Right wing groups in the Indian state of Gujarat have urged residents of Godhra - the epicentre of the 2002 Gujarat riots - to ban the entry of Muslim men to events associated with a Hindu festival, purportedly to keep their women safe. The festival of Navratri sees a number of people taking part in the traditional garba dance. To ensure Muslim men do not gain entry to these dance venues, residents have been asked to organise the dance called sheri garba, which allows participants to dance in a small circle where most people know each other.
"Last year, we tried to keep out Muslims from venues of large, professional Garba events to prevent love jihad. But we had little control over the entrants since such events are mostly for business purpose. Anyone can enter after purchasing a ticket," Ashish Bhatt, head of the cultural cell of the Panchmahals district unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quoted as saying by the Indian Express. "Love jihad" is a term used by the right wing to refer to alleged instances of Muslim men professing love and luring young Hindu women into marriage, in order to convert them to Islam. He added: "To ensure safety of our mothers, sisters and daughters, we have encouraged residents to organise traditional garba so that the purity of the event is maintained."
Bhatt, is also a core member of the Sheri Garba Samvardhan Samiti that was formed in 2014 and has managed to organise 39 Sheri Garba events across Godhra this year. "Our organisation succeeded in reviving six sheri garba events last year. But this year, the effort has been to encourage organisers to go back to the traditional form on a much larger scale," Bhatt said. "Garba is about idol worship and Muslims are against idol worship, so their visit to Garba events adversely affects their own religion. We want that the place where our mothers, sisters, and daughters offer prayers should not have visitors from other religion. Navratri is not a fashion parade but shakti, bhakti and upasana of goddess Durga. We want to go back to our roots and organise it that way," he said.
A right wing group has called for a ban on the entry of Muslim men at Navratri events, in Gujarat's Mandvi town as well. "We have issued a diktat barring the entry of Muslims at Garba events in Mandvi," president of Hindu Yuva Sangthan, Raghuvirsinh Jadeja told the Press Trust of India. Jadeja, who is also chief of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of the Mandvi tehsil unit continued: "Incidents of love jihad where Muslim boys lure and marry our Hindu girls happen at Garba. Our only aim is to protect our girls."
Those attending the festival will have to apply "tilak" (holy powder or paste that identifies a person as a Hindu) on his forehead and allow "gaumutra" (cow-urine) to be sprayed on them, failing which they will not be allowed inside, Jadeja said. He added that people from his organisation would be patrolling the venues in order to ensure compliance.