Sunday, January 28, 2018

Jihad against love, actually

It is not just inter-faith marriages that are riddled with scrutiny from outsiders. Inter-caste marriages still meet with staunch opposition

On Saturday, members of a Hindu fringe group called Hindu Yuva Vahini beat up a Muslim youth and his two brothers, allegedly in the premises of the Baghpat court in Uttar Pradesh. Video footage shows the men dragging Kaleem outside the court, roughing him up even as police stand by in mute mode, and later rejoicing after packing off the Kaleem and his alleged girlfriend into a police jeep. The woman, who hails from Punjab, is reportedly a Hindu and had eloped with Kaleem, following which, her parents had filed a case of abduction. Hindu Yuva Vahini members have indulged in cases of moral policing in the past. They also take pride in their active roles against "love jihad" and saving the pride of Hindu girls who they say are "lured" into relationships for religious conversion. 

Filing an abduction case is often a classic strategy even if the woman is a major and it is evident that she has left of free will. A case of abduction is promptly registered. Once the couple is caught, the police often happily takes up the role of marriage counsellors - the man is probably roughed up and the woman shamed in the name of family's prestige. Such a scenario is commonplace all over India. The case of Hadiya, a young Hindu woman from Kerala who converted to Islam, made headlines for a better part of December last year. The idea of a 24-year-old being returned to her father's "custody" by a high court raised questions about patriarchal leaning even in the judiciary.

There are legal provisions for inter-faith marriage where in there is no religious conversion for either spouse. In spite of legal provisions, there are instances when either spouse converts to accept the other's religion before marriage. Whether this is under social pressure, like many argue it is, or by free choice, religious conversion shouldn't throw doubts on the intentions of either the bride and the groom, because the conversion also points to a conscious choice to remain together and that the couple puts personal preferences over religious obligations. Far-right groups cannot tolerate such choices. As soon as they get a whiff of an inter-faith affair, they take it upon themselves to separate the couple. 

According to a recent Times of India report, these fringe groups have a widespread network of informers and "depend on a large and intricate mesh of informers, from bus drivers to waiters, advocates, farmers and sometimes even labourers to alert them on inter-faith affairs." There is rampant hooliganism which makes for good visuals that are promptly picked up and repeatedly telecast by news these fringe groups engage in such activities just for the sake of footage and free publicity? As they say, any publicity is good publicity. But, at what expense? Which religion says that separating two people who have made up their mind to be together is an honourable act?

It is not just inter-faith marriages that are riddled with scrutiny from outsiders. Inter-caste marriages still meet with staunch opposition. Cases of honour killings abound. The 2016 Marathi film, Sairat, dealt with the issue and was a resounding hit. With the rise of love vigilantism more and more tales of love end up being ruthlessly silenced. An optimist would like to believe that there would never be anything that would go against the honourable principles of love. But, such a utopian world doesn't exist. Even in the most civilised of kingdoms, discrimination and persecution has existed when it came to accepting the exercise of free will of two human beings in being drawn to each other and consequently, deciding to stay together (The iron-walled institution of marriage, and the concept of 'forever and after' as they dreamily say, is a relatively recent innovation in the human species). 

History shows that the act of two individuals falling in love has always been the subject of opposition, criticism, wicked plots of subversion, revenge or murder. In fact, folklore and legend the world over thrives on such tragedies. Take the legend of Heer Ranjha popular in Punjab. Heer fell in love with Ranjha, and predictably, her family opposed. The couple continued to meet in secret. A river separated their villages. On the night they were to elope, Ranjha waited for Heer at the other end of a river. Heer didn't know how to swim and was to get across the river by floating with the support of an up-turned earthen pot. Heer's sister-in-law got to know about their plan and changed Heer's earthen pot with an unbaked one. That night, when Heer tried to cross the river, the unbaked pot began to give away. Clumps of mud dissolved in the river and Heer drowned. Ranjha waited at the other end, not aware of Heer's fate, and is believed to have died waiting. 

Is human race sadistic when it comes to love? When there is an opportunity to let love blossom, we turn away, resist and even obstruct the union. But, years later, we epitomise these same lovers made miserable by the same prejudiced mindsets that existed then, as they exist now. Stories of unrequited love abound. Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez has famously noted that it is not happiness, but unrequited love, that is the basis of all literature of the world. Honestly, I would just prefer happy couples than having grumpy writers plagued by unrequited love churning one soul-stirring tragedy after other. 

*This column was first published in The Goan Everyday