Two recent tv shows – A Suitable Boy and Indian Matchmaking– have reaffirmed what many have always known: that religion, class, and caste have always been important considerations that have dictated one’s choice of spouse in India. While both shows were widely watched, A Suitable Boy was involved in some controversy: a police report was filed against Netflix India in Madhya Pradesh, for hurting religious sentiments by showing an interfaith couple kissing inside a temple.
The report, which claims that the scene promoted ‘love jihad’, assumes special significance in the backdrop of the ordinance promulgated in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh: the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, commonly known as the ‘love jihad’ law. This Ordinance invalidates any religious conversion undertaken solely for the purpose of marriage and vice versa. While several other states already have laws regulating religious conversion, UP was the first to pass such a law with the express intent of preventing Hindu women from marrying Muslim men.
The opposition to interfaith marriage is comparable to the opposition to intercaste marriage, in that both developed in the backdrop of historical prejudices and tensions between specific communities. Some members of the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights – namely Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Hansa Jivraj Mehta - advocated for the inclusion of interfaith marriage as a fundamental right. These members wanted to introduce a constitutional provision to require the State to remove any impediments to interfaith marriages, perhaps in an attempt to reduce the societal and institutional stigma against interfaith marriage. However, they were unsuccessful in their attempts.
Kaur and Mehta’s proposal mirrored the views of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee and a key figure in the anti-caste movement. Ambedkar too believed that inter marriage was the key to harmonious co-existence of different communities. In Annihilation of Caste (1936), he expressed a sentiment that is equally applicable to caste and religious tensions:
“…The real remedy [against untouchability] is inter-marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling—the feeling of being aliens—created by Caste will not vanish…Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity.”
The current national legal framework regulating interfaith marriages – the Special Marriage Act, 1954 - requires couples to fulfil a number of procedural obligations to register their marriage, in stark contrast to the simple procedures prescribed under personal laws. The Law Commission of India had recommended simplifying and expediting the procedures under this Act in 2012, but Parliament did not take up the matter for discussion.
Given the steady rise of communal sentiment and the societal stigma against interfaith marriages, the State should look into reducing – rather than increasing – the institutional barriers against such marriages. Is it time to revisit Kaur and Mehta’s proposal?
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