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Let’s celebrate the ‘forbidden’ love

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Soumya Maniyar

11th November 2020

The project was initiated by Niloufer Venkatraman’s story of her Parsi mother and Hindu father (Source- India Love Project)

On 28 October, Indian journalist couple Samar Halarnkar and Priya Ramani, along with their journalist-writer friend Niloufer Venkatraman launched India Love Project on Instagram, describing it as 'a celebration of interfaith/inter-caste love and togetherness in these divisive, hate-filled times'.

With all its diversity and ethnicity, India still remains a place where love and marriage outside of caste and religion have long attracted chastise. Interfaith and inter-caste marriages always have been a kind of taboo in conservative Indian families. The recent years have witnessed that conversation around such unions has become even more fractious. In this, too, most of the frown is reserved for Hindu-Muslims unions. The depth and hatred for this were brought into great focus last month when popular jewellery brand Tanishq had to withdraw one of their new advertisements featuring an interfaith couple after a right-wing backlash on social media reported the BBC.

The ad was about a baby shower, which was organised by Muslim-in-laws for a Hindu mother-to-be. The new range of jewellery Tanishq, owned by the Tatas, was called Ekatvam, which translates from Hindi as 'unity'. The concept was to celebrate the notion of 'unity in diversity', which in a nutshell, is India, but it backfired as it ended up doing the exact opposite. The ad brought out the bare fissures that exist in Indian society.

The ad was trolled heavily on social media. From trolls demanding to boycott one of India's biggest brands to the ad being taken up to top Twitter trends led the company to withdraw the ad. According to an article on the BBC, the company said in a statement that it had to withdraw the ad while keeping the safety of its employees in their mind.

Two weeks after the row over the ad, Halarnkar, along with wife Priya and friend Niloufer, launched India Love Project on Instagram. Halankar told the BBC they had been thinking about the project for over a year, and the controversy over the Tanishq ad brought in the immediacy to launch an idea like this. He told the BBC, "We have felt very strongly about – and been disturbed by – the fake narrative around love and interfaith marriage."

As the BBC article reported, "There is a narrative that there are other, more insidious motives for marriage, that love is being widespread. But we didn't know anyone who was thinking like that, who had any other motive than love for getting married", he said. Through India Love Project, he says, reported the BBC, "We are just providing a platform where people can share their stories."

The page's response has been overwhelming since the day the project kicked-off, with their first story by Venkatraman about her Parsi mother and Hindu father. Every day, the page owners have requested people to feature their story, their parents' story, or their grandparents' story.

The fact that stories are not about the millennials shows that interfaith/inter-caste marriages are not new; they were happening all along. But as Halankar said, reported the BBC, "It's more important to talk about them now more than ever. At a time when hate is being manufactured, it's important to tell these stories of love and how widespread it is and that it's not just a flash in the pan."

According to the BBC, more than 90 per cent of all marriages are arranged in India – families rarely look beyond religion and caste while fixing the alliances. According to the Human Development Survey, only about 5 per cent of marriages here are inter-caste. Interfaith unions are even rarer – one study put them at just 2.2 per cent, reported the BBC. Those who choose to marry outside these boundaries often have to face violence – and can even be killed.

Halankar said to the BBC, "In February, the government told the parliament that 'love jihad' was not defined by law and that no such cases were reported by any government agencies, but the idea persists. In recent days, at least four BJP-ruled states have announced plans to introduce legislation to curb this 'social evil'."

The short 150 words stories featured on the India Love Project seeks to challenge this 'narrative of hate'. These stories are written with affection and humour – and tell tales about the couples who have overcome these man-mand barricades through love and had their fairy tale ending. The stories are often described as 'warm and fuzzy' by the readers.

From stories about Hindu women marrying Muslim men to a Catholic marrying a Jain, the page features diverse stories celebrating love's power and spirituality. From couples telling about how they manage their vegetarian and non-vegetarian eating habits to celebrating different festivals, the stories tell us a great deal about how praying to different Gods and speaking a foreign language does not decide who you should marry and who not. These stories tell us about the challenges these couples faced and overcame to ensure their 'happily ever after'.

Through BBC, Halankar conveyed, "These are beautiful stories of myriad realities of India. People follow so many different paths to love. They are a reminder that that's what India is about." According to Halankar, stories like these make you feel better about the world and India.

(Sources-BBC News)

Edited by- Nivedita Dutta

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