A Toast To Interfaith Couples
“I know that if you look at this picture, you will not be able to tell who is Hindu and who is Muslim,” wrote Alisha, sharing a picture of her wedding. “I have offered Namaz in our Devghar room. Abhiraj has kept Rozas with me.”
Two years ago when I co-founded India Love Project on Instagram after a jewellery brand was forced to withdraw an advertisement that depicted Hindu-Muslim harmony, I got a front-row seat to this heartwarming world of interfaith, intercaste and LGBTQI+ love. In the advertisement, a Muslim family hosts a baby shower for their Hindu daughter-in-law. But it’s not a tradition in your house, the younger woman says, prompting her mother-in-law to reply: “Isn’t it a tradition for every home to keep daughters happy?” Hindu woman-Muslim man is the gold standard of the ‘love jihad’ trope though the government its very existence in Parliament as recently as 2020. But let’s not go there, this is a piece about celebrating diversity. Those I’m quoting here by first names have shared their stories on ILP.
“My Hindu father-in-law smilingly demanded his ‘Eidi’ in the later years. My Muslim relatives tied rakhi…My in-laws would be the first to call after iftar on the night before Eid to wish,” Mudar shared.
This Eid-Diwali way of life of interfaith couples is one of the last vestiges of a country that once tolerated, however reluctantly, romantic love between Hindus and Muslims. It was this world of consensual interfaith relationships that editor Suresh Chavhanke attacked when he shared an image of an interfaith wedding reception card and insidiously connected it to a recent heinous crime against an intimate partner with the hashtag #LoveJihad_ActOfTerrorism.
Divya and Imran, the names on the card Chavhanke shared, are among only of Indians who marry across religions. There is no data for how many receive parental support, though a said most Indians oppose interfaith marriages and stopping them was “high priority”.
Where do these polarised communities meet in a country where most prefer to hang out in their own caste, religion and socio-economic ghettos? The answer: everywhere. In school, at a coaching centre, as lab partners or over the dissection table in medical college, as colleagues, or strangers who swiped right. They are introduced by common friends, may sign up for the same trek or even meet by chance at a bar or restaurant.
It is only after they fall in love that they are forced to confront the weight of their respective religions. Many of these romances don’t make it to the registrar’s office, lingering in memory only as shadows of lost love. All the more reason to cheer those who make it, especially in these divided times.
Food often works as a key binding ingredient among the families of interfaith couples. “Her dad has adapted my mother’s shami kebab recipe to everything from chicken to fish; and my mom swears by the bhoot jolokia achaar made in her maternal home. Mostly it’s them who deserve the maddest amount of respect and applause. We chose each other, but our parents chose a better unconditional way, despite the polarised climate in the country,” wrote Mustafa.
It’s not easy to sustain an interfaith relationship in an age where laws criminalise your union and your Special Marriage Act application can be circulated on social media. “My mother sent me a WhatsApp forward which had PDF documents of around 120 SMA applications (yes, ours too) with a para on how ‘love jihad’ was back in Kerala, and naive sisters were being trapped by Muslim men,” Athira wrote. “It urged a call to action to visit the homes of the girls and inform their parents that their daughters would be taken to Syria for the flesh trade and that they needed to stop the marriage immediately.” Though the couple were already married, the wedding reception Chavhanke tweeted about was promptly called off.
And still, most interfaith couples brave all this and more, trying to live out their love stories privately and peacefully rather than wearing their different faiths as a “badge of honour” as one ILP participant put it, knowing the constitution backs their right to a partner of their choice. So what if no one else is listening to the Delhi High Court when it : 'Questions of faith have no bearing on individual’s freedom to choose a life partner.’ They live this reality.
Children of these couples learn early that all religions are same and are often citizens of the world. Parag said his sons don’t identify as Muslim or Hindu. “Ask them what they follow, the answer will be ‘my two feet’,” he wrote. “The few things that can be classified as religion in our home are music, food, art, and FC Barcelona.” Rama put it differently: “Here’s to our child’s religion—Calvinism (with a liberal dose of Hobbes) as he calls it!”
Sofiya gets the final word on this subject: “I am still a Muslim, he is still a Hindu, and it works, no matter what anybody says.”
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.