Love. The word carries so much worth for me. I am sure it does for you too. As a kid, as a woman, as a mother and as an Indian, the word love remained almost inextricably yet imperceptively linked to my existence. I loved my mother as a child, as a woman I fell in love with more than one man and married the one I loved the most, I love my son so much that I feel my heart would burst. Beyond these personal relationships, the feeling of love seeped in my work sphere too. I loved being a teacher, writer and mentor.
And, God knows I love my country. I do get goosebumps when I hear the national anthem though I hate to be so emotional.
But the word love does not come to me, anymore, in its purest and loveliest form. So much is going on in India in the name of love-the whole politics around it- that the word nowadays causes me anxiety, dismay and anger. When in love, one could give up everything, even one's life. But now with politicisation of love, it is not anymore a constructive emotion alone which inspired kindest of acts and most beautiful creative works worldwide. Associated with vengeance, love has become an instrument to impose one set of religious identity over others. Instead of acting as an antidote to hatred, love has now become the reason to kill.
This morning, news started pouring in on a Muslim man, Mohammed Afrazul, who has been hacked to death and then burnt for, allegedly, being in a relationship with a Hindu girl. The grotesque video of the heinous act is making its round in the social media. The media thinks that it could be a case of reprisal against inter-faith marriage.
Marriage customs have always been strictly defined in India. Religious norms, caste practices, economic logic are some of the cardinal factors determining who could marry whom. Even Bollywood picked up the theme to make innumerable movies, the most memorable being Mani Ratnam's Bombay which showed the challenges of interfaith marriage. Then there is Veer-Zara, Bobby, Julie, and Baji Rao Mastani.
While societies across the world have never been too welcoming about defying boundaries in a conjugal relationship, the violence and hatred that we witness in the commonest of people in India on matters of Hindu-Muslim marriage nowadays are unprecedented.
In a world torn by terrorism, Jihad has become the most hated and feared word. For the most unfortunate reason, the word Jihad has now been coupled with love to imply marriage with the intention of conversion. Allegedly Muslim right-wing organisations are working towards converting Hindu girls to Islam by encouraging Muslim boys to enter into a relationship with them. There has, however, been no evidence supporting the existence of love jihad in India though.
But the danger of half-baked ideas of cultural nationalism is it can very easily be twisted to create anxiety about the 'other'. Culture, in most cases, comes to be interpreted as the religious culture. Anyone who does not fall within the ambit of majoritarian religious identity, therefore, will find it difficult to find an equal place within the scope of the nation-state. The tensed dynamics of majoritarian politics has often contributed to violence against the minorities. The minorities appear as not only different but dangerous-a threat to the purity of the cultural identity of the majority community.
India's national fabric is very fragile at the moment. If there is so little trust between the nation's constituent communities, no amount of national anthem singing in public spaces will ensure harmony. Personally, I feel that as a nation we will do better if we rely more on the strength of love as a bonding factor rather than stress on cultural insignias as the mark of distinctiveness from the 'other'.
(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).