In modern India, falling in love can be a radical act - Hindustan Times

In modern India, falling in love can be a radical act

Feb 16, 2024 10:17 PM IST

A new TV series tells us that the act of falling in love can be radical

She’s from a Punjabi business family and lives in Delhi. He’s the son of a politician from Kerala now in Mumbai. She’s been married before and is the mother of two; her younger daughter doesn’t hide her hostility towards him. They marry anyway. The challenge now is how to bring the family together.

Love Storiyaan released on February 14
Love Storiyaan released on February 14

What does love in modern India look like? Fraught, defiant and frequently subversive, reveals Love Storiyaan, a limited six-part series on Prime. Don’t be fooled by its Valentine’s Day launch. The series steers determinedly away from any bubblegum ideas of soft-focus romance.

There’s the Dalit activist who meets the dominant caste IIT graduate at the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Then there are college sweethearts—she’s Muslim, he’s Hindu—who leave family and country to find refuge in each other. For another couple, cross-border love looms between Kerala and Kabul. And gender is no bar, as two transgender people discover each other and themselves in the process.

India Love Project (ILP), the Instagram handle from which these stories are plucked was launched in 2020 shortly after an ad by jewelry-maker Tanishq, which showed an interfaith marriage where a Muslim mother-in-law is seen celebrating the godh bharai ceremony of her Hindu daughter-in-law, caused a massive ruckus. Tanishq shops were vandalised and the ad had to be quickly pulled from the air.

For journalists, and my friends, Samar Halarnkar, Priya Ramani and Niloufer Venkataram, ILP was a platform for people who wished to tell and share their love stories. Once launched, the stories wouldn’t stop, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, vegetarians, meat-eaters, differently abled, same-sex, intersex, all with one thing in common: the act of falling in love.

In a country where marriages continue to be arranged within religion, caste, community, class and astrological configurations, this idea was more disruptive than it seems. Last year, the project was the only one from India to become a finalist for a global pluralism award.

Even today, inter-caste marriages can and do result in ‘honour’ killings. Even today, just five per cent of all Indian marriages are inter-caste, according to the India Human Development Survey. The fear of interfaith marriage is so ingrained that despite the home ministry conceding to Parliament that it has no evidence of so-called love jihad, at least six BJP-ruled states have laws that make interfaith marriage practically impossible.

Non-state actors and rabble-rousers have the support of state institutions. In the wake of the brutal murder of a Hindu woman by her live-in Muslim boyfriend in May 2022, the Maharashtra government set up a full-fledged committee not to look into domestic violence as you’d imagine, but to examine interfaith and inter-caste relationships. Uttarakhand’s uniform civil code, as I wrote recently, betrays exactly this sort of anxiety by making the failure to register live-in relationships a criminal offence.

The impulse to preserve the institution of family and, by extension, marriage, extends to the judiciary too. The Supreme Court recently told a single woman that the surrogacy laws do not apply to her as it went against the idea of an Indian family.

It was a five-judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court again that said marriage equality could not be extended to the LGBTQI community, not even by recognition of a civil partnership, since the job of making laws lay with Parliament. Of course, such a scrupulous observation of boundaries was not seen just a few years earlier when the apex court passed guidelines for workplace sexual harassment, 14 years before a law, or prohibited triple talaq well before Parliament passed legislation.

So, how do modern Indians fall in love? There are dating apps, marriage brokers and greater interactions between men and women in metropolitan cities. But in much of India, girls are still policed by parents in order to preserve family ‘honour’, their movements watched and restricted in the name of safety. If lucky, they get a final say in who their parents pick for them—but it’s usually an approval that is just a formality.

If Love Storiyaan is radical, it’s because falling in love in modern India frequently is.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal

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