‘Uska Abdul alag tha’ (Translation: Her Abdul was different), wrote verified Twitter user Arpita Shaiva earlier this month while tweeting an image of a man on a motorcycle apparently carrying a corpse. Albeit short and seemingly benign, the caption had a sinister implication in the larger scheme of the demonisation of Muslims in public discourse. Of late, ‘Abdul’ has become a placeholder name for Muslim men in social and mainstream media. Primarily used by Right Wing influencers, the catchline ‘Mera Abdul Alag Hai’ (Translation: My Abdul is Different) is a sarcastic jibe at interfaith relationships involving Muslim men, placing all of them under a single category and insinuating that all Muslim men are potential killers.

According to an Alt News fact check, the photograph in Arpita’s tweet actually showed a biker delivering a dismantled mannequin to a garment store in Cairo.

The ‘Abdul’ Trope

In Arabic, the word ‘abd al’ means ‘servant of the…’. Thus, ‘Abdul‘ is normally a component of a compound name referring to one of the attributes of Allah mentioned in the Qur’an or the Hadith, which would mean ‘Servant of God’ (‘Abdul Aziz’ means Servant of the Powerful). It is a common name among Muslim males.

We could find instances of the use of ‘Abdul’ in a generalized reference to Muslim men as early as in December 2014. Several users tweeted the text “हिंदू’ तो मंदबुद्धी, और अब्दुल निकला तो आतंकी” (Translation: If one is ‘Hindu’, one is retarded, but if they are Abduls, they turn out to be terrorists), in the context of the Bangalore blast of 2014, where the accused created a fake social media account to issue bomb threats using the name Abdul Khan, but later turned out to be a Hindu. At that point, it was more a snide remark than a concerted narrative.

Over the years, the trope was used by several users, including influencers, who tried to send out a message, attempting to generalize Muslim men. One of the early instances of this trope being used with negative connotations was in November 2016. Several users tweeted out a satirical message, seemingly calling out the Opposition’s attempt to appease the Muslims. The text reads, ‘सिमी एनकाउंटर फर्जी, सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक फर्जी, काला धन वापसी फर्जी, देश का विकास फर्जी, मैं भौकूं जी, मेरी मर्ज़ी, वोट देगा मेरा अब्दुल दर्जी’. (Translation: Simi encounter is fake, Surgical strike is fake, Black money returning is fake, Country’s development is fake, I bark, my wish, my Abdul tailor will vote).

Shraddha Walkar Murder: The Mainstreaming of the ‘Abdul’ Trope

The use of the word ‘Abdul’ became mainstream and reached the larger masses in 2022. After the news of 26-year-old Shraddha Walkar’s gruesome murder broke, where her Muslim partner Aftab Ameen Poonawalla was an accused, ‘Abdul’ was a trending topic on social media. The Right Wing ecosystem attempted to demonise the Muslim community by implying that being involved with a Muslim man or ‘Abdul’ would result in a fate similar to Shradhha’s. Editor-in-chief of OpIndia, Nupur J Sharma, tweeted, “Aapka Abdul bhi waisa hi hai” (Translation: Your Abdul is also the same). Her tweet garnered almost 30,000 likes and close to 7000 retweets.

Since then, the ‘Abdul’ trope has been tagged with the already existing ‘Love Jihad’ conspiracy theory, connecting an alleged crime to the accused’s religious identity and holding the entire Muslim community accountable. Needless to say, the ‘Abdul’ narrative has also seeped into mainstream television, with news anchors openly using the term while reporting hate crimes.

