Keeping the Faith
"I wish to inform you that your daughter is registered to marry a Muslim" said the postcard addressed to my father, "If you are aware of it, please accept my congratulations. If you aren't please take necessary action." Other letters we received in the run-up to my wedding weren't as polite.
It's a well known fact that the moment an inter-religious (read Hindu-Muslim) couple registers an intention to marry under the special marriages act at the local court- and their names go up on the board, a series of organizations go into action. United in the belief that an inter-religious marriage is about much more than the couple involved, and a destruction of religion itself, they find ways of contacting and intimidating the bride and groom to be, their families, and anyone else they can find.
We were lucky to get just letters of intent- a cameraman friend of mine and his wife faced goons at their own house on the day of their wedding.
So Priyanka and Umar's case was predictable in everything but the fact that they conducted a Hindu ceremony after the civil wedding- a fact that ensured they upset the Majlis-e-shoora of the All India Muslim Tyohar Committee (AIMTC) as well as the Hindu Kanya Suraksha Samiti, the Sindhi Panchayat, and the local chapters of the RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal.
The act spurred violent agitations from the saffron brigade- and spurred the Sindhi Panchayat into a new code of conduct for Sindhi girls- no driving two wheelers, no covering your face, no using cell phones (not far from the Saudi no driving cars, enforcing the hijab, and barring the use of many other things by women).
And despite a Bombay High Court order protecting them from police harassment (funny that it should even be required), it is the young couple and siblings who are on the run, especially after the detention of Umar's brother Shakeel by police in Bhopal. Clearly all the men in uniform working very hard on protecting the religion. All of them great repositories of faith.
It was on my first out of town assignment exactly twelve years ago,though, that I figured out what it was really all about. I was covering angry reactions to the film 'Bombay', Mani Ratnam's hindu-muslim love story, a film that had been previewed and censored by Bal Thackeray- and was now under fire from Muslim groups. The film's release had been put off several times already by threats of violence. And as I interviewed a Bohra leader on a rooftop several floors above the narrow and bustling alleyways near Mohammed Ali Road, I waited to hear what I thought would be his reasons for being offended by the Manisha Koirala- Arvind Swamy starrer. That Muslims are shown starting the 1992 riots, that Koirala's Muslim character stereotypically has a butcher for a father, even that the Holy text is seen being flung in the air. But here it was. "We would not object," he said, "If the film showed a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy- why must it always be the other way around?"
And that's all it ever comes down to- it's why the letters to came to my family not to my husband's, or the clampdown on covering your face is effected by the Sindhi panchayat on Sindhi girls.
The outrage over faith is more about control and domination of the female. It isn't about the religion being subsumed- anyone can tell you they learn their concept of ethics, honour, and yes religion from their mother.
It's about keeping women in their place- as immovable as property- leased or sold only by those that own her. Its one more excuse to keep the girl child from getting an education (or as the case may be, a two-wheeler and a cell phone). And it's about keeping status quo- with men firmly on top.
It isn't a question of faith after all- the opposition to an inter-religious marriage is just plain feudal.
More about Suhasini HaidarSuhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. Earlier, she was a senior editor and prime time anchor for India's leading 24-hour English news channel CNN-IBN, and also hosted the signature show, 'World View with Suhasini Haidar'. Over the course of her 17-year career, Suhasini has covered the most challenging stories and conflicts from the most diverse regions including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. In India, she has covered the external affairs beat for over a decade and her domestic assignments include in-depth reportage from Kashmir. In 2011 she won the Indian Television Academy-GR8! Award for 'Global news coverage',and the Exchange4Media 'Enba' award for best spot news reporting from Libya. In 2010, She won the NewsTelevision NT 'Best TV News Presenter' Award. Suhasini is the only journalist to have interviewed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, a show that won the prestigious Indian Television Academy award as 'Best Chat show' for the year.
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