How is it possible to envision a harmonious society if people from the two communities do not get into romantic relationships or get married?
People like Pehlu Khan, Talim Hussain, Rakbar Khan and Ahmed Khan have been murdered by cow vigilantes who have built up quite a track record recently in persecuting innocent Muslim citizens over allegations of beef-eating and cow smuggling. Islamophobia among cow vigilantes is on the rise.
India was the largest exporter of beef in the global market a few years ago. Now, even buffalo meat export has faced its own fair share of troubles.
Was there any reason for the beef ban in most of the states in India? Many believe that the real reason was political and not religious. In a liberal democracy, the choice of one’s food and clothes is entirely personal and subjective. Those who consider cows holy will not consume beef, while those who don’t can continue to eat it. This is the most logical solution.
Just because there might be a larger number of vegetarians doesn’t mean meat and fish have to be removed from the market or vice versa. Why cannot those people who wish to eat beef be allowed to do so even if they are lesser in number? In a democracy, it is not just the interests of the majority but the minority that have to be taken into account as well.
Even as the beef business has taken a hit, cow urine is suddenly in demand, and is more expensive than cow milk. It shouldn’t surprise us, superstitions have always done good business. After the ban on cattle slaughter, farmers can no longer hope for that extra cash by selling their old cows under dire financial situations. A large number of cows are being abandoned instead.
Just like Rakbar, it was the same state of Rajasthan where a Right-wing Hindu zealot had hacked and burned to death Afrazul, a Bengali labourer from West Bengal. What was Afrazul’s crime? That Muslim men like him were wooing Hindu women, coaxing them into marriage and then forcefully converting them to Islam. It is perfectly plausible that there are Muslim men who have chosen this as a new form of Jihad, but I cannot honestly believe that this is the aim with which most Muslim men get into relationships. Hindus and Muslims cohabit, study, work and socialise together. It would be highly unnatural if they aren’t attracted to each other at all.
Last week, a Muslim youth from Ghaziabad had gone to the court with his Hindu girlfriend to get married. When news spread, a group of Hindus beat the man up in the court premises. It’s as if Hindus and Muslims have decided to disallow inter-faith marriages. Forget marriage, even a simple romantic relationship is threatened with bloodshed and violence. Some time back a Rajasthani Dalit youth named Kshetram Bheem was beaten to death by Muslims for falling in love with a Muslim girl, just like Ankit Saxena in Delhi was murdered by his Muslim lover’s relatives.
How is it possible to envision a society based on security, peace, harmony and happiness if people from the two communities do not get into romantic relationships or do not get married? Hate is not a solution to any problem. Ultimately, the only thing that works is love. But religious fundamentalists do not consider people as human beings, they consider them only as Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Jew. Of course, all these are issues primarily plaguing the lower and middle classes. The rich and famous like Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Salim Khan, Sunil Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Kishore Kumar were not persecuted when they married women of other faiths. But it would be erroneous to conclude that it is the middle classes and the underprivileged who are uneducated and bigoted while the upper classes are all educated and secular.
In India, inter-community marriages are not common. In other civilised countries, the percentage of such marriages has gone up considerably in recent times. Catholics marry Jews, Jews marry Protestants, Mormons marry Episcopalians and atheists marry Jehovah’s Witnesses. None of them usually face any difficulty when they marry someone from another religious belief – the problem arises only when a Hindu and a Muslim marry. Either both communities or at least one of them explode in anger. If a Hindu marries into an affluent Muslim family then the force of opposition is a little less intense, just like the marriage between an influential Dalit and a destitute Brahmin can successfully fly under the radar.
The problem with Islam is that most Muslims do not want a partner from another religion to continue practising their original religion anymore – they insist on conversion. Consequently, people think twice before they marry a Muslim. Muslim men who do not insist on their partners’ conversion to Islam manage to sustain long and healthy relationships. Muslims must learn to be more open-minded, as must Hindus. Neither the tag of ‘love Jihad’ nor a missionary mode of increasing population can be good tags for a Muslim to bear in India. The more Hindus and Muslims fall in love and marry, the more religious identities become spurious, frail and fluid, the more peaceful society will become.
The harsh truth is that Hindus and Muslims must cohabit in India and there is no other way than that. Peaceful coexistence demands mutual respect. Indian Muslims are not outsiders; it’s only their religion that owes its origins to outsiders. And yet the Hindu Right-wing treats Indian Muslims as interlopers. Conservative Muslims, too, consider Muslims from elsewhere to be closer to them than Hindus. Sadly, the number of fundamentalists on both sides is steadily on the rise. A new and invisible Partition is taking shape in India now.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.