Last week, the Supreme Court heard a case of an inter-faith marriage from Chhattisgarh in which a Muslim man purportedly converted to Hinduism to marry a Hindu woman but retained his Muslim name on the marriage certificate. The two-judge bench led by Justice A.K. Mishra stated, “We are not against inter-caste or inter-faith marriages — but what if the husband leaves the woman after some time?” One of the judges said, “We want to know about his [man’s] bona fides. We have a duty — [the] rest is her [woman’s] destiny.” “Be a loyal husband,” the court said. “Not just a great husband — be a great lover and a loyal husband.” While these judges may not be against inter-faith marriage, a huge majority of young Indians are still opposed to it and find it difficult to accept such marriages. While many Indians hesitate to marry someone from a different community, the discomfort is far greater when they have to agree to accept an inter-religious marriage by their children.
This is obvious from the fact that the aforementioned is not the only case wherein the parents of the woman moved court against their daughter marrying a man of another religion. There are numerous instances, all in the ongoing decade, when inter-religious marriages have triggered turmoil in society, with the parents moving court. In 2007, Bhopal was rocked by protests after Umar, a Muslim, married Priyanka Wadhwani, a Hindu, against Priyanka’s parents’ wishes. Umar had changed his name to Umesh. There were protests in the city which continued even after Priyanka confirmed that she had married of her own accord and not under any pressure.
(Despite both being adults the Bhopal police had lodged a case of kidnapping against Umar. “His brother was picked up by the Koh-Fiza police in Bhopal and detained illegally,” the couple’s petition filed in the Bombay High Court had alleged.)
Also, while most court cases involve the parents of Hindu women opposing their marriage to Muslim men, the resistance towards inter-religious marriages is equally strong in both communities. In February 2018, Ankit Saxena was brutally murdered in Delhi by the father and uncle of his girlfriend, Shehzadi. The father of the girl was completely unrepentant. He admitted that he committed the crime and said his motive was to end the relationship between Ankit and his daughter. His callous attitude even after committing such a heinous crime indicated how unacceptable inter-religious marriage is to a significant number of Indians even today.
It is true that there are more inter-caste and inter-faith marriages today than in the distant past. Still, they are far too few to hold a mirror to the larger society. In general, Indian families are practising more liberal values — especially those live in cities. Attitudes seem to have changed vis-a-vis the age of marriage or the decision of couples to not have children immediately after marriage.
But when it comes to inter-faith or even inter-caste marriages, there is no significant change. The court judgment may uphold the right of a person to choose a partner of his choice but the parents won’t accept it with open arms.
In a nationwide survey in 2006 conducted among youth aged between 14 and 33 years, only 28 per cent were willing to regard marriage between men and women belonging to different castes or communities as acceptable while a whopping 67 per cent considered it as unjustified.
The first figure remained the same in 2016 vis-a-vis the question of inter-faith marriage, when another survey also revealed that 45 per cent young people considered inter-faith marriage as “absolutely unjustified”.
Twenty per cent young Indians did not have a strong opinion on the issue. The acceptance of inter-caste marriage was slightly higher with 33 per cent deeming it justified, but the majority, 36 per cent, did not, while 23 per cent did not have a strong opinion.
With the spread of education and globalisation, it is natural to expect the young Indian to have a more liberal and modern outlook, especially as compared to their parents' generation.
But if the acceptability of inter-faith marriage is so low among the millennium children who are far more educated on the average than previous generations, it is logical to conclude that the middle-aged and elderly are far more conservative on the issue of inter-faith marriage. And while a large number of millennials are in favour of dating and courtship before marriage, they still depend on their parents to choose their life partner. This also shapes their views regarding inter-religious marriage.
What complicates the matter is that the opposition to inter-caste and inter-faith marriages is not limited to the young Indian and their parents.
Those in the police force who are responsible for upholding the law also hold the same view. Thus, very often they end up harassing couples who have opted for an inter-faith marriage. A research study on policing conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and non-profit Common Cause came up with this finding.
Attitudes do not change quickly, whether in the police force or in any other field or sector. Perhaps we need to wait for some more time before Indian society accepts inter-caste and inter-faith marriages.