Being a die-hard Bollywood fan means drooling over love goals set by the romantic screen kings and queens , from the fabulous pairings of Raj Kapoor -Nargis , ,Shammi Kapoor -Asha Parekh, Rajesh Khanna- Sharmila Tagore, right down to Sharukh-Kajol or Ranbir -Deepika. But, given the current conversations around the UP government’s recent law to prevent what is labelled as ‘love jihad’ or forced conversions via marriage , it struck me that inter-faith marriage is something our mainstream Bollywood has quietly stayed away from while narrating love stories. And I think regional cinema has perhaps done the same – at least I can say so with conviction about romantic hits of Bengali cinema, being part of the audience in my youth. I wonder , was this deliberate , given the mass aversion to marrying out of one’s religion in a post partition India that spilled over to the post liberalization era? Or was it unconscious , an organic flow of the prejudices and cultural biases of the film makers themselves? I don’t have answers , but having been a youngster of the seventies and eighties, I do remember our mothers telling us gently that we could marry who we wanted to as long as it was someone from our religion.
Foreign brides and grooms, chosen by some of us while at college abroad, were also welcomed into the family, albeit with a lot of exasperated murmurings of some of the elderly relatives. But an Indian Hindu and Indian Muslim marriage was sort of taboo. Of course there were exceptions among celebrities that we read about : Sharmila Tagore-Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Sharukh Khan -Gauri, Amjad Khan-Subhalakshmi, Aruna – Asaf Ali , to name a few. But these were celebrity couples- artistes, music maestros, intellectuals, not ordinary people like us, so said our mothers.
But in spite of restrictions, tears, anger of mothers and fathers, several young couples of non celebrity, ordinary families chose to marry out of their religion. Among them were Hindu brides and Muslim grooms who braved family opposition and got married just for love. Reprisals were many, from disinheritance to social boycott. Often parents reconciled to these couples after a few years, sometimes after the birth of a grandchild. Often they sighed their acceptance with the view that after all the girl and the boy loved each other and it was their happiness that mattered.
Sometimes they continued to nurture a sense of injury, even a lifetime of disappointment. But what never happened till now ,is the state’s interference in an individual’s choice of her life partner. Very disturbing in a country where the constitution pledges to protect the fundamental right of a citizen to several personal freedoms, including the freedom to practise a religion of her choice.
So why is the state intruding into the space of individual choice about marriage? Is it because it has the tacit mandate of the majority that has elected the government to power ? Is it because Hindu families are nervous about their daughters, with greater access to education and jobs as well as a greater sense of empowerment, eloping with Muslim lovers to marry, convert and tarnish the family name in society? Is it true that mass culture ,often steered by popular cinema, has correctly and cleverly assessed the pulse of the majority and avoided love stories about inter-faith marriage altogether? Perhaps the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’. But then a country that is a democracy by definition, is equally responsible for protecting the individual right of the majority which voted the government to power and the minority which made a different electoral choice perhaps.
What’s more, a country that professes gender equality cannot afford to infantilize its women citizens, by depriving them of their life choices in the name of state protection . I am not a legal expert , but as a literate citizen of modern India, I know that I can appeal to our judiciary for any of the crimes that the ‘love-jihad’ law enumerates – forced conversion, fraud, deceit and more, under existing sections of the Indian Penal Code. Till now, the law of our secular democracy has been protecting the men and women whose love transcended their religious faith and gave them the courage to marry in spite of family hurdles and social roadblocks. But alas ! Not anymore. Because suddenly love between two people of different religious beliefs is being equated with a religious war with victory assured for the mighty moral guardians among that state’s law makers! All I can say is that, today India has managed to stand that age old saying, all is fair in love and war on its head. Unfair ! Worse, unjust !
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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