For instance, on June 9, 2023, Zee News tweeted a clip of their report on a case of alleged ‘Love Jihad’ wherein they claimed that a 20-year-old Hindu woman, who was being courted by a man who allegedly hid his Muslim identity, was later forced by him to convert to Islam and she consequently committed suicide. The clip was captioned ‘“मेरा अब्दुल वैसा नहीं है” वालों के लिए सबसे बड़ा सबक है ये केस’ (Translation: This case is the biggest lesson for those who say ‘My Abdul is not like that’!). The channel ran similar suggestive tickers like “उसका ‘अब्दुल’ भी वैसा ही निकला” (Translation: Her ‘Abdul’ also turned out to be the same) throughout their reportage. (Archive)

On June 8, 2023, the official handle of Right Wing propaganda outlet Sudarshan News tweeted a clip of Suresh Chavhanke’s speech in Sangamner with the caption ‘संगमनेर का हिंदू कहता था “मेरा अब्दुल वैसा नहीं है” तो सुरेश चव्हाणके जी ने बताया उसने क्या किया’ (Translation: The Hindu of Sangamner used to say ‘My Abdul is not like that’, so Suresh Chavhanke ji says what he did). Below is a translation of Suresh Chavhanke’s speech, originally in Marathi.

‘People of Sangamner used to say ‘Mera Abdul Waisa Nahi hai’, but your Abdul has now shown you that if your daughter sits in his auto-rickshaw—he is the same age as her uncle—he intentionally makes her sit on the front seat with him and touches her breasts. He is such a sinner. He has shown you that if you purchase bread from his bakery, it has his spit in it. He has shown you that if you purchase Biryani from Abdul, the Biryani contains pills to make you impotent. Abdul has shown you that whenever a prominent person comes to our place, he is killed/attacked by 14-15 years old green पिलवड [a slang used for puppies]. A man who has so much respect in the village is embarrassed and disrespected in Sangamner. Are you now you going to bear the insult now? [Audience replies: NO]. Are you going to do a Tit for Tat? [Audience replies: YES]

As is evident, Chavhanke uses the ‘Abdul’ rhetoric throughout the clip to address Muslims and demonises the entire community using hypothetical scenarios. (Archive)

It is pertinent to note that claims like Muslims are spitting in food items or lacing Biriyani with impotency pills have been debunked by Alt News in the past.

In an opinion piece for ABP News titled, ‘कोई कल्पना नहीं, ठोस हकीकत है लव-जिहाद, 400 से अधिक ऐसे मामलों की पूरी सूची दिसंबर में हमने सौंपी’ (Translation: ‘Love Jihad is not a fiction, it is a solid reality, we submitted a complete list of more than 400 such cases in December’), Vinod Bansal, national spokesperson for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, called for a nationwide law on anti-conversion and harsher punishments for those who committed crimes of ‘Love Jihad’. He wrote, ‘हिंदू समाज के अंदर भी बहुतेरे लोग सेकुलर-ब्रिगेड के ट्रैप में हैं. वे कहते हैं कि हिंदू-मुसलमान से क्या फर्क पड़ता है, मेरा अब्दुल ऐसा नहीं है। अब जो स्थितियां ऐसी आ रही हैं कि कोई भी अब्दुल कैसा भी हो, उसके अंदर का अब्दुल्ला कब निकल जाएगा, किसी को पता नहीं है।’ (Translation: Even within the Hindu society, many people are trapped in the secular brigade. They say Hindu-Muslim doesn’t make a difference; my Abdul is not like that. Now the situations are such that no matter what kind of Abdul he is, no one knows when the Abdullah inside him will emerge).

The ‘Abdul’ in Audio-Visual Media

Building on the larger ‘Love Jihad’ narrative and the ‘Abdul’ rhetoric set by the Right Wing ecosystem is a variety of audio-visual content, attempting to invoke and motivate even those among the unsuspecting ‘Hindu Samaj’ to wake up and ‘save’ Hindu women from the clutches of ‘Abduls’.

Fueling the Narrative through Mainstream Movies

The propaganda film, ‘The Kerala Story’, was one of the first and major instances of ‘Love Jihad’ being shown on screen. The feature film sought to instill a sense of fear about the Muslim community, and often triggered violent reactions. For instance, a movie-goer approached by a vox-pop reporter for her review of the film first asks the reporter her name to confirm if she is Hindu and then says, ‘बहुत अच्छी थी लेकिन डर गई हूँ मैं। सही में देखना चाहिए। जरूर देखना चाहिए। हर हिन्दू को देखना चाहिए। मुसलमानों को देखकर डर लग गया।’ (Translation: It is very good, but I got scared. It should be watched. It is a must-watch. Every Hindu should watch it. I got scared watching the Muslims).

