A meeting of National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Rekha Sharma with Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Tuesday is being widely criticised as, according to the commission, she discussed the "rise in love jihad cases" and women's safety in the state.
Ms Sharma told the governor that there was a rise in cases of "love jihad" in Maharashtra and highlighted the distinction between consensual inter-faith marriages and "love jihad", stating that the latter required attention, the commission said, reported news agency PTI reported.
"Love jihad" is the term used by right-wing groups to target relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is an elaborate ruse to forcibly convert the women.
The women's body also tweeted a photo of Tuesday's meeting, showing Ms Sharma sitting with Mr Koshyari.
"Our Chairperson @sharmarekha met with Bhagat Singh Koshyari, His Excellency, Governor of Maharashtra and discussed issues related to #womensafety in the state including defunct One Stop Centres, molestation and rape of women patients at #COVID centres and rise in love jihad cases," the NCW tweeted.
Our Chairperson @sharmarekha met with Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, His Excellency, Governor of Maharashtra & discussed issues related to #womensafety in the state including defunct One Stop Centres, molestation & rape of women patients at #COVID centres & rise in love jihad cases pic.twitter.com/JBiFT477IU— NCW (@NCWIndia) October 20, 2020
In no time, the NCW and its chief were widely slammed on social media.
"Would the NCW and its chairperson kindly clarify what is meant by 'love jihad'? Are you using it with the same meaning which some extremist groups are doing? If so, are you endorsing their brand of vigilantism?" a Twitter user wrote, replying to the commission's tweet.
Would the NCW & its Chairperson kindly clarify what is meant by 'love jihad'? Are you using it with the same meaning which some extremist groups are doing? If so, are you endorsing their brand of vigilantism?— Debiprasad Mishra (@DebiprasaMishra) October 20, 2020
Another user question if one can "trust @NCWIndia to take up cases where women are assaulted and even killed for inter-faith marriages".
"This is outrageous, there's growing extremism and intolerance along with state indifference to crimes against women and minorities. Is it really constitutional to use term 'love jihad' to target a religion?" reads another response to the NCW's tweet.
This is outrageous, there's growing extremism & intolerance along with state indifference to crimes against women & minorities. Is it really constitutional to use term 'love jihad' to target a religion ?— Pallavi (@pallavitura) October 20, 2020
In February, the government told parliament that the term "jove jihad" is not defined under existing laws and no case has been reported by any central agency -- officially distancing itself from term used by right wing groups in several cases of inter-faith marriages.
A section of social media users also shared controversial tweets, put out allegedly by Ms Sharma, several years ago. Her tweets are inaccessible now as Ms Sharma has changed her profile settings.
"My stand on this is that I have complained to Twitter as there was suspicious activity happening on my account and its under investigation... Won't like to reply on trolls," Ms Sharma said today.
#SackRekhaSharma became one of the trending hashtags on Twitter with many calling for her removal from the top post.
"Having installed a deeply misogynist, bigoted and downright sleazy NCW chief, the Modi Government clearly doesn't care two hoots about women's rights," well-known lawyer Karuna Nundy tweeted.
The women's panel's raising of "love jihad" comes in the backdrop of the recent row over a Tanishq advertisement. The jewellery brand had to withdraw the ad last week amid allegations of promoting "love jihad" and intense trolling and boycott calls on social media.