If there is something on which we have spent more time than wars, it is probably love. Whether while performing acts of love in the most unconscious ways or understanding the subtlest forms of it in the most challenging exercises intellectually, we seem to have moved not the least bit far from the L-word’s fantasy. This is precisely why it sounds intriguing and exciting to many to be able to witness and become a part of an entire day dedicated to love, St. Valentine’s Day.
It is that time of the year when many young people invest their love in their partners through gifts, parties, and sometimes, even proposals of lifetime associations. It is the day when the idea of love is practiced and challenged simultaneously, especially in a society like ours. While this love, which is essentially a romantic one, tends to disagree with arranged marriages and company, it remains oblivious of its own selective nature. In other words, since love is seen as an inner communion with someone, it is believed to happen and flourish in an extra-societal and extra-political space. But since this belief itself is a manifestation of the neo-liberal notion of existing apolitically, it is difficult not to notice how the idea of love is manoeuvred by neo-liberalism and its unique relationship with patriarchy and communalism.
A year ago, an online domestic help provider site ran an advertisement on Valentine’s Day, which read, “Diamonds are useless. Gift your wife a ‘bai’ this Valentine’s.” What this ad intends to say is that women need diamonds to feel loved and that their actual position is in the kitchen (whether she is your wife or a domestic help). And it also assumes, in a rather sexist way, that it is always women who can be gifted domestic help since managing a home is supposedly women’s responsibility and working outside is men’s privilege. This portrayal of love, achieved through love marriage, is no different from love in any feudal and male-dominated relationship. It begs the question that if romantic love functions and survives on the basis of toxic masculinity and patriarchy, how is it any better from its predecessors and contenders?
What I am trying to say is that our actions, desires, and expectations from romantic love, the love we choose, are founded upon our socialization of years. Knowingly or not, we choose our partners based on our biases of who can and who cannot be loved. In times like ours, a Hindu woman might love another upper-caste Hindu man, but not a Muslim or a Dalit. And this choice does not have to be imposed always because our consciousness works in a way that we never imagine of loving outside the boundaries. Not only do we embrace this casteist, classist, sexist, and homophobic love, we also become its living embodiments. In that case, the belief that we can love freely is nothing but a hollow principle.
Now, this is not to say that all people derive happiness from such relationships; rather, the conflict between liberal values of capitalism and backward values at home gives rise to major unrest among families and couples. More often than not, I have heard people complain that marriage has changed their love for each other drastically. The statistics reveal that people are falling in depression and suffering from mental illness now more rapidly than ever all over the world. Then, what is the modern day free love doing except becoming another commodity for consumption and boosting the ‘love’ economy?
On another note, when our leaders incite hatred and our relationships are formed upon it, can we expect a ‘love’ groomed in this very system to save us? In other words, where creating an ‘outside enemy’ is the precondition of the survival of nations, how can we expect to be friendly to each other? A place where selfishness is a virtue because we have to achieve high grades and well paying jobs, and altruism and empathy are waste of time, the practice of a day-long ‘true love’ is already a failed mission. Because one cannot truly learn to love until all are loved.