Full-length media productions of similar sorts can be easily found as distinct pieces of creative content on platforms such as YouTube. These then take lives of their own as bite-sized content shared as WhatsApp statuses or messages, YouTube shorts and Instagram reels.

In one such YouTube short titled ‘The Kerala Story: mera abdul aisa nahi hai | Adah Sharma | #thekeralastory’ with 1,67,000 views, parts of ‘The Kerala Story’ trailer have been compiled with clips of interviews of apparent Hindutva activists and victims of ‘Love Jihad’. The text ‘Muslim boys in india Specifically target school going hindu girls’ is imposed at the bottom of the video.

In another vox pop video titled ‘The Kerala story देखकर निकली लड़कियों ने बताया उनका अब्दुल कैसा है, सुनकर चौंक जाएंगे आप KhabarIndia’, a representative of ‘Khabar India’ interviewed women asking them suggestive questions like if they would say ‘My Abdul is not like that’ even after watching ‘The Kerala Story’. Opinions ranged from ‘अब्दुल होना भी नहीं चाहिए’ (Translation: Abdul shouldn’t exist in the first place) to ‘झांसी की रानी बनके रहना चाहिए लड़कियों को, बस’ (Translation: Girls have to live as Rani of Jhansi, that’s all).

There are several such vox pop videos with thousands of views, where the interviewers link ‘The Kerala Story’ with the ‘Abdul’ narrative. Moviegoers, too, are seen using cuss words and spiteful comments like ‘मेरा अब्दुल आपका अब्दुल सबका अब्दुल एक जैसे ही हैं। जिस दिन काटके बंद होंगे ना, तब समझ में आएगा।’ (Translation: My Abdul, your Abdul, everyone’s Abdul are all the same. Will realise this only the day when you get chopped to death.) as Jay Shree Ram slogans are raised in the background.

These videos and interviews are a testament to the steady permeation of this ‘Abdul’ narrative into the more expansive ‘Love Jihad’ conspiracy theory.

‘Abdul’ in Music Videos

A music video released by the YouTube channel PD Bros Official captioned Mera Abdul Aisa Nahi Hain with more than 13,000 views goes with the lyrics ‘पहले पापा की परी थी… अब अब्दुल की जान हूँ।‘ (Translation: Back then I was my father’s angel, and now I am Abdul’s life).

The song begins with showing ‘Abdul’ carrying a suitcase and dropping it off over a bridge. It proceeds to narrate the flashback where a man in a black Kurta-Pyjama, with shaved moustache and trimmed beard and wearing a skull cap — in other words, the stereotypical Muslim man — meets his Hindu girlfriend and gifts her a smartphone. The girl/woman in a supposedly modern outfit and a large red ‘bindi’ (the only marker of her ‘Hinduness’) sings in a baby voice ‘मेरा अब्दुल ऐसा नहीं हैं। वो सबसे अलग है। कबूल हैं कबूल है। मुझे अब्दुल कबूल है। (Translation: My Abdul isn’t like that. He is different from the everyone else. I accept, I accept. I accept Abdul). The intention of the content creators to infantilize the girl’s choice and decision is apparent from their use of a baby voice for this part of the lyrics. The tagline of the song reinforces the notion that all Muslim men would act in a certain way — killing their partners and disposing of them in suitcases or refrigerators.

