Many liberal Indians have questioned opposition to inter-faith love relations and marriages, particularly Hindu girls marrying Muslim boys, amid a recent backlash against Indian jewellery brand Tanishq over an ad featuring one such couple.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a top Hindu organisation, recently claimed that “every year more than 20,000 non-Muslim girls fall victim to this conspiracy of 'Love Jihad', a derogatory reference to interfaith couples between a Muslim husband and a Hindu wife.
The group wanted the federal government to enact a law to ban “Love Jihad”.
Sputnik has spoken to several people who had inter-religious marriages in order to find out how easy or difficult it was for them to gain acceptance in their respective communities.
Royden D’Souza, a journalist from New Delhi who is now working for a television channel in Turkey, said he had his fears about inter-religious marriage, but that he and his wife were able to go ahead and tie the knot, as both were journalists and financially independent.
“I don't think it would have been as easy if this was not the case.”
“After our marriage, there was only initially difficulty in getting the acceptance of our families. This quickly changed when our daughter was born a year later. I think most of the initial hesitation on the part of our parents to accept our marriage was because they were afraid of what their neighbours, friends and extended family would say,” D’Souza, who married to a Muslim girl, told Sputnik.
Every marriage is an exercise in accommodation, adjustment and acceptance, mused D’Souza, adding that in their case, the additional area of acceptance was their Abrahamic beliefs, which provided room for understanding and acceptance.
D’Souza said opposition to inter-caste or inter-religious marriages was illogical, undemocratic and unscientific. He said people must be free to marry anyone they choose to so that the society at large could evolve and grow.
“The caste system is a scourge of Indian society and unfortunately today is responsible for most of our bigotry in India. The rest is owing to the fact that we no longer have separation of religion from state in the country. Faith is personal and private and should always be so. Society has no justification in encroaching or discriminating on the basis of an individual's caste or religious orientation and life choices, including marriage,” he pointed out.
For Syed Fakhrul Hasnain Naqvy, a Muslim by faith, the conservative religious mindset came in the way of his marriage to a Parsi girl he loved, way back in 1971.
“When I got married, there was opposition from my wife’s family, but not from my side. I went to the imam of a famous mosque in Delhi to solemnise the wedding. But he wanted the girl to be converted to Islam, which was not acceptable to me.”
“Then I went to Arya Samaj – a monotheistic Indian Hindu reform movement that promotes values and practices based on ancient Indian scriptures. There the priest wanted both of us to accept the Vedic religion. Finally, we got married in a court, all the way in Junagadh in Gujarat,” recounted Naqvy.
Naqvy said it took some time for his wife’s family to accept him. Though she was invited to attend some family functions alone, she refused to go on the grounds that she would go only when the family accepted her husband.
He, however, said that nobody from his family wanted her to convert to Islam. “I am not a religious person, but my wife follows her faith without any hindrance till now.”
Naqvy cited several examples of political stalwarts among the Hindu nationalist BJP, who had inter-religious marriages and have no issues in personal life.
He said inter-religious marriages should be encouraged because you develop understanding about other faiths and cultures.
Many Hindu nationalists object to the marriage of girls from their community to Muslim men, alleging that it led to conversion to Islam, earning it the name “Love Jihad”.
“If a girl and boy from different religions fall in love and decide to live together, there should not be any objection. In such cases, religion is not an issue, but a personal choice,” said Rajesh G. Pillai, Editor-in-Chief of Tatwamayi News, a regional online news channel in Kerala state.
“But in India, where religion plays a crucial role in every aspect of life, inter-religious marriages create disharmony in the society,” he added.
The controversy about ‘Love Jihad’ started in Kerala, where religious leaders alleged girls from their communities were trapped and married by Muslim boys and converted to join their community.
Pillai alleged that in Love Jihad, there was no “love”, only “jihad”. He said girls from non-Muslim communities were targeted and trapped and termed it “religious trafficking”.
“It is part of religious fanaticism and has nothing to do with personal intimacy or love and done deliberately,” added Pillai.
Earlier this year, a section of Christian community in Kerala in a statement alleged that young women from the community were being lured by "Love Jihad".
The federal government had clarified that the term “Love Jihad” had no legal definition.
“No such case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies,” junior Home Minister G. Kishan Reddy told the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's parliament on 4 February 2020.
Similarly, in October 2017, the Kerala High Court cautioned that every case of inter-religious marriage should not be portrayed on a religious canvas and create fissures in the communal harmony of the state.