Love in the times of NRC-CAA

Beyond religious differences, a larger common human truth.

If you are... begins a post on Facebook. A warning from an FB friend in the form of a checklist. If you are any of that, the post rants on, you are not my friend. Unfriend me! Across social media, the war is on. This is the Armageddon, proclaims another. Fight for the idea of India or forever be doomed.

At a time when the political ecosystem is so polarised, when each day convinces us that we have hit the nadir for brooking any tolerance for any difference of opinion, or political viewpoint, how do couples in inter-religious marriages cope?

When asked, Mr Sudhakar Rao, director, ICFAI Group, who is married to a Muslim for 22 years, answers in a sangfroid tone, “It is not the first time as a couple we are witnessing a communally surcharged and politically divided situation prevailing around us. It has happened before, and not matter what, we don’t think it would be the last. We can feel the pressure from outside, but we sense none between us. Whenever such developments take place, we are exposed to all commentaries; online discussions, TV debates, print news. We don’t try to escape or avoid it. We continue to regularly consume news, you can’t shut out the reality of the world outside. We remain more alert, we discuss the issue together, and fortunately, in most number of times, our views have been not been opposed or contradictory.”

The boy from Telangana state met this girl from Andhra neither at school, college, work place nor a shared locality but through the now-lost, old-world style connection — pen pals — which evolved into a love scripted purely by epistolary.

“I ask her questions on such subjects. She comes from a social sciences educational background, her work with the government takes her closer to a far more diverse range of people. She is touched far more easily by a view from the ground. We do test the media narrative with such a test,” he says.

She confirms a deep-rooted mutual respect and a larger, more encompassing world-view as the bond enabler. “When two people refuse to view any issue with a religious, casteist or communal mindset, but replace it with a humanistic approach, it is amazing how there are seldom any deeper conflicts. We share values and an objective way of life. We don’t give much importance to religion, or class differences.”

Surely, one quizzes them, they must have faced hostility and discrimination; after all, one cannot merely wish away the divide around us.

“There are varied protestations from different segments. I have never found, for example, anyone at work ask me why I wear a bindi being a Muslim, but people from my community do ask me. Or, why I am married to a Hindu, or a non-Muslim,” she reveals.

On the issue itself, she said, “I was surprised at the ease, and the little debate and nearly no protest, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed. It would have been good if the government and Opposition had a set a proper discussion agenda in public, and clarifying all doubts, before clearing it. That would be real democracy, right? As a public servant who understands legalities of implementing any act, it would not be as to implement it on the ground as getting it passed in Parliament. It is complicated enough for a common man to get a simple birth or death certificate from a government office. How can anyone, irrespective of religion or class, hope to get documents of decades prior of your ancestors?”

What could be the solution? She brings in the NRC issue seamlessly.

“Just reverse the table. Instead of unleashing the execution mired in complication, the government must consider everyone a default citizen. We must put the onus on the government for proving anyone is not a citizen. After all, the state has men, money, machinery, and power to make and amend acts – weed out illegal immigrants properly, legally. After all, it was your failure in the first place,” she advocates.

Both of them agree that this move was aimed at creating rift between communities. “If it is only about weeding out illegal immigrants, there is no need for a new law. Existing laws can enable you to do it. But let no one miss this; if it led to such fear psychosis and administrative chaos to implement in a small state like Assam, imagine the turmoil implementing a nation-wide NRC would wreck?”

“Our relationship is close to 30 years now,” says Mr Rao. “We don’t think our politics has led to constriction of social activities or loss of friends. But we defined our friends in real life like that. They accepted us, and they respect us.”

Aren’t by definition such couples far more tolerant and secular than our polity and society at large?

“Speaking for south India, for Hyderabad, I think most people we know are secular and tolerant. We celebrate both festivals and our friends join in. Respect for each other’s religion is not only very easy, but a delightful path to a discovery of a larger truth,” she says. “In fact, it is not just young people, even most elderly people, contrary to portrayal as being more conservative, are strongly rooted in for a secular India.”

“Maybe it is a north Indian thing, having faced consistent historic invasions and inheriting a scarred collective memory, and psyche — people are less tolerant, more insecure. We here in the south always felt more shared spirituality than divided religiosity. If someone wants to impose their regional communal anxiety and insecurity across the nation, that is grossly unjust,” he said.

A viewpoint not exactly shared by Mr Mohd. Ali, an entrepreneur and restaurateur, who married Ms Swetha, the younger sister of his classmate from Nizam’s College.

“To be honest, this NRC-CAA debate does not matter much to us. When governments change, they do change policy. We don’t let politics of this kind come between us, or into our lives. As long as it does not harm us directly, we are fine. We do read and see news, but don’t discuss politics. We have our own simple belief system – we are happy with each other.”

Mr Ali, and his wife, who is a kindergarten teacher, neither see it as a diversionary tactic to distract attention from falling economic growth, nor do they mix the two. “The Act is for foreigners coming to seek citizenship in India. Why should that bother us? Yes, they could have done it without even announcing it – how would we even learn who they gave citizenship to and for what reasons? But politics have their own motives,” they say.

When asked if they feel fear, they said, “We try to be positive. We are a happy family, like any else. We don’t see a reason for concern, and feel safe; at least as of now. It is not like they can ask us to prove our citizenship and throw us out. We were born here, we have extended families here. We don’t feel threatened. It won’t be easy for any government to just throw us out.”

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