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Opposition to interfaith marriage in India puts many couples at risk

Hadiya, right, converted to Islam to marry Shafin Jahan. Their marriage has been the center of a large court case and referred to as “love jihad.” Photo via Twitter

MUMBAI, India (RNS) — When a Muslim man and his wife — born and raised a Hindu — fell in love after meeting online, they knew there would be trouble from their families. She left her home in south India last July and moved to Mumbai to get married, stating in an affidavit that she was converting to Islam.

Over the next few months, she continued to face pressure from her parents and filed a complaint with the local police against her father for threatening to kidnap her. At one point, unknown men even attacked the home of the couple, who, fearing for their safety, do not want their names used in this story.

In December, when the couple was out at a nearby mall, some men — suspected by the husband to be acting at the behest of his in-laws — picked up his wife and drove off with her in a car.

He registered a fresh case with the police and then filed a petition in the Bombay High Court through his advocate Hasnain Kazi, seeking that his wife be returned. They were reunited in early February, and her family has now started to come around.

“This is a family matter. Society shouldn’t interfere,” said the husband. “But political leaders have created an atmosphere that has affected our personal lives.”

Such incidents are part of a wider pattern in India, where interfaith and intercaste couples are increasingly facing bullying, harassment, familial opposition and even death threats.

Ankit Saxena. Photo via Twitter

In February, a Facebook page calling for violence against more than 100 Muslim men who had married or were dating Hindu women was taken down after an online outcry. The same month, Ankit Saxena, a Hindu man, was killed in Delhi, allegedly by relatives of his Muslim girlfriend. Some of the alleged assailants were arrested later. In December, Hindu right-wing groups barged into an interfaith wedding celebration just outside Delhi. Such incidents have consistently been reported across states including Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.

Interfaith and intercaste couples have never had it easy in India, but since the Bharatiya Janata Party was elected in 2014, the atmosphere has become increasingly polarized. Government data recently made available in Parliament show that the number of incidents of interreligious violence in 2017 (822) was higher than in 2016 (703) and 2015 (751). These increases have been accompanied by growing anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“Since the coming to power of the BJP there has been lots of talk about religion and caste,” said Rajpalsingh Shinde, a Nashik-based lawyer who has helped more than 200 interfaith and intercaste couples get married. “The atmosphere has become very divisive.”

Shinde, a Hindu who faced opposition when he married a Buddhist, said anti-Dalit sentiment has also intensified in the past few years. (Dalits were once considered the lowest social group and were called “untouchables.”)

“Many young people are getting frustrated,” he said. “Relationships are breaking, people aren’t able to oppose their families or society, they are getting depressed.”

Sometimes interfaith couples commit suicide, driven by the pressure. And in India, which continues to be a highly stratified society, “honor killings” in interfaith and intercaste marriages have been reported.

In 2016 a band of young people in Maharashtra started the Sairat Marriage Group to help interfaith and intercaste couples. More than 200 people have approached them so far, and they receive at least 10 calls a month seeking help or counseling, says convener Harshal Lohakare. “Our work has increased and our challenges have increased. Couples are more scared.”

Shafin Jahan and his wife, Hadiya. Their marriage was annulled and later reinstated by Indian courts. Photo via Shafin Jahan/Facebook

In 2016, in one of the most high-profile cases, a man from Kerala, KM Asokan, filed a missing-persons report after the disappearance of his daughter Akhila. When she appeared before the Kerala high court, she said she had changed her name to Hadiya and had chosen to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man, but her father contended she had been indoctrinated.

Last May, the court annulled the marriage and handed over the daughter’s custody to her father. Though voluntary conversion is legal in India, it is often fraught with problems. Later the matter was taken to the Supreme Court, which set aside the annulment and ruled that Hadiya was an adult and the court couldn’t decide the validity of the marriage.

