minorities. The role of social media in the Hindutva nationalist agenda is well incorporated in the machinery used by elected officials and the BJP. In her book, I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, Swati Chaturvedi highlights how ordinary people across educational and professional backgrounds tweet continuously to further the Hindutva cause and contribute to the Hindutva enterprise. In the process, many are hailed as ‘social media volunteers’ for the BJP and invited to special meetings with party officials. In the context of love jihad, these narratives make Hindus feel as if Muslims are increasing in number, taking away their women, and harming their communities. 

Digital Frames Employed in Strategies 

The BJP’s social media volunteers send caste-, religion-, or gender-based hate and aggression to anyone they consider an ‘anti-national’. Love jihad narratives are one tool in their arsenal of espousing Islamophobia and patriarchy. A core part of these narratives so far has been to paint Muslim men as predatory while simultaneously robbing Hindu women of agency and intellect

However, these understandings are still too broad for much practical application. Creating more targeted responses against nationalist discourse requires a more detailed breakdown of the frames nationalists use. For example, nationalists’ content creation has been studied to identify their common slogans, hashtags, and emojis that build solidarity and villainise their opponents. A prominent researcher, Sahana Udupa, has also studied ‘enterprise Hindutva’ – “a mediatised form of Hindu nationalism shaped largely by the affordances of social media and the cultural practices surrounding them in urban India.” One of her studies breaks down comedy, satire, and memes as information dissemination and solidarity-building strategies among the nationalists. A similar in-depth probing is required on the matter of love jihad narratives. 

Nationalists’ Framing Processes Online: Empirical Methods and Findings 

To explore this issue further, 1001 tweets (each with over 100 likes) were mined for this study, querying the term ‘love jihad.’ The results contained Hindi and English tweets from February to October 2023. The data was divided into six parts, from which tweets were randomly pulled, generating a sub-sample of 102 tweets. These tweets were then thematically analysed. 

To ensure completeness of the findings, another set of tweets was mined, querying #SaveHinduGirls, #LoveJihad_India, #लवजिहाद (‘love jihad’ in Hindi script), #MeraAbdulAisaNahiHai (“My Abdul is not like that”). 2744 tweets were collected, and the same sub-sampling process was employed. After reviewing more tweets, it was clear that enough frames were captured. Then, only Hindi tweets were analysed until they were close to the number of English tweets analysed. In total, 140 tweets were analysed—71 in English and 69 in Hindi. 

The themes that emerged through the findings can be organised under ‘anti-Muslim framing strategies,’ ‘infantilisation of Hindu women,’ and ‘nationalist rhetoric.’ Each section discusses specific ways in which nationalists construct majoritarian and patriarchal narratives vis-à-vis love jihad. 

Anti-Muslim Framing Strategies 

Theme 1: Using Muslim Names 

39 tweets (27.86%) used Muslim names while reporting alleged incidents of love jihad, constructing them as slurs, such as “Mohammad Shahid lures and traps Hindu women.” Moreover, the hashtag #MeraAbdulAisaNahiHai (translation: “My Abdul is not like the others”) was also developed as satire, used by Hindutva nationalists to push Hindu women away from ‘ Abduls’, i.e., Muslims. 

Making Muslim or Islamic references as slurs to incite fear among Hindus is a prominent strategy that has also been adopted by elected officials. In June 2023, the BJP-member Chief Minister of Assam Himanta B. Sarma lashed back at former US President Obama’s criticism of India’s human rights record with the tweet, “There are many Hussain Obama in India itself. We should prioritize taking care of them before considering going to Washington.” Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has made several such statements, such as using the Urdu ‘abba jaan’ [father] in a derogatory sense. This strategy shows that love jihad narratives are a core part of a broader majoritarian agenda and should also be dealt with holistically. 

Theme 2: Leaps in Logic and Judgment

While this Insight is not designed to ascertain whether the tweets’ information was true, it can identify leaps in logic. At least 12 tweets (8.57%) resorted to leaps in logic. For example, when the Congress party won the Karnataka state elections, one tweet claimed that “[…]Sharia law will be imposed from tomorrow. Love jihad cases will see no end.” 

