The prohibition against inter-community marriages is not an invention of Hindutva. But Hindutva articulates and disseminates it most systematically, writes Tanika Sarkar.
Religious communities sometimes behave like sovereign states — self-legislating and self-governing for all practical purposes. Much of the time, they exercise greater power over their people’s loyalties that even states can muster. For, their rules and penalties are based on scriptural sanction. There can be alternative interpretations of scripture that question the authorised version, but these lack the weight of sanctified tradition. Of course, when we speak of religious communities, we mostly refer to powerful groups who claim to represent an entire religious population. In the case of Hindus today, for instance, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the ecclesiastical wing of the RSS combine, with its multiple affiliates and sub-affiliates, demands to speak on behalf of all Hindus. Since the electoral wing of the same combine, the BJP, holds power at the Centre, community and government have now merged to a considerable extent.
Like states, communities also perform two vital functions. One is to enforce internal power lines and the other is to police inter-community boundaries. The greater the internal tensions, such as class or caste, the more the focus will be deliberately turned on external enmities, real or imagined. V. Savarkar had said that the enemy figure unites a nation as nothing else can. Hindutva followers cherish his message.
Nothing threatens inter-community boundaries more than men and women who cross these artificial borders and meet in mutual love and desire, for they expose the communal myth that no true intimacy is possible between the two religious species. They assert the common humanity of Hindus and Muslims. Penalties for such border-crossing are, therefore, ferocious.
States can, sometimes, also offer the promise of a different kind of citizenship based on the equality of all religions and on the freedom of individual conscience and decision. This is what happened when B.R. Ambedkar reformed Hindu personal law after Independence to liberate marriages from traditional caste and community restrictions that the colonial state had not really challenged. While feminists, Communists and liberal Congress members supported his reforms, the Hindu Mahasabha was outraged.
Hindutva has given such relationships a new name: “love jihad”, wherein love between a Hindu girl and a non-Hindu man is seen as a political conspiracy, a plan for conquering Hindus by subjugating their women. The ABVP claims that the love of Muslim men for Hindu women is always politically motivated and hence unnatural. Multiple Hindutva discourses have long asserted that Muslim dynasties did not rule India because all empires want to expand but because Muslims wanted to capture Hindu queens; that during Partition, only Hindu women were abducted by Muslims, whereas all evidence indicates that men from both communities abducted and raped in equal numbers. Hindutva disseminates a weird arithmetic — each Muslim man marries four wives and, therefore, produces innumerable children, whereas Hindu men, legally condemned to monogamy, produce several times less the number. This discounts the fact that no matter the number of wives each man has, he can only impregnate one woman at a time and polygamy cannot make a difference to the total population. The VHP haunts registration offices in civil courts. If they find an advance notice for a cross-community marriage, they try to dissuade the families against it. Often, consensual relationships are entered into police records as rape. Horrifying websites have been started to caution Hindus against inter-community love. Though jihad signifies Muslims, the prohibition is effectively extended with police help against legal marriage between Hindus and Christians as well.
The love jihad campaign diligently perpetuates the myth of the insatiably lustful Muslim man. Hindu women, in contrast, are made out to be so helpless and innocent that they cannot understand their own feelings and become prone to seduction. So, neither Hindu nor Muslim can ever be capable of genuine love for each other. So-called Muslim lust is also represented as a covert terrorist act. By enticing Hindu girls into marriage, Muslims supposedly expand their numbers, filling Hindu wombs with Muslim progeny and destroying Hindu honour, whose symbols and carriers their women supposedly are. Note that in this discourse, the Hindu girl is always without a real mind of her own; she needs community vigilance. No doubt, communal stereotypes abound among all communities, but those of the majority community enjoying state power carry far greater import.
But there is a larger agenda. As more and more men and women assert their legal right to decide on relationships and marriages on their own terms, with or without familial consent, there is an urgent reassertion of patriarchal discipline in the name of dangers that allegedly lie in wait if they cross the lakshmanrekha of prescriptive alliances mandated by families. Forbidding inter-community marriage is a first and very important step in preserving family control. Inter-community relationships are policed and penalised with special ruthlessness by families because they involve great social courage. They declare the independence and self-assertion of the couple more forcefully than other kinds of love marriages. Proscribing them is only the beginning of reclaiming a totalitarian authority over the autonomy of children. So, the love jihad campaign is, ultimately, a safeguard against love and individual decision-making in order to produce and reproduce unthinkingly submissive generations. This is part of a larger package that also attacks Valentine’s Day celebrations — expressions of premarital romances and friendships — and non-heterosexual love. The prohibition is not an invention of Hindutva, it enjoys hegemonic social consensus. Hindutva articulates and disseminates it most efficiently and systematically.
Society also punishes inter-caste marriages — another form of border-crossing. But there is a difference. It is politically most embarrassing for community guardians to admit in public that there are “others” inside the community who are untouchable in matters of love and marriage. Cases of inter-caste love are, therefore, met with immediate and brutal violence but without that elaborate political discourse that frames inter-community marriages.
Sarkar, a professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, is author of ‘Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation’