Against all odds: Meet India’s happy interfaith couples
We speak to spouses of different faith backgrounds who have married, against the backdrop of rising obstinate attitudes.
New Delhi, India – The struggles of couples from different faiths have been at the heart of Bollywood films for decades, with audiences rooting for star-crossed lovers.
In recent years, however, having a relationship in India with a partner of a different religion has become increasingly fraught with danger.
There is the so-called “love jihad” conspiracy, that has seen right-wing Hindus accuse Muslims of forcing Hindu women to Islam, in an attempt to eradicate Hinduism.
Then there are cases of violent, often fatal intervention in an interfaith union.
India reported an 800 percent increase in so-called “honour killings” in 2015, with 251 people killed.
A Facebook page by the name of Hindutva Varta (Hindutva Talk) recently listed the details of 102 Hindu-Muslim couples, calling on people to attack the Muslim partner. That page was removed earlier this month.
Also earlier in February, Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old photographer was killed on the streets of New Delhi, allegedly by members of his Muslim girlfriend’s family, according to local media.
In January, a 20-year-old Hindu woman killed herself in the state of Karnataka, having been harassed and bullied by locals over her friendship with a Muslim man.
And on Wednesday, Tanvi Seth, a Hindu woman in Lucknow, tweeted Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj describing an episode of “humiliation” and “moral policing” at the passport office.
An official allegedly denied them passports, reportedly asked her Muslim husband, Anas Siddiqui, to convert for their marriage to be “accepted” and for her to change her Hindu surname.
In these troubling times, Al Jazeera spoke to five couples of various generations from different religious backgrounds about their challenges, hopes and achievements.
‘The objection came from the community’
Wasim, a 37-year-old Muslim scientist, and Deottima Dutta, 33, a Hindu.
Wasim: “We have never thought of the creator in terms of, ‘Who is God? Who is Allah?’ It never mattered to either of us. But of course, that’s not how people around us thought when we fell in love.
We met each other about 15 years ago. It’s been 12 years since we have been married.
When I told my family about her, they were quite happy. They didn’t mind that she is a Hindu.
The objection largely came from the members of my community - my neighbours and extended family ... They kept insisting that she should be converted, if at all this has to happen.
The objection largely came from the members of my community – my neighbours and extended family. They were openly protesting the idea of me getting married to a Hindu woman, they were not happy about it. They kept insisting that she should be converted, if at all this has to happen.
For her, however, the pressure came from her own family, who put their foot down saying this marriage cannot happen.
After trying to convince them for a couple of months, we finally decided to tie the knot without their permission. We left home and got married and registered under the 1954 Special Marriage Act (The 1954 Special Marriage Act guarantees Indian citizens and nationals of other countries the right to marry, regardless of either partner’s religion).
After a few years of disengagement, eventually, both our families accepted us and even organised a gathering which was devoid of any religious ceremonies.
We have two children – our eight-year-old son Antorik Rahman and six-year-old daughter Ipshita Dutta. A year ago, when we were trying to get admission for our daughter in the school in which we had enrolled our son, the principal was very confused to see the remarkably different names.
‘How can they be siblings?’ she asked.
We were asked to send in our marriage certificate to prove that we were actually married to each other.”
‘There was no need to imbibe a new religion’
Surabhi Jamal, who is of Hindu background, and 55-year-old Muslim, Parvez Jamal.
Surabhi: “We have been married for almost 30 years. We met in Mumbai in 1982 through some common friends. He was in filmmaking and also did some modelling back then. In 1989, we got married.
Even though I’m a Maharashtrian and he’s from Kashmir, there was no Hindu-Muslim binary between us or the families.
My family members attended the wedding and so did his.
Between 1996 and 2016, we mostly lived in Kashmir. I worked as a teacher and Parvez focused on filmmaking. We have two daughters, both in their early twenties.
In Srinagar, people just take you in and they’ll never ask you a penetrating question. There was no need to imbibe a new religion, but customs yes, and I enjoyed that.