The case raised the specter of the “love jihad,” the claim by some Hindus that Muslim men seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam. The term was first widely used in 2009 when the Kerala high court ordered an inquiry into whether there was a large-scale conversion campaign. Police reports said that was not the case, but the phrase has in the past few years acquired a renewed currency.

“Ever since 2014, the issue of love jihad has been resurfacing,” said Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Altnews.in, which calls itself an anti-propaganda news site.

Altnews first published the story about the Facebook list on Hindu-Muslim couples on Feb. 4, and the page was taken down soon after. “During volatile times, these kinds of lists can be misused and people targeted,” said Sinha.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India said no one could interfere in a marriage between two consenting adults, while admonishing khap panchayats, or community groups that operate as quasi-judicial bodies and often rule on marriages.
In an earlier judgment in 2011 the court had recommended suspension and investigation of high-ranking officials who failed to act against the perpetrators behind so-called honor killings.

“We sometimes hear of ‘honor’ killings of such persons who undergo intercaste or interreligious marriage of their own free will,” it had then said. “There is nothing honorable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism.”

But according to Sanjoy Sachdev, the chairman of Love Commandos, a Delhi-based organization helping couples who want to marry for love, these directives were never taken seriously by any major party. “Political parties are not concerned about love,” he said. “The BJP gives election tickets (the opportunity to be candidate) to khap panchayat leaders. The Congress party says khaps are part of our culture.”

Love Commandos says it has helped thousands of couples since 2010 and provides legal help and shelter for those who need it.

The group has faced threats, but Sachdev sounded undeterred. “We want to shun violence with nonviolence,” he said. “We want to make this a people’s mission.”
For some though, there might be happy endings despite the strife.

“When my wife’s brother found out about us, we got into a huge fight, because he said, ‘What will people say?,’” said Nitin Kasar, 22, a man from the dominant Maratha caste group, who married a woman from a different caste last year. “We knew people would have difficulty accepting an intercaste union. But our families have gradually come around.”

About the author

Bhavya Dore

21 Comments

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  • Is religion still bringing people together?

    About 50 years ago, my cousin married a woman who wasn’t Jewish. My orthodox aunt was ready to sit shivah for him, to disown him. My father talked her out of it, and she eventually welcomed her daughter-in-law into her home, albeit under frigid conditions for a while, 10 years later, my cousin was dying from cancer, and his wife was always there, taking him through to the very end. My aunt finally admitted that she had been a total fool.

    Two ironies about it, though. First, my father had been married to a non-Jewish woman before he married my mother. But the strain of keeping it from his super-orthodox parents finally terminated his marriage. So he did know something about it.

    And of course, he played out the same scenario with his gay son. “I won’t accept you or your partner because of my religious beliefs.” And this from a man who hadn’tbeen inside a synagogue in just about forever. All it did was eventually cost him his relationship with his son.

    Is religion still bringing people together?

  • Not sure how religion brings people together.

    Islam does have the concept of Satan. Islam terms the Indian traditions as Satan’s teachings.

    Ditto for Christianity.

    This fact comes to the fore in inter-faith marriages. Please see [Ref 1, t=44:44 to t=46:20] and [Ref 1, t=38:00 to 39:39] to get a flavor.

    Ref 1

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahKeSqFT0Nk

  • Sociologically, it brings people together in communities of faith, often by having insiders and outsiders.

  • Honestly, the obstacles some people place in the way of two people who simply want to love one another never ceases to amaze me. That this is still happening in the name of God, Yaweh, or Allah in the 21st century boggles the mind.

    I know about the longstanding tradition of arranged marriages in places like India, and presumably parents have the their children’s best interests at heart. I get that their life experiences entitle them to use it to their children’s advantage. But that approach doesn’t give enough credit to (adult) children to make their own, well-informed choices, something we here in the West take for granted.

    It’s time for a lot of people in this world (mainly well to the east of here) to drag themselves out of the middle ages and wake up to the fact that it’s not the year 1100 anymore. The rest of the world has moved on.

  • I look at religion as I do any other powerful force, like fire or water. It can be life-giving or it can be death-dealing.

    To me, healthy religion invites a person to focus on their own interior life, their own personal spiritual integrity. When it turns into a power thing — a way to try to coerce others into conforming to a particular code of behavior — that’s a sign of lack of health.

    Factor in family relationships, which are usually complicated under the best of circumstances, and you have a pretty good formula for tension. Thus has it ever been.

    Your post has me wanting to watch Fiddler on the Roof again, BTW. ?

  • No, Elagabalus.

    We’ve had the opportunity to observe the class of left-leaning intellectuals in some detail–how they marry, how they grow their career and so forth. They do pretty nearly what the traditionalists do.

    Let me pick two examples.

    Example A

    Katherine Boo is the author of a book on a Mumbai slum. She also did research on some low-income groups in the US. Whom did she marry? Not a slum-dweller in Mumbai, nor a low-income person in the US. But another intellectual, Sunil Khilnani.

    Example B

    Martha Nussbaum is a prominent US professor of philosophy. Amartya Sen is a Nobel Prize winner. Per [Ref 1], the two were in a relationship.

    Traditional Indian Match-Making

    Both the examples make perfect sense to traditional Indian match-making. They are examples of intellectuals marrying other intellectuals.

    Not only that, there is also a parity of status. Boo is big. So is Khilnani. She isn’t marrying somebody who is less accomplished than her.

    In the case of Nussbaum, my speculation is that Sen is perhaps above her league, as he won a Noble Prize. For the moment, grant me that, indeed, Sen is above her league; then she would be seeing a man who is above her league. And that is what a traditional Indian match-maker would do: if there is a difference of status, it is preferable that the woman be from the lower status, that she is the one who is marrying up.

    An Example from White Collar

    I am referring to the TV serial White Collar. Two characters in that serial are Neil Caffrey and Sara Ellis. In some episodes, they are building a relationship. What is the obstacle in that relationship? It is that each of them has emotional baggage!

    (Aside: Each human being is actually a bundle of emotional baggage, filters, biases, and such–“vasanas” to use the Sanskrit word. Some people trigger a relative small amount of emotional baggage from us–those are the people we don’t feel judged by, those are the people whom we fall in love with.)

    I hope you are now getting what traditional Indian attitude towards marriage is: “We want you to work out your emotional baggage over the course of many years of marriage.”

    In the White Collar example, we would have Neil Caffrey and Sara Ellis marry and work out their emotional baggage over the course of many years. And the cultural memes, the cultural commons would enable that.

    (Aside: This is also what existed in the US, for Abraham Lincoln did stay in a difficult marriage.)

    Summary

    Let’s not think always from a teleological (or linear) point of view.

    Ref 1

    https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/2008-a-convert-has-a-bat-mitzvah-at-61-1.5321690

  • Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. It does matter if one believes they are called to cleanse the world of those who don’t see things their way. That said, I think we’re more or less on the same page.

  • Regardless of initial differences or commonalities between people who value their faith, it’s my firm perspective that people who marry are better served by a common faith, than by divergent beliefs. People who marry despite differing faiths plainly do not place much importance on what they claim they believe. As for Christians, they are clearly admonished in scripture to avoid being unequally yoked. When such admonitions are declared, it’s usually based on good common sense.

  • Religion divides (for the most part) as history will attest to. Jesus’s words in Matthew state that that is definitely true for Christianity. So does language, culture, politics and ethnicity.

  • ” People who marry despite differing faiths plainly do not place much importance on what they claim they believe.” Absolutely Edward

  • Leave it to Jim The Atheist to remind us of what Jesus said. Thanks, Jim.

    Jesus Christ is the one Person that nobody — and no people-group, and no nation — can remain neutral or indifferent about.

    I don’t have much of any comments on Muslim – Hindu intermarriage pressures/violence (other than agreeing with Edward there). Those are yet another species of sad incidents that happen in a broken, sinful world literally and daily.

