Who gave these people the right to object or interfere in what is purely a personal matter? Photograph:( Others )
I was recently asked if I would be able to participate and provide encouragement in an event, celebrating interfaith and intercaste marriages - being undertaken by an NGO called DHANAK. Latter name means “rainbow” in Urdu/Hindi, and champions the cause of “Right to Choice” of the partner in matters of marriage and relationships, and raises its voice against “Honour Killing” crimes in India.
Over the years DHANAK has touched the lives of over 700 couples, providing them shelter from retributive parents and society, arranged marriages for eloping adults, and counseling both the couples and parents. The counselors explain that it is easy to love, but what is more important is, to understand that marriage is not a trifling matter, it is a lifelong commitment, along with a difficult path, given the social pressures by many communities.
The call to me came from Shailaja Rao all the way from the USA – she, being a Hindu, is married to Mohammad Zubair, a Muslim. Why me, I wondered and then it dawned – it was consequent to an article on inter-faith marriage that I wrote for WION some weeks back. The catalyst for that article was the ghastly incident in Ghaziabad where Hindutva goons led by a local politician had the audacity to interfere - fortunately with no luck - in the marriage of a prominent Hindu businessman’s daughter to a Muslim boy.
This incident made me sit up and reflect because my own daughter had earlier married a Muslim. I would not have brooked any interference.
Who gave these people the right to object or interfere in what is purely a personal matter. Victor Hugo once said, “your liberty extends only till where my nose begins”, but here in India anybody and everybody seems to make it their business to render advice on so personal a matter and even suggest to find a suitable boy from one’s own flock. But looking around me I realise this is not so simple a matter – the fires of obscurantism and religious intolerance are only growing each year, despite the seeming emancipation of society!
The event termed as SAHAS (Strengthening Alliances for Humanity and Secularism – Convener, Asif Iqbal) is staged each year on 14 February, in coincidence with the universal day of love. Held very aptly at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, on Deen Dyal Upadhyay Road, in New Delhi – both towering and secular personalities. The building itself was a bit rundown and needed a shot in the arm (like most institutions linked to the Mahatma), but the dingy atmosphere was more than overcome by the three hundred energetic young people from across India, who had congregated there.
This year it coincided with Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and Mahashivratri – could not have been a more fitting occasion to celebrate the resilience of love in the face of hate and intolerance, when people of interfaith marriages, particularly Hindu – Muslim couples face discrimination on a daily basis, in housing, in jobs, and in travel. It is a sad reflection of Indian society where tolerance has always been its greatest strength. Little do we realise, Victorian values and family restrictions are not the flavours for the younger generation, more used to experimentation and freedom of thought.
Ask any parent and he will swear that they have brought up their children with correct moral and social values – how can they then deny their children the freedom to choose when they have become adults.
The subject on everyone's mind was “Love Jihad”, the nemesis of today’s free-thinking society. The very phrase is oxymoronic, and people targeting interfaith marriages do not know the first thing about Jihad.
It may come as a surprise to most that this word is mentioned only once in the Holy Quran, testifying to its insignificance in Muslim thought. Yet, so much hatred has been spread because of it, and blood of innocents shed. Good and Evil, like Ying & Yang, like Dharma and Adharma, are attributes that reside inside humans – the Quran enjoins people to root out that evil and become good beings, striving in God’s cause. The meaning has been twisted for political and communal reasons to imply forcible conversion of faith, more specifically converting members of other religions to Islam.
What have been the catalysts for increasing number of successful interfaith & intercaste marriages?
Social mobility, better economic prospects, and desire to spurn the pernicious evils of dowry and corruption are some issues that bother the young generation. The joint family system is eroding fast and with young men and women migrating to cities, it is but natural that they would interact with members of other communities, and social status. But the biggest factor has been the increasing number of educated women in today’s society; women who no longer wish to be shackled under the archaic patriarchal system – they choose to make their own choices with regards their bodies and to marriage.
This is not to the liking of the established order and is the root cause of conflict between the older and younger generations. In some communities in northern India, girls find boys of their own community to be mentally and educationally incompatible and naturally choose from outside the group.
Current backlash, particularly, where it involves a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, is also due to vested social reasons and dilution of the religious economy (priests stand to lose the most in terms of power and influence) and the political economy that thrives through divisions in society. These power centres now feel threatened by interfaith marriages which are chipping away at their stranglehold. Honour killings are orchestrated by the patriarchal system threatened by the fact that the younger generation dares to choose on its own, and in defiance of established social practices, where arranged marriages were the norm.
In most cases narrated by the congregation, it was not the parents (who generally were won over with the passage of time) of the girl that felt dishonoured, but relatives and village panchayats, acting like kangaroo courts and ordering honour killings to protect outdated social structures. Fiery speeches by eminent social activists like Jagmati Sangwan of Sonepat, who have risked life and limb to support abandoned/cowering couples, and Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, of Rajasthan, who has taken on the powerful Muslim Ulema, made the event memorable.
Be that as it may, the Constitution of India has overarching provisions that recognise the right of consenting adults, irrespective of religion, orientation or caste, to marry as they will, notwithstanding any objections of society, or parents, or relatives of the couple. Unfortunately, while the law is unambiguous and protection of fundamental rights has been assured by the highest court in the land, this means little in practice, to the marauding Hindutva hordes. Sadly, these lumpen elements are egged on by the very people – political leaders – charged with ensuring compliance with the law, maintaining communal harmony, and protecting the lives of its citizens.
One thing is certain – interfaith and intercaste marriages are an idea whose time has come and no amount of “love jihad”, or attacks by inimical groups, can stop the tide. Indeed these mixed marriages may be the answer to inter-communal conflicts, and the “manuvadi” system of segregation. Social and caste boundaries are blurring with the upward economic mobility of minorities/lower castes, and greater involvement of women in daily life.
As far back as 1950, framers of our Constitution realised that nature of society would change one day, and had envisioned the Civil Marriage Act, which resulted in the present Special Marriage Act. This latter has major lacunae, and needs to be completely re-written – instead of providing protection to interfaith marriages, it paints a target on young couples and their parents – their names and addresses are advertised to the world, allowing whosoever wishes, to interfere. This is what happened in the unfortunate case of Ankit Saxena of Delhi. What logic is there in asking if anyone has an objection to the marriage, especially when the parents of the boy and girl have none.
Many horrific tales were narrated that day, of beatings, of confinement, and even murder by bloodthirsty goons in the presence of family members and parents. But there was an equal number of tales of courage, and of genuine love and acceptance by parents and in-laws. This gives great comfort and is a morale booster to NGOs like DHANAK, and movements like SAHAS. There were many couples whose parents had refused to accept the marriage initially, but eventually came around when they realised determination of the children and that would needlessly miss out on some great times with them and their grandchildren.
Society has to be sensitive, and realise that “love is blind” and knows no boundaries.
As a poet rightly said, “Jab ishq ka junoon hadh se badh jaye, haste haste aashiq suli chadh jaye, khoob laga lo pehre aur bedhi; yehi Ishq ki marzi hai, yehi Rab ki marzi hai”!
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)