A state that dictates to their citizens whom to love and to choose as their companions for life must surely be one of the most vicious kinds. A state that establishes civil systems to ensure that citizens love “right” would, one would imagine, be beyond human. Yet, love, of a certain kind, is forbidden in India today, and openly declared so.
The narrative of “Love Jihad”, Islamophobic and against Hindu women’s sexuality at the same time, has been in currency since decades or centuries now. Hindutva, under Narendra Modi too, has not forgotten to unleash the malicious campaign. Following Uttar Pradesh’s recent ordinance curbing interfaith marriages, states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have also brought about similar legislations. Consequently as of today, as many as 23 cases have been filed in Madhya Pradesh alone, under the “Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020”, the retribution for which is up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Today, the Indian Cultural Forum is celebrating love that goes beyond the ideas of “right” and “wrong”, and lovers who refuse to yield. The couple featured here aren’t believers themselves, but were born into religions that, according to the state, must be prohibited from mingling. Take a look.
ICF Team: Firstly, tell us how you met, fell for each other and decided to marry.
We met through a common friend. I was studying for my Bachelor’s degree in Delhi at the time, and he was appearing for entrance exams for his Master’s degree. During this time, he spent several days at a stretch in Delhi, which meant we spent a lot of time together, got to know each other and liked the companionship that followed. We decided to marry much later, after almost 7 years of togetherness.
Even though neither of us are fans of the institution of marriage, we went ahead with the decision to make some practical things easier — from as simple as being able to rent a hotel room, to opening a joint bank account — for which otherwise there’d be several questions to face, several certificates to produce, because of the perceived contrast in our names. Getting married with the Special Marriage Act was also the only way to ensure equal legal rights for the both of us.
ICF Team: How was the response from your families? What pushed you to go ahead with the marriage despite opposition, if there was any?
I knew his family from the day I met him. They always welcomed me home, first as his friend and then as his partner. My family, on the other hand, were staunch supporters (including some activists) of the RSS. They went through all the expected shock, denial, bargaining, and anger, following which they cut me off. We decided to get married regardless, partly with the hope that my family would start coming to terms with our relationship following our wedding, which is often (unfortunately, sometimes even exclusively) seen as an indication of the relationship being “serious” and not frivolous or say, a “passing phase”. The hopes of reconciliation however soon came to an end, and for as long as four years, my parents did not communicate with me, and even refused to see me when I tried to go meet them.
ICF Team: Assuming that you both must have had varied cultural upbringing, how have both of you navigated these differences in your daily life? In a world where communitarian identities are held onto so dearly and rigidly, how easily have yours merged into each other?
Fortunately, we met each other as young adults (I was 19 and he was 21), and found a large part of our adulthood and worldview together. So, there was not much to negotiate between us. Anyway, our cultural differences stem not so much from our respective religious identities, but from the regional diversity in food and language. I learnt his language overtime and came to appreciate the regional cuisine (well, most of it!). Unfortunately, my family did not agree to meet or welcome him, and as a result, he did not have a way in which he could grasp or acquaint himself with my culture. Sometimes I consciously avoided speaking his language or learning to cook regional specific recipes, especially in family settings, because it often felt like an erasure of things I grew up with, exaggerated by social expectations of the woman to blend into the man’s family and culture.
ICF Team: Did the question of converting to either religion ever occur to you? Did the question come from family members?
No, both of us are atheists and our religions at birth do not feature in the way we configure our relationship. My family was worried I would convert, but his parents are also an interfaith couple, both non-practicing and therefore, for them, this was not a consideration at all.
ICF Team: There are questions being raised about how strong or efficient the Special Marriage Act (1954) is. Especially how the 30-day notice period before registration is often used by the families of couples to harass them. What is your take? Mind sharing your personal experience?
The thirty-days notice period is certainly a limitation of the Special Marriage Act, which has the potential of being exploited not just by the families opposed to the relationship, but also, as we have seen, fundamentalist groups like the Bajrang Dal. The removal of this would certainly be a welcome change. Despite this limitation however, the Special Marriage Act remains the most progressive marriage legislation for not just interfaith couples who do not wish to convert, but also for couples from the same faith who are opposed to their marriages being governed by religious personal laws, which inevitably, in varying proportions, have regressive, patriarchal elements.
We did not face any problems, because my parents resorted largely to silence and distancing themselves from the event. We were fortunate to also not have any third party interference.
ICF Team: Is there fear? In fighting for and being in “problematic” or forbidden love, in an increasingly intolerant, loveless country?
We have been less unfortunate than some of the other cases that one hears about on a regular basis. My parents only cut ties with me, and even though that brings its own grief and loss, it is nowhere comparable to incidents of physical attacks that are on the rise.
We fear, not so much for ourselves, but for people exercising the right to choose whom to love and marry in an increasingly hostile environment.
ICF Team: Finally, do you have anything to say to interfaith or inter-caste couples across the country, who’ve been put off by the new laws in UP and elsewhere?
We used to listen to a song written by Faiz from the film Anjuman. In Jagjit Kaur’s voice, this song gave us strength on many a gloomy day. One line in particular comes to mind:
“मैदाने–वफ़ा दरबार नहीं, याँ नामो–नसब की पूछ कहाँ
आशिक़ तो किसी का नाम नहीं, कुछ इश्क़ किसी की ज़ात नहीं”
Love is a revolutionary emotion because even if it does so spontaneously, sporadically, and sometimes even unknowingly, love threatens hierarchies — of caste, gender, religion — that reactionary forces have established for centuries. It threatens to make the world more democratised, more humanised. We just hope that people will love across faiths and castes, fearlessly, because as Faiz says in the same song,
“गर बाज़ी इश्क़ की बाज़ी है, जो चाहो लगा दो डर कैसा
गर जीत गए तो क्या कहना, हारे भी तो बाज़ी मात नहीं”