In an increasingly polarised India, how do interfaith couples navigate everyday life?

BJP MPs tasteless dig at Cong leaders Muslim wife Interfaith couples share their storiesFacebook/ Tabu Rao
Features Religion Saturday, July 15, 2017 - 15:33

On Tuesday, BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje took a potshot at Congress MLA and working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), Dinesh Rao.

While hitting out at the rival party is part of the political game, Shobha's comments were unapologetically personal - “We all know who he has married," she remarked, making a disparaging allusion to Dinesh's wife Tabassum, who is a Muslim.

The couple has been married for 23 years and Tabassum, who has been bombarded by the media since Shobha's comment, has said that something like this has never happened in her long marriage to Dinesh.

On a Facebook post, Tabassum wrote:

“It is no secret that I was born a Muslim and my husband Dinesh Gundu Rao, a Brahmin. We have been happily married for over two decades now… neither of us has converted… respecting all religion is a practice followed by us… we represent the unity in diversity that India stands for… As a homemaker and a mother of two daughters, I take strong umbrage to Shobha Karandlaje trespassing into our private lives for her narrow political gains… It is unfortunate that a leader of Shobha’s stature has stooped to such levels.”

While inter-religious marriages have always faced opposition from families and communities to a certain extent, the growing politicization of such unions in the mainstream is a relatively new phenomenon. The use of terms like 'love jihad' which instigate fear, paranoia and stir up Islamophobic passions, has become more strident and acceptable than ever before.

So much so that when a TNM reporter called ex-Kerala DGP Senkumar, who is facing the heat for his communal comments, he told her that the concerned journalist who took the interview which got him into trouble, was a victim of love jihad himself.

The News Minute spoke to interfaith couples to understand how they feel about the increasing religious polarization in the country.

Sneha* has been married to Saleem* for 6 years. The couple met online and after a whirlwind courtship of five months, they decided to get married. Sneha, a Brahmin woman, lost her father four years before she met Saleem.

"I managed to convince my mother about my decision. We got married according to the Muslim tradition because in any case, my father was not there to give me away as is the Brahmin custom," she says.

Although Sneha converted to Islam for the wedding and even attempted to follow the religion briefly, she soon gave up because she wasn't comfortable doing it. This, she says, has never been an issue with her husband.

"It's true that my mother-in-law still does not accept me completely but other relatives have been very supportive. In fact, when I go to my husband's native place in Tamil Nadu which has a Muslim majority, people are curious to meet someone from another religion," she shares.

Sneha is still a vegetarian but cooks meat for her husband and son.

"I don't want to eat non-veg food. I was brought up as a vegetarian and I didn't like it when I tried it. But I have no problem with my husband and son eating meat," she says.

What have they told their son about religion?

"My son thinks the only difference between Hindus and Muslims is that Muslims eat biryani and have paayasam for festivals," she laughs. "He goes to a famous school here which happens to be where I studied, too. The crowd is predominantly Brahmin and he recites slokas very well. And yes, his official name is a Muslim one."

Although religion is not a contention between the couple, Sneha says that time and again, people ask her why she did not marry someone from her own community.

Once, she recalls that she was wearing a burqa to go for a Muslim wedding and she was stopped on the road by a few men who told her not to go down a certain road because people were celebrating Vinayaka Chaturthi there.

"I had to go home, take off my burqa and go down that road," she says.

Sneha has been to Mecca but visits temples and follows her own faith as she sees it fit. "Even today, I took my bike and went to the temple. Once I came back, my husband took the same bike and went to the mosque. All gods are the same to us," she concludes.

Anu Joseph* a Kerala Christian woman is married to a Malayali Muslim man from Lakshadweep. They met in college and fell in love. While there was some opposition to the marriage, especially from the grandparents and Anu's father, the families eventually came around.

They had a Christian as well as Muslim wedding but, Anu says, they chose to keep the rituals and procedures to a minimum. A month later, they registered their marriage according to the Special Marriages Act.

Religion has never been of too much importance to either of them, Anu shares, and so, it has not come between their love. "My husband doesn't pray or fast. Neither of us is all that religious, so it has been unimportant to us."

However, Anu says, the society around them cannot let them be. "So many people, almost on an everyday basis, tell me about 'love jihad' and that I might realise my 'mistake' after a few years. They tell me all kinds of things about Muslims as soon as I mention what my husband's name is."

The couple does not have children as yet. Asked if they had thought about which religion their children will follow in the future, Anu quips, "No religion! They will be free to follow what they choose for themselves."

Chennai-based Anusha Antonite who fell in love with her Hindu family friend, says, "My husband is not all that religious. Sometimes, I think he is an atheist. He was ready to convert to Christianity but I didn't want him to."

The fathers of both were friends and that's how the couple met. "There was strong opposition from both sides when we told them about our relationship. We had to wait for five years," Anusha says.

However, eventually, the couple managed to convince their respective mothers about their decision.

"The two mothers were alright with having a neutral marriage without too many religious ceremonies. In the end, we had a Hindu as well as a Christian wedding...although his father did not know about the Christian wedding. Convincing the bishop to perform the ceremony with a groom who had not converted was difficult. But I did not want my husband to change his religion," says Anusha.

Anusha is having a busy day, it's her daughter's birthday and she has just come back from the temple.

"My daughter follows both faiths," Anusha says. The small child goes to places of worship belonging to Christianity as well as Hinduism. She is as familiar with Hindu rituals as she is with songs from Christianity.

Anusha acknowledges that Christianity does place an emphasis on religious conversion but says that to accuse anyone of deliberately marrying someone of another faith just to convert them, is unfair.

*Names changed on request