Crime & Justice

India’s ‘most gruesome’ murder reignites love-jihad conspiracy theory

By Neeshu Shukla

New Delhi, Dec 23 (EFE).- The murder of a 26-year-old woman by her lover, who dismembered her body and put her pieces in his fridge before scattering them one by one, has resurrected the love-jihad conspiracy theory, a pejorative used to label marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women in India.

Aftab Poonawala has confessed to killing Shraddha Walker and chopping her body into 35 pieces.

While such intimate partner violence cases are not uncommon in India, the murder – billed as one of the foulest in the country – hit the headlines not only on account of its gruesome nature but also because it involved an interfaith couple.

Poonawala was arrested on Nov.12 and the ghastly details of the murder were made public two days later, triggering a debate on “love jihad,” a term coined by right-wing Hindu nationalists who accuse Muslim minority men of tricking Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam.

Hindu nationalists say it was part of the larger jihad conspiracy to change the demographics of Hindu India.

Surendra Jain, a leader of the conservative Vishwa Hindu Parishad – which belongs to the same ideological family as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -, said he was convinced that Poonawala is a jihadist fighting for Islam, who believes in using violence to achieve religious and political aims.

“Jihadists are taught to increase their population by having love affairs with people of other religions and then forcing them to convert to theirs,” Jain said.

“If they deny or the relationship fails, they kill the person in the most heinous way possible, claiming that killing them will open the gates to heaven for them.”

Asked how he was so sure that the suspect was a jihadist, Jain said Poonawala has had many girlfriends, and “about 20 of them were Hindus.”

He said the accused had shown no remorse and was ready to be hanged, which “proves he is a jihadist.”

The #LoveJihad has been trending off-and-on on social media sites, exposing the faultlines of India’s fragile communal ties, since the police made public the details of the murder, purportedly committed in May this year.

Shraddha’s parents had refused to accept her relationship with a Muslim man.

She ran out of her parental house in Mumbai and moved in with Poonawala, according to police.

She had severed all ties with her parents and was settling with her partner in New Delhi.

She was in touch with her friends until she disappeared suddenly for months before police found parts of her body scattered around the capital.

The suspect, allegedly inspired by the TV series “Dexter,” which runs around the life of a forensic specialist who doubles up as a serial killer, had stashed the body parts in his fridge before getting rid of them.

The victim had previously flagged safety concerns with the Mumbai Police in 2020. But she withdrew her complaint later.

The Shraddha murder has overshadowed other equally gory killing of Aayushi Chaudhary, 21.

Chaudhary was found murdered with her body stashed in a suitcase in a case the police suspect is an “honour killing,” a term used to describe murders where the victim has brought “shame” to their family by marrying outside their faith or caste.

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