(Names changed to protect identities)
Taking the leap of love to cross religious boundaries
Dina was like every other nervous bride-to-be. After years of a will-they-won’t-they romance, the dream seemed within reach. But with the joy was mixed with questions – will she fit in the new culture? Will the family truly accept her? Will her husband-to-be expect her to change? She brushed these aside thinking they were just apprehensions of an anxious mind. After all, Akshey had never asked her to be any different from who she is. Their religious and cultural differences were what brought them together – there were no disagreements, only dissimilarities.
Two years later, she was pregnant with her first child. “His parents wanted to name the baby. And I was fine with that. All I said was that my next child will have my family’s name. After all, we are a modern couple – why should only his religion be acknowledged in our children’s identities?” That was the opening of Pandora’s box for her. “Suddenly everything changed. My in-laws, who all this while had been accepting, thought I was here to question their family name, traditions, and values. But what hurt the most was Akshey’s silence.” The silence turned to outright support for his parents. Two years after the birth of their first-born, the couple separated. Dina does not consider all roads closed, she just feels that the other side could have also taken a few turns to not leave her standing alone.
Related reading: Does love conquer all – Marriage across religions
Is it all just one way?
Muslim women in India are now becoming more open to look for love outside the boundaries of faith. Inter-faith love stories are not uncommon. However, given the current rhetoric, it seems the wind only blows one way. “It’s just numbers. We are bound to meet more non-Muslim boys, especially if brought up in mixed urban cities. And there is more to connect us over and beyond religious differences.” Sumaiyya is in her 3rd year at Delhi University, and says religion has never been an impediment to her dating life. “No one cares, really. I’ve dated mostly non-Muslims, including my last relationship which was with an Assamese guy. If anything, I am considered more exotic in some ways!”
Is this the privilege of an urban educated mind? India has seen plenty of cases of couples killed for being in love outside their caste or religion. “I don’t think the problem lies with religion. It’s patriarchy. A woman married outside is essentially another womb corrupted. Now those children will belong to the father’s lineage,” says Diksha, a student of Sociology. “Just consider my family – a conservative middle class Hindu family. One that does not allow me to go on dates with even boys of my own faith. But my brother brought his Muslim girlfriend home and guess what? My dad was actually okay with it – mum almost fainted – but if I had brought a Muslim guy home, we’d have guns blazing!”
Related reading: He says he will only marry her if she converts to Islam
It’s not religion, it’s patriarchy
The divisions of Indian society do not speak isolated languages. They may, in fact, have more in common than they realise. Feminists call this intersectionality. Patriarchy subsumes many laws within to dictate what we believe is right or wrong in society. Consider the ‘Love Jihad’ debate. Why is it that the only point to raise is how Muslim men are marrying Hindu girls? What about if the girl is Muslim and the boy Hindu? Does it become more acceptable? Then really the issue is not the religion, rather gender and its inherent power play.
Saba thought she was in love with an intelligent, freethinking man. “He had this idealistic vision of the world, which was in stark contrast to the ruggedness of my reality. Our religious difference almost didn’t matter to him at all. In fact he took pride in being above such things. But when our relationship fell apart, he was quick to press the exit button – it would not have worked out in the long run, you know, we belong to two very different worlds – he said. I laugh now for falling for such a phony philosopher!”
Of course, not all interfaith relationships fail, no matter the religions involved. It’s the people who define their faith and their partnerships.
It’s the people who define their faith and their partnerships.
Is love worth it?
Atul is excited to move to the next phase of his relationship. “I have a ring and an elaborate proposal planned. Convincing families may not be easy – but I am ready for the challenge. Praying to all gods she says yes!” ‘Jihad’ literally means ‘to struggle’ in Arabic. And perhaps that’s what love is for couples who choose a partner in spite of differences and challenges. The real challenge, however, is how worthy they deem this unrelenting struggle to be.