Even as Hindutva groups rejoice at the most efficient implementation ever seen of any law in Uttar Pradesh, their joy might just be sullied by an unexpected fallout. The Hindu women “rescued” by the UP police from their Muslim husbands are boldly speaking up for Muslims. Even more striking is the way they are publicly rejecting their parents.
These are not sophisticated urbanites used to living independent lives. Hailing from small towns, where their movements must have been monitored closely, they fell in love — a disgrace for most families — and were courageous enough to take the next step of eloping.
Be it in Mumbai or Meerut, such decisions are not easy. Marrying outside one’s faith can become a matter of life and death, so most youngsters simply drop the idea. Yet, such marriages are increasing. For the brave couples, living away from wrathful parents and keeping a low profile is the safest method of survival.
That’s been made impossible by the way the UP police are swooping down on couples hunted out by vigilantes. Since the enactment of the UP law criminalising marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men — both in intent and action, the law is just that — the police have barged into homes where weddings were taking place; they have separated couples in registrars’ offices and courts.
Thanks to the ubiquitous mobile camera, videos of these invasions of privacy have gone viral. But what’s shone through these painful, violent scenes has been the courage of the Hindu women. In one video, the woman, held back by cops, pleads with them not to separate her from her partner. Oblivious of the crowds around, she declares that she loves him very much, that he’s her life. This could have been a Hindi film scene — it played out in Aligarh.
In the shameful Moradabad case, which resulted in the death of the unborn child, videos showed the Hindu wife angrily telling the Bajrang Dal bullies who encircled her that she had married of her own will. It requires a special kind of guts to do that, especially when cops are mere spectators. Later, she insisted on going to her in-laws’ home, and turned her back on her mother, who had been brought to the police station by the vigilantes.
In Meerut, a Hindu woman living with a Muslim told the police to back off: She knew her partner was Muslim; there was neither conversion nor coercion involved in their relationship. One Hindu mother was so furious at the way the police interrupted her daughter’s wedding to a Muslim that she lashed out against such unwarranted interference to the media.
In other cases, parents knew that their daughters had eloped, but preferred to stay quiet for fear of embarrassment. The zeal of the police-backed vigilantes dragged these Hindu families into the limelight. Forced to file complaints, their daughters’ actions will now be argued in courts in full media glare.
One wonders whether the UP CM had anticipated such a fallout on small-town, lower-middle-class Hindu families. His stated intention to bring in this new law was to “protect our (Hindu) daughters”. Did he anticipate that these very “daughters” would so determinedly refuse “protection”?
The manner of the law’s implementation could also lead to an outcome that goes against Hindutva’s aims. Those for whom religious identity never meant much will now be forced to adopt a Muslim identity. The number of Hindu-Muslim unions the UP police have targeted in the last month shows that despite all the hate propagated over the last six years, young Hindus and Muslims do not see each other as enemies. Even more importantly, their willingness to build a life together indicates that faith is not their primary identity. A woman who can declare to a hostile mob that as a Hindu, she has chosen to marry a Muslim, is one confident of her religious identity, not bound by it.
But the new law does not allow for such fluid identities. Pushed by a ruthless police-vigilante nexus, Hindu women in inter-faith marriages may have to discard their Hindu identity. A couple that “looks obviously Muslim” is unlikely to be harassed; by the same logic, a Muslim ghetto would be the safest space for them. But such an environment could force the Hindu wife to become more Muslim than she may want to, and the Muslim husband to conform to community diktats. Children of mixed marriages are moulded by exposure to different customs. But UP’s new law could result in their being moulded by just one faith, and it won’t be Hinduism.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 22, 2020 under the title “Limits of faith”. The writer is a senior journalist