    There’s only one Solution to all this.

  • The easy solution:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Sure they can remain indifferent to Jesus. 2/3 of the world is indifferent to Jesus, and the half of christians as well.

    What people have difficulty remaining indifferent to are the anti Jesus actions of so many of his followers.

  • Question is, would a lack of literal belief in some of these myths make any difference?

    Evangelical Christians tend to place a very high value on literal belief in dogma. Other religions don’t. If someone finds that their Buddhist meditation is helpful, for example, lack of solid information about Buddha isn’t really a problem (and Buddha isn’t really akin to Jesus – he was a just a man).

  • And Jesus was also just a man raised to deity status by M, M, L, J and P. More later.

  • If he existed at all….My point is that if you are dealing with an evangelical Christian, their entire religious adherence is usually centered on this belief that Jesus was both human and divine, than he died for humanity’s sin and that everyone who believes this gets sins forgiven and goes to heaven while anyone who doesn’t goes to hell.

    If you were raised evangelical Christian, I assume that literal belief in this was a huge deal. When your belief stopped, you stopped being religious.

    The thing is, other religions don’t necessarily work that way. Sure, there is often a story about deities or other supernatural stuff, but it isn’t always particularly important to followers. Lack of faith doesn’t necessarily mean going to hell, and may not pose much of an issue at all. [For example – 90% of American Jews are not Orthodox, and the non-Orthodox movements don’t teach that you need a literal belief in Moses receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai and in fact teach the documentary hypothesis in their seminaries.] Many religions put far more emphasis on deeds, or on attaining some sort of spiritual peace or oneness with the universe. So, if you think that attacking a doctrine about a central religious figure is some magical gotcha that will make followers suddenly turn away from that religion, you’d be wrong.

  • More as promised:

    An important passage from Professor
    JD Crossan:

    “When I look a Buddhist friend in the
    face, I cannot say with integrity, “Our story about Jesus’ virginal birth
    is true and factual. Your story that when the Buddha came out of his
    mother’s womb, he was walking, talking, teaching and preaching (which I must admit is even better than our
    story)—that’s a myth. We have
    the truth; you have a lie.” I don’t
    think that can be said any longer, for our insistence that our faith is a fact
    and that others’ faith is a lie is, I think, a cancer that eats at the heart of
    Christianity”.

  • Addressing the errors and myths of the founders of religions is only the beginning:

    To wit:

    Only for the those interested in a religious update:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did
    Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never
    occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide
    a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah
    and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called “Etz Hayim” (“Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an
    interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology,
    philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce
    into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document. “

    prob·a·bly

    Adverb:

    Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish
    peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor
    Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about
    30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan
    sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is “authentic
    Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/

    For added “pizzazz”, Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an
    added guilt trip for the “pew people” to go along with this trinity
    of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the
    “filicider”.

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and
    “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism
    (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, “propheteering/ profiteering”
    evangelicals and atonement theology,

    Mohammed was an illiterate,
    womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only
    added “angels” and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of
    non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the massacre in Mumbai, the
    assas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni
    suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite
    suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, the Filipino “koranics”and the Boston Marthonbombers.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering,
    Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni “Wannabees” of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11
    wives), hallucinating founder.

    Hinduism (from an online Hindu
    site) – “Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call
    Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power,
    Divine power, God’.”

    The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence
    are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism.”

    Current problems:

    The caste system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence.

    Buddhism- “Buddhism began
    in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who
    did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow.”

    “However, in Buddhism,
    like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):”

    Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his
    historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circumstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking
    when he came out of his mother’s womb.

    Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of
    the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

    Then, apply the Five F rule: “First Find the Flaws, then Fix
    the Foundations”. And finally there will be religious peace and religious
    awareness in the world!!!!!

  • So, the first part is the point I was making. It doesn’t put the kibosh on a religion to point out historical stuff, if the religion itself is doing it already.

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