“I would talk about love, sexuality and gender openly at college, with my friends. We would dissect such topics with ease. But the moment I reached home, all the openness vanished. I wouldn’t feel comfortable broaching such topics anymore,” confessed Shreeti Shubham.
The 25-year-old is a research assistant at the University of Hyderabad.
Shreeti is speaking of straddling a dichotomy, which many of us, as young people, are familiar with. We have access to all these new vocabularies, but not the freedom to utter them, as and when we like.
Shreeti was a part of a media fellowship (October 2020-March 2021), and she came up with a project called Democratic Love, as a part of it. The digital project dealt with the themes of women’s right to choose, interfaith marriages and the challenges in the solemnization of marriages under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), through articles and podcasts.
The SMA enables interfaith couples to get married, without having to convert. However, some couples hesitate to take its aid because the system is not pro-civil marriage. Another hurdle is having to publish a notice. Both, the lack of privacy and the fear of potential attacks by vigilante groups are major concerns arising out of it.
One of Shreeti’s participants asked her the following questions:
“I don’t have it in me to take on society, does this mean I don’t have the right to love? Or that I should ask about the religion and caste of a person before falling in love with someone?”
Sounds ridiculous, right? However, this is exactly what the Uttar Pradesh government is trying to do by passing a “love jihad” law in the state. It discourages interfaith couples from marrying each other and then converting. Whether it is faith, love or convenience behind that choice, should be none of the UP government’s business.
Yogi Adityanath and his government, insist that forceful conversions are happening. The state shouldn’t try to undermine its citizens’ personal relationships on the basis of political agendas. The flames of Hindu-Muslim enmity are stoked using such laws, which have little to zero basis for existing. Ideally, there should be no place for regressive ideas about whom one can, or cannot, love in today’s India.
Unfortunately, the ground reality is much different.
Even among the so-called progressive, urban lot, a survey showed that 93% of its participants opted for an arranged marriage. This was as late as January 2018. A mere 3% opted for a “love marriage” and the remaining 2% described their marriages as “love-cum-arranged”.
It is common knowledge that arranged marriages are those marriages that happen within caste, class and religious boundaries. Although with the advent of dating apps, dating across these lines has become slightly easier, the institution of Indian matchmaking is a bigotedly stubborn one.
Komal Singh*, a 29-year-old married woman, had used dating apps before marriage. However, when the time to marry came, she had to marry someone her parents picked. She had to give up her job, move cities and start living with her husband once they got married.
“After I turned 25, my parents started pressuring me to get married. Obviously, I didn’t find the courage to tell them about my dating life or my boyfriend. Eventually, I gave in,” said Komal.
Why do people in positions of authority, be it our parents or legislators, think it’s okay to determine our love lives?
Take the lack of marriage equality in our country, for instance. As a queer person, I feel like we should have the right to marry.
Do I want to marry? I don’t think so. Should I have the freedom to marry? Absolutely!
Simply decriminalising queer relationships is not enough. The right to love, marry, live with one’s partner or form families of choice, adopt and more OUGHT to be universal.
Such rights should have a legal sanction as just because one doesn’t live up to the normative standards of love, doesn’t mean the state should treat one any differently. Depriving young people of the right to love is just a convenient facade for controlling our sexuality. By doing so, we are conditioned not to overstep arbitrary boundaries in love.
“The right to choose your partner is enshrined in article 21 of the Indian constitution. However, governments can misuse broad-based restrictions listed within, to target specific groups,” explained Rudresh Jagdale, a lawyer who shuttles between Delhi and Mumbai.
Rudresh explained that even if we buy into the fallacy of “love jihad” for a moment, the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), pertaining to kidnapping and the like, would be sufficient to deal with cases of forceful conversion. “Drafting an entirely new law for the sake of this is nothing but political strong-arming,” he opined.
Coming back to dating apps, using them is no walk in the park either. They have their own flaws, some of which are built into them. For instance, it is common knowledge that the algorithm of such apps determines your “attractiveness level” first and then shows you only those prospects who match your level. Not to mention the fact that people continue to look for caste, class and religious markers on these apps, before swiping right or left.
The “illusion of choice” provided by these dating apps is still leaps and bounds ahead of the (un)freedoms given by the government and Indian parents, to young people. We are not asking for a lot. All we are asking for is the right to love
Be it dating someone out of choice, being in a queer relationship or marrying a partner from a different faith, all of these scenarios challenge the brahminical, hetero-patriarchal ideas of what love should look like. This is the reason why they are being policed more than ever.
As Faiz Ahmed Faiz aptly wrote in his poem, A Prison Evening:
“though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed…”
*name changed to protect identity