The girl/woman goes on to sing ‘नाम चाहे रख दे वो मेरा सलमा, वही बनेगा अब मेरा बलमा, मेरे ही नाम का पढ़ता हैं क़लमा।’ (Translation: Even if he keeps my name as Salma, only he shall be my beloved; he reads the kalma in my name), indicating conversion. As her parents protest against her relationship with ‘Abdul’, she leaves the house with him, and as she goes, the lead singer pops up on the screen to deliver the message central to the video. The singer Prabhat Mishra says ‘या ये अब्दुल हो या आफ़ताब है, सब ने पढ़ी एक ही किताब हैं। सावधान हिन्दू समाज।’ (Translation: Be it Abdul or Aftab, all of them have read the same book. Beware Hindu Community).

Linking the context directly to the Shraddha Walkar case, the message of the music video is loud and clear: That all Muslims would end up killing their non-Muslim partners. The song closes with the message: ‘जब-जब हिन्दू बहन नहीं रही मर्यादा की दहलीज़ में, तो कभी मिली सूट्कैस में, तो कभी मिली फ्रिज में…’ (Translation: Whenever Hindu sisters went beyond the limits of dignity, they were sometimes found in a suitcase, and sometimes in a fridge).

In order to trace the trajectory of the ‘Abdul’ trope, we analysed a three-part series of music videos on ‘Love Jihad’ released by Jaya’s Music (though it has no direct mentions of ‘Abdul’). The first part of the series titled ‘Love Jihad: Koi Yaad Aa Gaya’ (Translation: Remembering Someone), has over 18,000 views on YouTube and depicts a Hindu woman cop shooting a Muslim terrorist who had once pretended to be Hindu and was involved in a romantic relationship with her. She is hailed as a ‘Hindu Sherni’, (Translation: Hindu Lioness). While she had once written messages of love for her former lover with her own blood, the Muslim man, while dying, writes the word ‘Jihad’ on a wall with his own blood — conveying to the audience the mindset of the members of either community.

The second one in the series titled ‘Love Jihad 2: Mizaaj’ (Translation: Mood), has over 45,000 views on YouTube and depicts a triggering and gory representation of a woman at the hospital suffering burns inflicted by her husband’s family. Here, too, the husband was a Muslim who posed as a Hindu to woo her. But unlike the ‘Sherni’, this woman is naïve, and fell for his trap and married him. After burning the woman to death, the man goes on to find his next ‘prey’.

We found content clipped from this video tweeted once with the caption Mera Abdul Aisa Nahi Hai.

The third one in the line-up, titled ‘Aaj Kal Khab’ (Translation: Dreams These Days), has over 22,000 views and is sung by one of Hindi music industry’s most popular playback singers, Kumar Sanu. It depicts a romantic relationship between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman. The song begins with the couple being chased by a mob of Muslims, wielding swords, most of them her relatives, and ends with the couple being ruthlessly murdered by the group. The message is that the Muslim community does not allow its women to involve in romantic relationships with members of other communities.

The takeaway of the three-part series is pretty much the crux of the current ‘Love Jihad’ narrative — that the whole idea of inter-religious love isn’t as innocent as how the ‘liberals’ think of it. It is an organised project and is unidirectional, with Muslim men always targeting non-Muslim women and the reverse never tolerated; Hindu women have to be ‘Shernis’ to save themselves from it, and if naïve, they would invite grave suffering and death.

‘Abdul’ in Cartoons

Cartoons and caricatures have forever been an effective format for delivering messages in a short but effective way. This form is also being leveraged extensively to deliver and propagate the ‘Abdul’ trope across different digital media platforms.

For instance, the Twitter and Instagram profile চণ্ডীমণ্ডপ (Translation: Chondimandop) tweeting at @bratati_maity and with an Instagram User ID bratati_maity, claiming to be ‘An unapologetic HINDU Artist’ in their bio, consistently shares caricatured Islamophobic content. One of their cartoons, probably their most widely circulated creation across platforms (over 26,000 views on Twitter and over 26,000 likes on Instagram), depicts a bearded man with a skullcap and hiding a knife behind, proposing to a woman and saying, ‘There is no love jihad. This is all propaganda. I really love you.’ And the girl who is depicted as naïve and blindfolded, unable to see the graves and the corpse of alleged victims of ‘Love Jihad’ says, ‘I know Abdul. Tum alag ho (Translation: You are different). I trust you blindly.’ In another cartoon shared by the same creator on Instagram, a girl is depicted as hugging a bearded and skull-capped man saying ‘Mera Abdul alag Hai’ as her parents exclaim ‘No!’. In the next frame, ‘Abdul’ is shown as lighting her on fire, saying, ‘She said No’ while the girl cries, ‘Oh, No!’.

