While state governments are introducing laws to control the so-called practice of ‘love jihad’, India Love Project is curating love stories that transcend the boundaries of religious and societal norms
Zamrooda Khanday, a Kashmiri Muslim, and Rajnish Girdhar, a Punjabi Hindu, had to face a year-long battle to convince their parents for their marriage. The older generation was not just being obtuse or prejudiced. Rajnish’s parents migrated with their families from Faisalabad when they were teenagers during Partition, so it brought back memories of grief, while for Zamrooda’s side of family marrying a non-Muslim, non- Kashmiri was a big issue. Ultimately, love won and they will soon be completing 20 years of married life.
Like Khanday and Girdhar, there are umpteen number of inter-community, inter-faith marriages that faced resistance from society and right-wing political ideology. Still, they broke the norms of endogamy and set examples of love that broke boundaries. It seems hard to believe that in a country like India that boasts continental proportions and diversity, such unions are still a big deal.
India Love project (ILP) founded by senior journalists Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar and Niloufer Venkatraman is now collecting these stories and sharing them through Instagram and Facebook. Their page has garnered more 18,000 likes and featured stories of writer Krishan Chander and Salma Siddiqui, actor Kalki Koechlin and Guy Hershberg to gay couple Bishan Samaddar and Sandip Roy.
ILP started after Tanishq, a jewellery brand, owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, on 13 October pulled out one of its advertisements. The advertisement with the Sanskrit title “Ekatvam” meaning unity — was made to celebrate interfaith marriages, but faced a lot of fire from the Hindu right-wing.
“The idea to start such a project came a year ago, when rumblings around ‘love jihad’ nonsense started. That time, we wanted to start a proper website with detailed narratives from the people, we also wanted to start an online community for the people who need assistance but couldn’t do so as we did not have funding. Now when the Tanishq ad controversy happened. We decided that this is the time, we should do it,” says Halarnkar.
Recently, some BJP-ruled states like UP, MP have focused efforts to enact laws on “love jihad” — a vaguely defined term by Hindu right-wing referring to unions in which a Muslim boy ‘tricks’ a Hindu girl by hiding his identity with the sole aim of converting her. This flared off a debate over the choice of a woman to marry a partner of her choice.
A decision of the Allahabad High Court showed the way. It overturned a previous single-judge bench judgement that religious conversions only for the sake of marriage are unacceptable. The HC said that this decision was “bad in law” because it does not take into account the right to life and personal liberty of mature adults.
In the light of such a debate, ILP is getting popularised with an increasing number of couples sharing their unique love stories.
One such couple is Vinaya Kurtkoti and Tony Kurian, who got married during the lockdown. Vinaya was doubtful of her family’s acceptance of her marriage with a Syrian Christian from Kerala with disability. “I wasn’t sure how my upper-caste right-wing family would react to me choosing a Syrian Christian from Kerala with a disability who is three years younger to me and identifies as an atheist and communist who I met via Tinder,” wrote Vinaya.
ILP is getting many responses from readers and from couples who want to share their stories. Surprisingly, ILP has not seen many trolls, according to Halarnkar. “Trolls don’t make sense, so we don’t actually engage with them. And among hundreds of responses that we have got, trolls have been very few, 7-8.”
Inter-faith, inter-community marriages are part of Indian society. Indian history is replete with such examples, of marriages and also resistance from customs and social norms. “The narrative has spread that these marriages are very limited in India. So, stories of inter-religious marriages need to be shared,” he added.
(Cover: Actor Kalki Koechlin with her partner Guy Hershberg and their child PHOTOS: India Love Project)