In Srinagar, once some men had come to our house and they asked Parvez if I prayed. My family and Parvez told them it's none of their business and that was the end of it.
There was a couple of experiences, though.
Before our marriage, I remember people in the neighbourhood would ask Parvez about his intention in marrying me. And in Srinagar, once some men had come to our house and they asked Parvez if I prayed. My family and Parvez told them it’s none of their business and that was the end of it.
But some of my students [in interfaith relationships] have written about not finding places to rent.
If I could sum up how well our families took it, then there could be no better example then my father. He would visit us in Kashmir every year until he died. I think he fell in love with Kashmir too.”
‘We left everything behind to get married’
Tejveer, a 22-year-old Hindu and Saira, a 21-year-old Muslim.
Tejveer: “We have been married for two months now. We have had to leave our families, our homes, our friends – just everything behind to get married.
We fell in love with each other when we were in school. Nobody knew about it other than our friends. We knew it would bring trouble if people came to know a Hindu boy and Muslim girl were going out together. Our friends teased us about it. And one day, eventually, both our families found out. There was a lot of trouble, especially at her home. Her brothers had locked her up.
Our families are still on the lookout for us, we don't want them to find us. We just want to live peacefully.
We both tried to convince them. We tried for months but nothing came of it. Both our families were too stubborn, so we knew we had to run away from them. There was no other way for us to be together otherwise, and that’s what we did. We ran away and came to Delhi. Then we got married. It hasn’t been easy here, either.
Renting a place proved to be a big hassle. People would be nice to us at first, show us around, and even negotiate the rent. But then, when they would hear our names, it made them really tense.
Now I work as a video editor and do some camera work, and she mostly stays home.
Our families are still on the lookout for us, we don’t want them to find us. We just want to live peacefully.
‘We will let our daughter decide her religion’
Arun George, a 35-year-old Christain and Maneka Rao, a Hindu
Arun: “We got married in 2012 and very honestly, we’ve really not faced any challenges. Despite my wife being Hindu and me a Christian, we’ve never faced anything because of our differences in faith, at least externally.
As a couple, the challenges we’ve faced are more to do with adapting to each other’s cultures, but religion has never been in the mix.
Although, we couldn’t do a church marriage because we didn’t want to convert – without this a church wedding wasn’t possible.
The other thing came up recently was what religion our daughter should practice. We will let her decide what religion she wants to follow, when she wants to.
I don’t think [being in an interfaith relationship is] that bad in some sections [of society]. But that said, I have a friend who happens to be a Muslim married to a Hindu woman, and I can tell you they go through hell.
‘Nobody objected to it’
Gulzar Hussain, a 40-year-old Shia Muslim and Sumy Paul, a 37-year-old Malayali Christian
Gulzar: “She is an extrovert. She got along with the family, the neighbours and even the extended family in no time.
We met when both were in a law school in Delhi in 2007 and three years later we decided to marry. To be honest, we haven’t had to face any problems.
Nobody objected to it. Not her family, not my family or neighbours. They were, in fact, all really happy about it.
When we had to meet her parents before the marriage, I wasn’t nervous. Similarly, when we went back to Kargil for our wedding, everything fell into the place. Nobody objected to it. Not her family, not my family or neighbours. They were, in fact, all really happy about it.
Some people do face problems but that wasn’t the case for us.
Although, there was this one instance:
Once, we were travelling back from Srinagar airport. Our tickets had been booked together but after seeing our names, the people on the counter refused to give us the boarding passes. We had to speak to the security official in charge and explain to him that we are married.
Every time my father would visit us Delhi, he would bring her Kashmiri shawls and other gifts. She had a special relationship with him, but I know there are people who face a lot of problems.
We are both practicing lawyers and we truly believe that if the constitution allows us to get married, there should be no reason for anyone to object. That’s mostly how our story has been.”