This cartoon captioned ‘Yes “alag hai”, they kill differently’ shows one woman hugging a man and saying, ‘Mera Abdul alag Hai’ and another woman walking with her man saying, ‘Mera Bhi’ (Translation: Mine too). One woman is shown stored in a fridge in pieces, and the other is shown as attacked by the man with a dagger and rock.

The user also caricatures another character, ‘Suparna’, who is depicted as a typical ‘Hindu Sherni’, who can see through ‘Abdul’ and his tricks and keeps debunking his reasons for putting down Hinduism and demands of her conversion.

Another caricature by cartoonist Ganesh Bhalerao is widely shared by multiple users on Instagram and Twitter with ‘Abdul’ references. The cartoon depicts a bearded-skullcapped man holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand and hiding a dagger in the other and a blindfolded girl running towards him, jumping over the tombstones of alleged ‘Love Jihad’ victims thinking ‘मेरा वाला ऐसा नहीं हैं!’ (Translation: Mine is not like that), while the signboard reads ‘लव जिहाद पार्क’ (Translation: Love Jihad Park).

Cartoonist Manoj Kureel shared a cartoon captioned ‘पतन की सीढ़ियां’ (Translation: Stairs of Downfall) with the hashtag #MeraAbdulAisaNahiHai which depicts a Hindu girl climbing stairs and running towards the stereotyped image of ‘Abdul’. The staircase is labelled as ‘Love Jihad’, and each stair is labelled: distance from culture, Bollywood, absence of family values, secularism, distance from religion, ignorance, etc, which are supposedly factors that influence Hindu girls to accept Muslims as partners.

Along with cartoon caricatures, the ‘Abdul’ trope is circulated widely in the form of memes and such forms of content.

The Justification Mechanism Normalizing Vigilantism

As it is apparent from these representations, a sub-narrative is being weaved into the larger narrative of the ‘Love Jihad’ conspiracy theory. The ‘Hindu Sherni’, who is rooted in traditions and conforming to family and societal values, understands and thwarts ‘Abdul’s’ tricks, in contrast to the naïve and infantilized liberal Hindu girl/woman who falls for ‘Abdul’s’ trap. This narrative seamlessly plugs and plays in a social setting dominated by notions of misogyny and patriarchy.

Such depictions of interfaith relationships involving a Muslim man reinforce the ‘Love Jihad’ narrative. For instance, this YouTube short video by Hindutva Status, with over 11,000 views, showing women who agree that ‘Sare Abdul Ek Jaise Hi Hote Hain’ (Translation: All Abduls are the same) is shared with glorifying background music, effects, and banner and this short video by Jha shorts with just 196 subscribers, but over 19,000 views fictionally represents a woman lecturing, with utter contempt, to a girl who has faith in her Muslim boyfriend, on the fate that awaits her. Girls/women who do not conform to the narrative and pursue such relationships or publicly express opinions defending it are conveniently portrayed as corrupt, brainwashed, and requiring help. They are accused of lacking the primary faculty of thinking, and their capability and agency to decide for themselves are consistently questioned and attacked. This is effectively leveraged as a moral justification for calling out their relationships in public, leaking their details (doxxing), threatening their friends and families, and the public calls for action to ‘save’ them from ‘Abduls’. All of it contributes as small pieces of the larger narrative, coming together to project ‘a painted devil’ and set the perfect environment for vigilantism, doxxing, suspicion, and hate of the Muslim other.

Jaisal E K is an intern with Alt News.

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