Have you watched Bigg Boss this season? If you have, you would have noticed there were three engaging twosomes on the show. One broke with the elimination of Pavitra Punia earlier this week. That leaves 45-year old Eijaz Khan, once television’s biggest star, alone and heart-broken, even though he’s made it to the finals. Young Aly Ghoni who had joined the show to help his friend Jasmin Bhasin is also a hot contender. And then there’s Rubina Dilaik and Abhinav Shukla, who have just confessed their marriage is on a blink.
The first two are what we call inter-faith couples– two people brought together by love, not shared faith. This is not new. Nor unusual. Such relationships have been around for years. No one ever ascribed motives to why these people fell in love or married. No one even noticed they were from different faiths. Take Kishore Kumar and Madhubala or Sharmila Tagore and Tiger Pataudi or Hrithik and Suzanne Khan. We read about their love, their relationship; not their religion.
But now, all of a sudden, comes love jihad. Love jihad? BJP’s lexicon describes it as inter-faith love. And several BJP-ruled states are scrambling to formulate laws to make it illegal and punishable by up to ten years in prison. Why? Because the BJP argues this is not love. It is a devious means to convert vulnerable Hindu girls.
Preposterous as the idea may sound in a country where four out of five are Hindu, it stems from the fear—equally preposterous—that other religions, especially Islam, is gaining in numbers while Hindus are not. There’s no evidence to support this, apart from the naïve assumption that Muslims have more children because they have more wives and don’t practise birth control. As for conversions, that will end when upper caste Hindus start treating others as equals. As long as social iniquity exists, the weak will migrate towards any faith that gives them dignity. Dr Ambedkar led his followers to Buddhism.
This is not a new problem. Tradition demands couples must come from the same faith, the same caste, and belong to the same community—and their horoscopes must match. Marriages must be ordained by families, and agreed to by the community at large. Love will follow. This is not about religion. It comes from the quest for brute power and authority by the elders who rule families and communities. But young people today are refusing to listen. They want to choose their own partners. They want to fall in love and then marry.
As a consequence, we see more inter-faith marriages, more inter-caste couples today. Young people are giving precedence to choice over religion and caste. This means you can find a Tamil Brahmin married to a Kashmiri Muslim or a Syrian Christian from Kerala married to a Sindhi who follows the Sikh faith. India is changing. People of different faiths now congregate wherever they want. Many non-Sikh families make an annual visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Others go to Ajmer Sharif though they are not Muslims. Everyone goes to Shirdi. On New Year’s eve in Kolkata, people of all faiths attend service in St Paul’s Cathedral. This is what’s bothering the BJP. They fear losing control over their flock.
But this is what makes India, India. Its plurality. Just when you think you know India and can predict it, it surprises you. This is also the power of Hinduism. That it allows you to interpret your faith in whatever way you want. There is no book, no sacred text. Only some wonderful stories that teach you different life lessons. Every guru has his own interpretation. There are three hundred Ramayanas to take your pick from. In my part of the country, Ravana is not even a villain.
Inter-faith, inter-caste, inter-community marriages have always faced opposition. You hear of honour killings. You read about crimes against women who brave their own choice of life partners. There are still places where entire families are ostracised when their young marry outsiders. There are khaps in northern India who often deal out brutal punishment to those who stray from tradition. If you have watched Sairat, you will know how young couples are often chased down and killed, at times by their own families.
Yet, despite this, India survives because it celebrates its differences. That’s why our soldiers who defend the borders come from all parts of India, pray to different gods, belong to all castes, and yet fight together to preserve the integrity of India.
Else, how do you hold together a nation with 122 languages and 1599 dialects? We eat differently. We worship different gods. We celebrate differently. We have 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, all rigidly hierarchical. And outside thus caste system remains the untouchables, the tribals who we black out. Read the great British-born anthropologist Verrier Elwin if you want to know more about our tribes. He was a Christian missionary who came to India to convert the natives, met Gandhi, worked among the tribals, and converted to Hinduism.
If India opens its heart, it can win over everyone. But first, it must learn to reject hate and respect the courage of those who dare to love. For they are the ones who will build tomorrow’s India, not the blind bhakts who feed off rage.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.