‘Love jihad’ protests in India after video shows Hindu woman gunned down outside college

Captured on CCTV, Faridabad incident has fuelled Islamophobic conspiracy theory claims

Mayank Aggarwal
Tuesday 27 October 2020 13:39 GMT
Video shows Indian student gunned down outside college campus

Protests have erupted in India over a graphic video showing a young Muslim man gunning down a 21-year-old Hindu woman in broad daylight outside her college campus.

The incident took place in the city of Faridabad in the northern state of Haryana on Monday afternoon, police said. The victim, who has been identified as Nikita Tomar, was shot dead as she appeared to resist an attempted abduction.

Video of the incident was taken from CCTV footage of the street outside Aggarwal College in the Ballabgarh neighbourhood, and was widely shared on social media in India on Tuesday.

In the footage, a man can be seen approaching a group of three women next to a white car, before grabbing one of them and shooting her at point blank range as a second man runs towards him. Both men then get into the vehicle and flee the scene. 

Haryana police say they have arrested two suspects in relation to the shooting, naming them as Rehan and Tausif. Both are being held in custody for an initial five days while investigations are conducted. 

The victim’s family, however, have been outspoken in decrying the case as an example of so-called “love jihad” – a term for an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that claims Muslim men are marrying Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam. The popularity of the term in India has become synonymous with the rise of right-wing identity politics.

On Tuesday, the deceased’s immediate family – including her mother, sister and brother – along with her other relatives and friends led a protest march through Faridabad with Ms Tomar’s photograph in their hands. Joined by students from Aggarwal College, they blocked the national highway and called for a thorough probe by a special investigative team.

The family also claimed that in 2018 they had filed a case of kidnapping against the accused shooter, Tausif, but had withdrawn the complaint after they were urged to come to a compromise.

The victim’s mother called for police to “encounter” the accused, a euphemism widely deployed in India for extrajudicial killings. In media interviews, she also repeated claims that her daughter was being pressured into marriage. 

“I want justice for my daughter,” NDTV quoted her as saying. “They should be shot the same way they shot her.”

Haryana’s home minister Anil Vij, from the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party, repeated the family’s “love jihad” claim and said he had promised a “quick investigation and time-bound trial to ensure justice to the family”. “No one will be spared,” he tweeted.

But Mr Vij has also come in for criticism for insensitivity when, after being asked about the safety of women in his state, he said the government “can’t ensure personal security for all 25 million (of its inhabitants)". He added: “I won’t say such incidents (crime against women) have stopped, but they have reduced for sure in the last few years.”

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