Other times, users interpreted any event of Muslim men being involved with Hindu women as love jihad. In one tweet, a Muslim man was accused of attempting love jihad for helping an injured Hindu woman reach a hospital. 28 (20%) tweets relied on describing individual alleged cases and stories to establish love jihad narratives, and 7 (5%) used statistics to refer to many cases or victims in a given time period. Many of these cases and statistics turned out to be false, yet little to no social media platforms, governments, or civil society regulations limit the spread of such fake news. 

Theme 3: Showing Muslims as Predators

36 tweets (25.71%) framed Muslims as predators. These tweets discussed love jihad as a pan-Islamic mission, with some also emphasising that the victims were underaged. Many nationalists explicitly warn the Hindu population against trusting any kind of Muslim, alleging that entire families of Muslims are conspiring against Hindus. One claimed that all Muslims —“teachers, boys, sisters, fathers, brothers, mothers, maulvi, and other members of Muslim society come together to target your underage Hindu girls.” 

Tweets had overlapping themes as they mixed various components to produce effective propaganda. A combination of comedy with leaps of judgment is common. This playful strategy and comedic forms of engagement work well with the Hindutva enterprise’s strategy of maintaining its volunteers’ mental health, online activity, and outreach. This can be found particularly in tweets that respond to dissenters and those who discuss a reverse love jihad—that Hindutva nationalists conspire to lure and kidnap Muslim women. For example, one tweet from an account with over 104k followers satirises a hypothetical case of a Hindu boy faking an online identity as a Muslim woman’s cousin claimed that the boy “got caught as Zubaida remembered the names of all 87 of her cousins.” This effectively ignores the main critique of ‘reverse love jihad,’ using comedy to display Muslim families as baby-making machines. 

These themes not only blame Muslims for an alleged problem of sham marriages and forced conversions but also construct the Muslim identity as evil and threatening. They are dangerous for India’s democratic and pluralistic society and draw attention away from actual socioeconomic issues. 

Infantilisation of Hindu Women

Hindutva nationalists often portray Muslim women as victims of Muslim men’s actions. A common trope found was that wearing the burqa or hijab is not a choice but either violently enforced by Muslim men or illustrative of the self-oppression of Muslim women. This rhetoric was also commonly posted by the BJP’s official account during the Karnataka Hijab row fiasco in which nationalists claimed that Muslim women need to be saved from Muslim men

In reality, these arguments are strategies to maintain control over women and to justify Islamophobic rhetoric against Muslim men. Many of the studied tweets used rhetoric that nullified Hindu women’s agency and endorsed patriarchal power over them. Specifically, two themes emerged. 

Theme 1: Victim Narratives—The Pain of Hindu Women

In any discussion of love jihad, the nationalist viewed the Hindu woman as a victim, trapped by a Muslim man, with no agency or intellect of her own. 11 tweets (7.86%) relied on affective appeal, portraying Hindu women exclusively as naïve, innocent, and dumb victims. The widespread use of the hashtags #SaveHinduDaughters and #SaveHinduGirls co-occurring with other hashtags in the dataset illustrates this claim further. 

Crucially, these stories reduce Hindu women to tools for achieving sympathies for the Hindutva cause and mobilising Hindus through the incitement of politicised emotion. This also allows a patriarchal group to appeal to progressive individuals by leveraging feminism. 

Theme 2: Males and Families Protecting Hindu Women

27 (19.29%) tweets called for Hindu men or their families to look after, protect, and enlighten Hindu women to prevent them from associating with Muslims. In some tweets, the hatred for Muslim women was higher, suggesting that Muslim women camouflage their predation, using their female identities to act as middlemen between naïve Hindu women and predatory Muslim men. 

This infantilisation allows Hindu families to control their daughters and women. Tweets surrounding the Hindu festival ‘Rakshabhandhan’ were also part of the dataset, as it occurred during the data collection in August 2023. The festival includes a theme of the brother pledging to protect his sister. The sampled tweets around this period had Rakshabandhan pledges of protecting Hindu sisters from love jihad. 

The reinforcement of Hindu males’ job of protecting Hindu women reinforces patriarchal settings and domestic surveillance and can incite violence. Ultranationalists have previously boasted about their violence online, calling for the restoration of family and community honour. The patriarchal aspect of love jihad contributes to idealising a good Hindu woman as one who is obedient to men. This has harmful implications for a society that is already underperforming on women’s safety, inclusion in political affairs, and empowerment as it further silences and controls them. 

Nationalist Rhetoric

Finally, nationalists also evoked nationalistic fervour in their tweets on love jihad – 31 (22.14%) in total. The most common narratives associated love jihad with terrorism. The ‘terrorism’ label carries heavy weight, instantly condemning the accused. In the Indian context especially, where army-based nationalism is high and the term ‘jihad’ is commonly associated with terrorism, such rhetoric provides nationalists with a fast and effective way to garner support for their ideas. 

Additionally, Hindu communities are rallied through claims that love jihadis are increasing in number and becoming more confident. This is tied into communitarian calls of ‘waking up the Hindus’ and creating a false narrative that Hindus are in danger (“Hindu khatre me hai”). Strong populist undertones emerge from this rhetoric, which is then used to motivate Hindus to join nationalist organisations, protests, and even conduct violence. For example, the following tweets were found: 

“…if entire nation woke up and [boycotted Muslims and stopped love jihad], it will save lakhs of innocent lives” 

“Tell them [Muslims] in the language they understand [violence]” 

Love jihad narratives are a frame of the broader Hindutva nation-building project. These digital discursions often connect with and call for offline action. It is, therefore, no surprise that right-wing organisations and media houses dominate authoring 1/5th of tweets discussing love jihad. As Indian society continues to be polarised, quick solutions are needed. 

Conclusion: Myth-busting and De-radicalisation 

Despite social media users (as revealed in the mined tweets) and fact-checking organisations speaking against love jihad narratives, the impact of these counternarratives seems weak. Social media users tend to be grouped in echo chambers, making the effective reach of anti-love jihad tweets more doubtful. Further research is encouraged on the frames used in tweets opposing love jihad narratives. X/Twitter is encouraged to be more deliberate in enforcing its community guidelines. While Elon Musk wants to allegedly avoid censorship, there should be a clearer line between when one’s ‘free speech’ affects the material safety of another. X/Twitter has been identified by researchers as complicit in the virality of hate speech, too. Documenting these frames and framing strategies may guide flagging similar content for possible hate speech or disinformation. 

Social media platforms should consider the ethics of their algorithms; exposing users to higher volumes of counternarratives may help reduce polarisation. Fact-checking features should also be better expanded to Hindi language tweets. Activists, education practitioners, and opposition political parties are encouraged to disseminate effective and strategic counternarrative and media literacy campaigns. Legal experts may also collate information and evidence to pursue action against government officials who have made unconstitutional statements, acquiesced in divisive activities, and other forms of online and offline discord. Overall, it is hoped that this deep dive into how nationalists frame discussions around love jihad will help guide policies to tackle radicalisation and disinformation. 

Disclaimer: the discussion of ‘Hindutva’ refers to the supremacist political construct that some sections of society have gone astray with and not the Hindu religion. The author espouses peaceful coexistence among all religious groups in India. 

Mohammad Amaan Siddiqui is a final-year undergraduate student at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, majoring in International Studies and minoring in Economics and Environmental Policy. He is a blogger (, author, and researcher. His interests and experiences span many fields, including volunteering to lead a scope for COY18, helping a firm calculate carbon emissions, writing for think tanks, conducting research funded through research grants, and training students and faculty in dozens of schools on various fields. His research interests include Indian politics (domestic and foreign), international relations, critical terrorism studies, (online) social movements, and migration. Twitter: @amaanpie