Shabana and Manish had a Hindu, Muslim and Arya Samaj wedding and also a court marriage – hoping to get parental approval. Kavita tried to commit suicide twice when separated from Akhtar. Miftar has not been able to speak to his wife Lipika for the past six months.
Their travails make for a Bollywood movie plot: hysterial parents threatening suicide, religious hardliners raising opposition, and the couples often forced to go underground after receiving death threats.
Real life imitating reel life? Or is it the other way around?
Despite sixty years of the Special Marriage Act allowing Indians to marry irrespective of religious differences, hurdles remain. “Hundreds of couples have approached us. Families, communities and political groups obstruct such marriages,” says Asif Iqbal, co-founder of Dhanak, an organisation of inter-faith/caste couples.
On Valentine’s Day, some share stories of love and opposition with Al Jazeera.
|Akhtar Ali and Kavita, Delhi|
Kavita: “Akhtar and I were doing our PhDs and we met in 2010.
“I used to be the darling of the house, being the only daughter among four brothers.For more than six months, I was under house arrest. I was starved, assaulted and even my mother and little nieces were beaten to put pressure on me.
“I was locked in a room, no phone, no books or TV. They kept me awake all night, interrogating, cursing, kicking and pulling my hair out.
“My father repeatedly said, ‘I will open a brothel in Delhi’s red-light district and you can have sex with as many Muslim men as you want but you can’t marry one.’
“They said any other caste or religion would be accepted but not a Muslim.
“When my brother caught me drinking rat poison, he said, ‘Why don’t you drink the whole bottle.’
“My mother forced me to vomit.
“On January 9, my birthday, I collected all the pills and the poison in the house to commit suicide. But my sister-in-law had an emergency operation; I got a chance to contact Akhtar.
“He was trying to get legal help but the police were inactive. Akhtar filed a writ petition, and because of my fear of honour killing the High Court ordered my release. We are under police protection but they may try to kill us.”
|Miftar Ahmed and Lipika Borah, Assam|
Miftar: “We are primary school teachers. Knowing our families’ opposition, we eloped on 19th July 2013. She willfully converted and we married under Muslim law and Special Marriage Act.
“We lived together for 40 days; those were the happiest days of my life. My family accepted us.
“But her parents filed a First Information Report accusing me of kidnapping. I got interim bail but she was asked to appear in court.
“Activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad were present, they abused her saying she committed sin by marrying a Muslim.
“Even though she told the court she married by choice, she was sent to the State Home for seven days and later her family took her home.
“Since then, I am unable to meet or talk to her. If I call, her family threatens me with dire consequences.
“The legal process is slow and agonising. I am afraid her family will forcefully marry her off to someone else.”
|Shabana Siddiqui and Manish Rai, Delhi|
Shabana: “We dated for five years and I wanted to marry Manish only with parental consent.
“My mother opposed; emotionally blackmailed me, regular counselling went for months, she hastily looked for a groom for me.
“I did not know about Special Marriage Act, and had no one to guide us. We secretly married under Hindu Law and had an Arya Samaj wedding. For one and half years we stayed at home to convince our parents. They did not agree. So we eloped, we went underground.
“After a few months Manish’s mother offered to accept us if I converted to Hinduism and planned a proper wedding. We also did a Niqah, hoping maybe my parents would accept us if Manish converts.
“But for my family, I was dead. After three years, when my father was ill I went home and they accepted us. Since then I am in touch with my family but our families don’t interact. They pull us towards their religions.
“My mother-in-law makes me wear the Hindu veil, put a dot on my forehead and vermillion. At home they call me Priya and outside I am Shabana.
“Everyday is a new start, so many times I feel like giving up. There is a lot of struggle but it is worth it – for love.”
|Anupama Pradeshi and Prakash Pol, Maharashtra|
Anupama: “My parents opposed our marriage because I am a Rajput and my husband belongs to a lower community, the Scheduled Caste.
“I was worried we will be ostracised and my sisters will have trouble getting married. Only my father supported me, but we lived in a joint family.
“My uncle disapproved, he locked me in a room for a month.
“It was like a Hindi movie. My uncle repeatedly told my father, ‘If your daughter marries Prakash, we will kill that bastard.’
“My husband had to take a lot of precaution. We had a registered marriage in 1998. Even now, I am not invited to any family events.
“They never interact with my children.
“Interestingly, one sister had an inter-caste marriage, but she married a man from the upper caste.
“She is accepted, but not me. For them I no longer exist.”
|Pinky Suryavanshi and Francis Phaimuriyil, Maharashtra|
Francis: “Our families were concerned with what people would say, afraid of being shunned.
“They tried to convince us that difference in faith would lead to ego clashes and finally divorce. There was a lot of emotional blackmailing for two years. Pinky’s father used to threaten. He would stand in front of a speeding train. My mother vehemently opposed our marriage..
“Under pressure, we separated a few times, but we were not happy. When our families realised we wouldn’t backtrack on our decision, they reluctantly accepted us. No one came to our wedding. It was just a simple court marriage.
“There was no celebration, no parties and no video shooting.
Pinky: “Francis’ mother expected me to convert but I said her son has to convert too. We would be back to square one, so she gave up.”
|Shailaja Rao and Mohammad Zubair, USA|
Shailaja: “Zubair and I completed the paperwork under Special Marriage Act. We thought it was just a matter of presenting ourselves with three witnesses at the magistrate’s office after one month of publishing a notice.
“But a lawyer came home to gather information. The notice was also mailed to our homes for a signature by a parent/guardian. We were fortunate to obtain the signatures because they believed we were being immature and would not really go through with it.
“The news about our marriage spread and we were advised to rush to the Teez Hazari Court in Delhi. People affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were waiting. They had already convinced the magistrate.
“For about an hour the magistrate desperately tried to stop us, saying we were making a mistake. I was sent to a separate room with the RSS activists, but they gave up after sometime. The magistrate tried again, but we put pressure.
“We were fortunate to get parental approval soon after we got married. I started an interfaith marriage group, which has 235 members. We are also affiliated with various other groups such as Dhanak and Love Commandos.”