How the country treats its lovers is proof that the old vanguards of tradition feel threatened by love, writes Sonali Verma
Most people are unbothered while walking past the screen that displays advertisements at Rajiv Chowk metro station in New Delhi. But when a few days ago, an advertisement was displayed that called for people to celebrate maatr-pitr pujan divas (parents worship day) on February 14, commuters stood and took notice. After all, the ad, with its larger-than-life fonts and pictures of Hindu deities, was difficult to miss. Ironically, the last time people took notice of the screen at the station was when it played a porn video all of a sudden last year.
We as Indians are doomed to love as hypocrites, so it seems. We don’t kiss. Kissing is what people in the ‘west’ do, yet we whistle and hoot, every time we see one of our actors do it on screen. We experience major discomfort on seeing love marriages, especially inter-caste, inter-religious love marriages that threaten our rigid social boundaries, so much so that we even have a special term for them—love jihad. But mind you, this is jihad only when it involves a Muslim man and a Hindu woman and not vice-versa.
In order to combat love jihad, right-wing Hindu nationalists have even embraced the ‘western concept’ of Valentine’s Day. In Kolkata last year, Hindu men were ‘encouraged’ to fall in love with Muslim women as a way of retribution. Students in Rajasthan’s schools are being taught about love jihad, how and where it happens – in beauty parlours, mobile recharge shops, ladies tailors, according to the pamphlets distributed to them.
A Muslim friend confided a few days back that he has started thinking twice before asking a Hindu girl out. “My family back in Saudi Arabia constantly keeps giving me hints to try and not date a Hindu. They are scared for my life” he confessed. A doctor at AIIMS who is a Muslim woman is being targeted by her family for having a relationship a Hindu man and couldn’t respond for a comment as she is constantly monitored by her parents.
Early last year, anti-Romeo squads of policemen in plain clothes and vigilante civilians were dispatched across Uttar Pradesh apparently to ‘protect women’. Instead, the police were reported to be harassing young couples with impunity. They were even reported to be harassing young men and women who were having a cup of tea together. Videos on social media showed the squad beating young men mercilessly. We even had cops claiming they “can spot Romeos by the look in their eyes”.
We are among the most prolific consumers of internet pornography in the world, but we also don’t understand privacy or consent. We create moral outrage when a clip of a man resembling Hardik Patel with an adult woman in a hotel room goes viral. We object to public display of affection and tell couples to “get a room”. We also deny hotel rooms to unwed consenting adults. One of our MPs even wants couples displaying affection in public to be put behind bars. Shiv Sena routinely does moral policing, chasing young men and women who sit in the Marine Drive area in Kochi and Mumbai.
So despite the overwhelming data against the idea, how much does India really love, love?
It is safe to say that India isn’t a fan of the subject. Love is not only difficult to find, but is even more challenging for many people to accept. Take for instance the fact that India saw an almost 800 per cent spike in the number of killings in the name of “honour” in the last two years. According to activists, the figures on honour killings are still under-reported. A 2011 study claimed that about 900 people were murdered in the name of honour ever year in India. The most recent victim, Ankit Saxena, paid the price for falling in love. The 23-year-old was stabbed and his throat was slit by the girl’s family.
Love in India can also take a patriarchal shape, where refusing love can also have dire consequences, as Janaki, a young woman living in Hyderabad, found out recently. She was stabbed to death by a youth who had threatened to kill her if she didn’t marry him. Then there are the numerous acid attack victims, who suffer the consequences of rejecting love.
Even declaring love on Facebook or Twitter on Valentine’s Day can lead to your marriage, thanks to the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. The right-wing group launched a campaign to forcefully marry off couples showing love on social media. Its president had said that even people displaying hearts on their Facebook profile will have to be wary.
Sticking to their Valentine’s Day ritual, this year too, members of the Bajrang Dal staged protests, chased and harassed couples and approached bars and pubs to make sure they don’t hold any special programs. These acts of vandalism and hooliganism are a reflection of what is fundamentally wrong with our society.
And in the middle of all this chaos, if you do end up finding love, congratulations and buckle up because, the real reason why India hates love is because love is an act of defiance. It is a personal revolution that transcends marketing gimmicks and religious jingoism. It is a personal assertion that goes beyond the hetero-normative versions sold to us in mainstream culture. Most importantly, love is dangerous, dangerous because it dares to question and transgress barriers of caste, creed and gender. It disrupts the laws of social acceptance and that is the reason why it is so powerful. That is the reason the old vanguards of tradition are so threatened by it.