For couples going for inter caste and inter religion marriages in India, the path is not so easy even in this era of hi tech dating, matchmaking apps and websites

Rajiv Malik (India)

In India even today a very large number of marriages are arranged by the families with the help of relatives, family friends, traditional match makers, newspaper ads and matrimonial websites. Most of the parents and large part of the society are in favor of arranged marriages which take place within the same caste or religion to which the family belongs.

The stark reality of India is that even in today’s times marriages between different castes and different religions are not a socially acceptable proposition. The evil of caste system is so deeply rooted that it cannot be easily eradicated. In India marriages are not just regarded as a social institution but they are a part of one of the very important sanskars of the Hindu society. Marriage in the Hindu society not only brings together just the bride and groom but it is supposed to unite two families or clans. That is the reason inter religious and inter caste marriages succeed in the cases where the parents and families are open to it and become highly problematic and challenging where the families are not willing to accept the decision of their children to marry out of their own caste or religion.

However for sure the situation is gradually changing and at least in the major metropolitan cities and in urban areas there has been a remarkable growth in inter caste and inter faith marriages. There are no authentic figures available on how many marriages in India are love marriages which include inter caste and inter faith marriages and how many fall in the category of arranged or are assisted by the families. Broadly speaking even today in terms of percentage around eighty percent marriages would be arranged and only twenty percent would fall in other categories. Fortunately, I did come across an old study the interesting details of which are being presented below to give a better idea in terms of statistics.

Samir and Swagata (photo Indian Express)

Studies conducted to find out about the impact of interfaith marriages in India
A number of studies conducted by research scholars have found that interfaith marriages have limited impact on society at large. For instance, students and faculty of the Central Government run International Institute for Population Sciences had presented a paper on interfaith marriages in India in 2013 by analysing data from the “Indian Human Development Survey [IHDS] data, 2005” to explore the extent of mixed marriages in India.

The Indian Human Development Survey 2005 [IHDS] is a nationally representative, multi topic survey of 41,554 households in 1503 villages and 971 urban neighborhoods across India. Though there was no direct question on inter-religious marriage, the paper has taken the religious affiliation of husband and wife to find the number of inter faith marriages.

The study suggests that 2.21 percent of all married women between the age of 15-49 had married outside their religion. The proportion of inter religious marriages is highest at 2.8 per cent among the women of the young age group [15-19] than other age groups which decrease with increasing age at marriage with 2.3 percent for those in the age group 20-24, 2 percent for 25-29 and 1.9 per cent for those above 30. Interreligious marriages are greater among the women living in the urban areas at 2.9 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent for rural areas.

The data also revealed the prevalence of women marrying outside their faith is the highest amongst Christians with 3.5 percent of women having mixed marriages. Sikhs come second at 3.2 per cent, Hindus 1.5 per cent and Muslims 0.6 per cent. The data however , does not show the religion which the women are marrying into.

Punjab has the highest mixed marriages at 7.8 per cent. The high number is attributed to the somewhat similar religious customs and practices followed by Sikhism and Hinduism. Jharkhand at 5.7 percent and Andhra Pradesh at 4.9 percent also have a high proportion of mixed marriages. The lowest percentage of mixed marriages are in Bengal at 0.3 percent and Rajasthan 0.7 percent.

Suman Taneja

Most of the profiles of marriage aspirants I get mention – “caste no bar”, says seasoned match maker Suman Taneja
In an interview to Hindorama, Suman Taneja, a seasoned matchmaker and founder of Sindoor Matchmakers [] said that today the marriage scenario is changing very fast and the youth is giving more importance to talent and status of the would be life partner over and above the caste and family background which were the two factors that dominated in the past when parents were in full control of their marriages.

Suman has been in the business of match making for over two decades and belongs to a family which worked for marriage reforms wayback in the 1950’s. She said her maternal grandfather Lala Hukam Chand Bagga, who was an Arya Samaj leader and a yoga teacher had founded an organisation Vivah Sudhar Sabha in fifties which promoted simple weddings with no dowry and dealt in inter caste marriages which was quite a revolutionary idea in those times.

According to Suman today it is very common for the profiles of girls and boys mention – caste no bar when it comes to selection of their life partners. She said that in Delhi alone there are over 3000 marriage bureaus doing roaring business. Suman feels the number of inter caste marriages is going up phenomenally and in the times to come both inter caste and inter faith marriages will be something very common in the Hindu community. According to Suman there are a lot of matchmakers including her who work for providing matches for all religions, castes, ages, status and budget. She goes on to say that today the matchmakers are busy like never before, this is because of the very high expectations of the people and their never ending search for a perfect life partner. Generally the matrimonial bureaus charge a registration fee that ranges from 5,000 to 50,000. There are others who take a certain percentage of the total cost of the marriage as their commission. Today a large number of the marriages cost between 1 and 20 crores. Match makers charge one per cent of the money spent on the marriage as their commission. It is a pretty lucrative business.

