Religious codes differ. They also often contradict each other on various levels. But funnily enough, they all find unity in one value — marrying within the ‘community.’ Current interpretation of ‘community’ in the Indian context is not limited to those belonging to the same religion, but also brings under its ambit, caste and sect as well. In fact, according to a report on ‘Key findings about religion in India’ by Pew Research Centre, roughly two-thirds of the Hindu population advocated against interfaith marriages of women (67 per cent) and men (65 per cent). The Muslim community had an even stronger response, with 80 per cent and 76 per cent respondents against the idea of inter-religious marriages of women and men, respectively.
Interfaith marriages were the numero uno topic on Twitter, the small community of India’s irrelevant ‘opinion-makers,’ when the debate should’ve instead focused on how a woman was stripped of her agency to choose her partner.
Manmeet Kaur, who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man and took upon the name Zoya, was forcefully re-converted and then married off to a Sikh man against her will (as her gloomy pictures clearly suggest). Her 29-year-old husband Shahid, meanwhile, is in jail for alleged ‘forced conversion.’
Marriage is society’s single greatest tool to assert dominance while religion is used to exercise control over a personal choice — sex. Society wants nothing more than to dictate who we can and cannot touch. Any deviation from its rules while choosing our partner means ostracisation, violence and State persecution. This is especially true in the case of Muslim men in India, who are vehemently targeted by the Right-wing with the bogey of so-called ‘love jihad’, if they marry outside their ‘community.’
While elders in our houses are too brazen with their bigotry in promoting intra-caste and religious weddings, leading voices on social media aren’t far behind. Surprisingly, that has been the debate on opinion-makers’ favourite platform — Twitter.
Are interfaith marriages safe?
This isn’t the first time interfaith marriages have come into focus. Last year, jewellery brand Tanishq had to pull down an ad that showed a Hindu bride marrying into a family that belonged to a different faith. Many states have introduced anti-conversion laws to prevent what they deem as ‘forced conversion’ of women.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954, inherently makes it difficult for people from different faiths to marry, putting requirements such as a 30-day notice period during which anyone opposed to the marriage can raise his or her objection. The registration under it is now being used to profile and target interfaith couples.
This frequent persecution of interfaith couples is one reason why people online are batting for marrying within the community.
Basically here are the choices “educated Hindus” have given Muslims in India:
1. “I’ll only marry another Muslim”:
oh gosh what a bigot
2. “Muslim gets arrested under love jihad laws for marrying a non-Muslim”:
Aw thoughts & prayers #NotInMyName
Basically there’s no way out.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) June 30, 2021
But instead of denouncing such marriages to avoid persecution, a more meaningful way to fight the prevailing orthodoxy has been the India Love Project, which gives us glimpses of the untold stories of interfaith couples.
Twitter’s hot debate
The debate on the sanctity of interfaith marriages spurted out of two tweets. The first was by a Kashmiri Sikh author who sought to speak on behalf of his community, delving into the topic of who a Sikh woman is ‘allowed to marry’ in a tediously long thread. The other was of an ex-journalist expressly stating that she happily dated people of her faith – “a path that is NOT difficult to follow.”
While the first tweet is a case of yet another man telling women what they can or cannot do, the other falls more into the realm of ‘personal choice’, which the writer sought to thrust upon everyone. She does this by stating an Islamic diktat where anyone marrying a non-believer is deemed to be ‘clearly violating a divine command’. To her, all judgements are reserved for those going down the path of blasphemy.
A marriage receives religious or familial sanction only if it follows the rules laid down by the community or society in question. Inter-caste, interfaith and same-sex marriages find it difficult to attain such sanctions.
Same same! See, we are united in bigotry as well! 🤓
Also amazing how we as a society just do not get the concept of ‘none of your business’ !!! It’s freakin’ 2021 is this still a goddamn issue?!? Love is love! Deal with that! #stale pic.twitter.com/agPs8mTACB
— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) June 29, 2021
It’s all boomer talk
Despite the false appearance of a ‘discourse’ around it, we are preaching exactly what our elders say to us.
Our parents, grandparents and extended relatives often strongly advocate for intra-caste or, at least, intra-religion weddings by stressing how other religions ‘should be respected but not be married into. There is no doubt that the facade of so-called younger people ‘owning religious identity’ on social media was steeped in bigotry.
The averseness to marry outside one’s faith only broadens the deep dividing lines between religions. We must actively take part in not reducing our suitors to the faith they belong to.
A strong argument made against interfaith marriages said that they are difficult to sustain because when you are governed by completely different set of moral codes and values, it can often lead to conflict between the couple. Noted. But why must society and religion poke its nose in a fight between two individuals in a consenting relationship? Also, when people hold themselves back from pursuing someone just because of their religion, they are giving into its fundamentalism, which can further develop into objecting interfaith associations of even consenting adults. And that is a bigger worry. Fundamentalist values aren’t alien to any religious doctrine. We must expect educated people to view their religion with a scientific temperament and not espouse values that are incongruent to inclusivity.
One of the most important ways of societal assimilation and breaking down walls that segregate us on religious and sectarian lines would be to normalise marrying whoever you want to marry. Reducing someone to their religious identity is dehumanising.
Guardians of the social order who would rather these divisive lines are never blurred will stand in the way of such weddings. Therefore, defying your community’s diktat and marrying someone outside your caste or religion is a small but significant individual rebellion.
It’s baffling how people with an otherwise ‘progressive’ outlook fail to conceal their bigotry, Islamophobia and caste supremacy within their religion while asserting the need to marry within the faith because it is ‘commanded’ by their holy books.
Avoiding interfaith association out of fear is understandable given the current environment, but instead of annulling the idea altogether and drawing a bigger divisive line between religions, those of us who can, should celebrate such unions for being what they simply are: a proclamation of love.
Views are personal.
This article has been updated to reflect a correction.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)