Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Love Hurts in India

 A jewelry advertisement in India showing a Hindu woman married into a Muslim family led to a fierce backlash from right-wing groups. Interfaith marriages are often contentious in Indian society, especially when it involves a Hindu and a Muslim. Hindu-Muslim marriages have never been socially acceptable in India, but only recently has it become a political issue, drawing the attention of what were earlier considered to be fringe groups.

"Love jihad" is a conspiracy theory floated by far-right Hindu groups in India, which accuse Muslim men of trying to convert Hindu women to Islam by marrying them.

Critics also blame India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for emboldening right-wing religious groups that threaten and intimidate interfaith couples.

According to social activist Asif Iqbal, interfaith couples have become more careful now, so as to avoid allegations of religious conversions.

"Earlier when people from two different faiths got married, it was considered a private matter of their respective families," Iqbal told DW. "There was little political intervention in the matter. All that has changed now." Iqbal is the co-founder of Dhanak, an NGO in New Delhi that provides interfaith and inter-caste couples counseling as well as legal and financial aid. 

"The people that reach out to us are mostly those who fear that either during or after their wedding, there would be violence," Iqbal said. "There are also different kinds of violence. In some cases, the couple is beaten up, while in others, they are locked up at home, cutting off all communications with the outside world," he said. "What we do is make these couples aware of their rights. We tell them that there is nothing wrong with what they're doing, either legally or morally," Iqbal said. "Once they become confident, it becomes easier for them to handle the situation."

While there are many couples who make it together against all odds, the social stigma is still prevalent in India. It mainly stems from the state of Hindu-Muslim relations which, Iqbal says, have always been somewhat strained.

 "People have lived in harmony too, but when there are two religions within one family, it becomes a controversial issue. It has always been this way," he said. Iqbal added that it's not just the conservative Hindu groups that cause all the trouble. "Their outrage seems intense and attracts attention because they have the political space to do that right now. I believe if conservative Muslim groups were given the same political space, they too would be reacting the same way," he said. "Nobody can instigate one group against the other that easily. The bias has always existed in people's minds," Iqbal said. "It has just been inflamed in the current political environment."

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