On her own style of functioning , Suman had this to say, “On every profile I work I treat the child as my own. I personally visit families to verify their claims regarding jobs, business and property. Matchmaking for me is more of a passion than profession.” Interestingly her own son and daughter both found their own respective life partners by themselves. Her son has married a French girl , undergoing an inter religion marriage. Whereas her daughter has gone for an inter caste marriage and is married to a brahmin boy, though she herself is married in a Punjabi Kshatriya family.

Safehouse intercaste couples

Ironically today, besides the matchmaking industry, on the one hand we globally and also in India have a large number of dating apps , match making apps and websites, which collectively are a billion dollars industry. These are helping many of the genuine seekers of soul mates to easily connect to those with whom their marriages were perhaps already made in heaven. On the other hand there are apps and websites being made by some non governmental and social organisations for the safety and security of those couples who go for inter caste and inter faith marriages and need help to be saved from the wrath of the families, organisations and sections of the society who do not approve of such marriages. In some cases their own families indulge in violence against such couples and in some extreme cases even result in horrific killing of innocent lovers in the name of honor killings.

Couples share what it is like to marry inter caste or inter religion
Riya, who married Rahul had this to say- “Having the guts to marry a guy outside my caste was something I never imagined. We both went through really big struggles and obstacles. Our families stopped supporting us, emotionally and financially, so in the first year of our marriage, we had to even live in a very small room. Now when I remember , it was very tearful.”

Sakshi who married Ravindra, shared, “ Marrying my husband was like broadening a horizon that I never even knew existed. Of course, we literally had to stand our ground and fight my brothers at the time of announcing that we will get married. We both got hurt in the process, but now it is worth it.”

Hariwant who married Rupali had this to say, “ It was tough. I married my girlfriend who was from a dalit [lower caste] background. My parents refused to accept her, even though her family was financially stable and even, good. Caste is a terrifying tag, we both have not talked to our parents for over 5 years now.”

Sirish marrying Meghna was one of the lucky few. His story in his own words, “I would like to say that maybe, I have been one of the few lucky ones whose inter-religion marriage was not much of a problem. Even though it was not easy, it was not too tough as well. Both our families were educated and broad minded , so they understood when we wanted to marry each other after falling in love.”

Number of interfaith and inter caste marriages is increasing day by day
It is very logical to raise the question, how can any religion, society, caste and creed come in the way of two consenting adults who love each other and are qualified to marry as per the constitution and the law of a country ? However this is the legal position or this is what should be happening ideally or logically. Yet the ground reality in India is that it is a traditional society which has rather rigid caste and religious systems which have played an important role in the selection of mates in the marriages over the past many centuries. Due to these age old traditions for the vast majority of Indians it has always been difficult to think of marrying someone outside their caste and religion.

Despite a somewhat gloomy scenario that prevails due to lack of complete harmony between the two major religions of India (Hindu and Muslim), also the caste divides that sharply exist in the Hindu society today, the situation on the ground is that the number of both interfaith and inter caste marriages is increasing day by day and such marriages are being accepted in a much bigger manner by the society than used to happen in the past. As the education levels and degree of modernisation and socio economic development are going up, more and more of Indian youth is going for these kind of marriages. As more and more women are getting educated and employed, they get to interact with a very large number of men professionally as they pursue their careers and thus the opportunity of intermingling of youth belonging to different castes and religions is happening as it never used to happen before. In such a situation love marriages between boys and girls of different castes and religions are bound to happen and even if sometimes the parents and society would not welcome it open heartedly, they will be compelled to accept such marriages when the constitution and the law of the land comes in a big way to protect such lovers and couples.

Now speaking in terms of constitution and law, all marriages in India can be registered under the respective personal laws such as Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Muslim Marriage Act , 1954 or under the Special Marriage Act , 1954. It is the duty of the judiciary to ensure that the rights of both the husband and wife are protected in all these kind of marriages. Though the ngo’s are not happy with certain provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, which they feel make it a bit cumbersome for those couples who undergo intercaste and  interfaith marriages, it is this very act which is being used for registering such marriages.

Controversies related to the concept of love jihad and laws to check its practice
Strained relations between different religions are not good for interfaith marriages. Worse is the talk and existence of concepts like ‘love jihad’ which are based on the idea of men belonging to one particular community, that is Muslims, targeting women of Hindu community for conversion to Islam by using means such as seduction, feigning love, deception, even kidnapping & marriage.

Love Jihad is said to be taken as part of a broader war by Muslims against India, as some kind of an organised international conspiracy for ultimately dominating India through the sheer power of growth in population through demographic growth.

The highly contentious issue of love jihad was in headlines in a big way during many different occasions in the past one year or so, when several BJP ruled states passed laws prohibiting religious conversions for the purpose of marriage while some others are coming up with similar legislations. These laws are yet not final and the highest court of India, Supreme Court has recently agreed to examine the validity of state laws related to religious conversions due to interfaith marriages. Some social activists and ngo’s have challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which regulate religious conversions of interfaith marriages. The ngo claimed before the court that some of the provisions of these laws are oppressive and horrible in nature and require prior consent of the governments to marry which is absolutely obnoxious. Though the ngo had requested the court to grant stay of some of the provisions, the chief justice of India refused to do so before giving a hearing to the states to whom the bench has issued notice seeking their response within four weeks time.

The characters Kabir Durrani (played by Danesh Razvi), and Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala) in Mira Nair’s adaption of A Suitable Boy.

What has given more credence to this concept of love jihad is the findings of a poll conducted by prestigious India Today media group, known as India Today -Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation January 2021 poll. According to it there is a strong belief among 54 percent of the respondents that love jihad is actually a conspiracy to convert Hindu women to Islam. Only 36 percent were of the view that no such conspiracy existed.

In the orthodox Hindu society where inter caste and inter faith marriages were generally not appreciated for a long time , this new concept of love jihad further complicated the already complex scenario in which the Hindu society and also society in general was opening up to such marriages.

The instances labeled as Love Jihad unfortunately increased the chasm between the two major religions communities of India, Hindus and Muslims which always have been under some kind of strain after the country had undergone partition in the year 1947, which mainly happened on the basis of religion.

When the relations between the two religions are not fully in harmony, the tolerance levels for each other goes down. It is partly due to this phenomenon that there were controversies that happened related to the Tanishq jewellery advertisement in which the Muslim family was shown very liberal to their Hindu daughter in law, which to many Hindu organisations and political leaders did not portray the ground reality in a correct manner. Similarly the filming of kissing scenes in the Netflix series entitled A Suitable Boy, between a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl in the background of a temple where bhajans were being sung, was strongly objected to by the Hindu hardliners. Hindus complain that while the ad and film makers are very cautious and sensitive when it is dealing with matters related to religions other than Hinduism, they take undue liberties with the Hindus and often show them in poor light, not caring about their cultural and religious sensibilities. Somewhere this kind of treatment has to stop and all religions have to be treated with the same kind of respect and sensitivity.

Love knows no boundaries of caste and religion
Interestingly while a number of ngo’s all over India are working for helping the lovers and couples undergoing interfaith and inter caste marriages, extending them all kind of help, a India Love Project has also been initiated, which uses the power of social media to talk about many such successful couples, their success stories , their trials and tribulations. India Love project on instagram and facebook is being described as “a celebration of interfaith/intercaste love and togetherness in these divisive, hate filled times.”

Love knows no boundaries of caste and religion. No matter how hard the battle of love goes, one wins at the end. Bitter opposition, violence and even fatal interventions are common in many of the Hindu-Muslim marriages. But when the power of the love prevails no amount of hurdles can stop a blue love story from coming to fruition ! Many such stories of true love have been beautifully and powerfully portrayed in some of the bollywood movies including Gadar, Veer-Zaara, Bombay, Pinjar and Mr and Mrs Iyer, to name a few.

Gandharva marriage

Rishi Kanva Supported Gandharva Marriage In Ancient India
Finally in today’s age we all know about Valentine’s Day and it is celebrated in quite a big way by the urban Indian youth too. It is time our youth was educated about the concept of ‘Gandharva Marriage’ which is one of the eight classical types of Hindu marriages, which figures in Rig Vedic opinions and classical literature. This ancient marriage tradition was based on mutual attraction between two people, with no rituals, witnesses or family participation. The marriage between King Dushyanta and Shakuntala was a historically celebrated example of this class of marriage. In fact even in the Mahabharat, Bheem and Hidambaa’s marriage was considered acceptable under the tenets of gandharva marriage. The final word on gandharva marriage should go to Rishi Kanva, the foster father of Shakuntala, who had this to say about gandharva marriage- “The marriage of a desiring woman with a desiring man, without religious ceremonies , is the best marriage.”

Photos: courtesy Indian Express, Sindoor Matchmakers, BBC and Indian Love Project