Real life love stories are always interesting and they draw special attention when such affairs run through rough weather or end in tragedy. Although love-marriage-related conflicts, crimes and violent actions are not uncommon, yet the honour killing incidents in the recent past have once again bring the attitude of the Indian society towards inter-community love marriage under scanner. Moreover, they also raise serious questions regarding the activities of civil society in India.
The cases of honour killing make one thing very clear – even in the new millennium; the Indian society does not feel much confortable with love affairs. Blaming patriarchal social structure of the traditional culture, for that matter, would be a very simplistic explanation. Lord Krishna and his lover Radha are worshipped all over India and this extra-marital love affair remains a source of inspiration to the artists and to the poets for centuries. The patriarchal Hindu society, with all its conservative attitude, did not find any difficulty to celebrate the divine love story in public. But what is praised and discussed in public might not be allowed to take place within the domestic space. Therefore, although love stories were popularized in songs, dramas and in other forms of performing arts, the lovers never had a smooth ride. The parents in India have always preferred arranged marriages and the situation has not changed much even today.
A close look to the society points out that there are reservations about love affairs mainly for two reasons. Firstly, the guardians feel that being engaged in love is nothing but wastage of time and it distracts the attention of the young boys and girls from their studies. Some liberals feel that love is permissible only after reaching maturity, particularly after completing education and after achieving stability and self-sufficiency financially. The second factor of opposition is more important. In Indian society, even today, the love affairs are viewed in connection with marriage. There is a general opinion that the lovers should have commitment to the relationship and such a relationship should be taken to the socially acceptable conclusion, that is, ‘marriage’. As a result, all the issues related to marriage appear in the scene, while dealing with love related matters.
In India, marriage is a very problematic issue. The choice of mates, rituals to be performed, wedding ceremonies, all these are seriously taken. Conservative parents, for keeping control over the family affairs, prefer to select mates for their children themselves. In the Indian tradition, even today, marriage is regarded as a parental responsibility, particularly the marriage of the daughters. Inability to arrange marriage for the girls is regarded as a matter of shame for the family whereas ensuring a happy marriage for the children in a socially and financially secure family, is a matter of pride for the guardians.
Therefore, in order that marriages may be happy, adjustments after marriage become a major concern. So, the elders of the family try to find optimum similarities between the two sides and the main factors that receive attention during match-making are social status, economic background, ethnicity and caste.
In rarest of rare cases, a mate is selected from a different religious group. In the everyday social life of average Indians, religion, ethnicity and even caste play an important role. Religious traditions and cultures, not only influences one’s activities and ideologies, they tend to give a distinct identity to its followers. In such a social context, it is believed that adjustment by a couple becomes a tough task when the partners belong to different religion, culture, financial strata, caste or race. Further, in this age of consumerism, adjustments are assumed to be much harder when the bride comes of a much richer family but the groom is financially rather poor and weak.
In India, marriage is seen not just as an event that gives social sanction to a couple to have sexual relationship and give birth to children but it is viewed in other ways as well. Marriage is a means to raise social status, an instrument to establish contacts with people enjoying power and prestige. Marriage not only determines the position of any individual but also effects the larger family he or she belongs to. Since reputation is very significant and sensitive in a highly stratified society, therefore, very often we find that communities get involved in disputes linked to marriage and tensions arise. Sometimes, such disputes result in violent acts causing law and order problem. In fact, as evident from the media reports from time to time; conflicts, brutality and even murders resulting from inter-caste and inter-religion or inter-ethnic marriages are not rare in the subcontinent.
However, caste wars are not the only crime associated with marriage. Violation of The Child Marriage Restraint Act is rampant. Similarly common is fake marriage. Murder and torture for dowry are among the major crimes committed against women in India. What is more, marriage is one of the important reasons and widely used method behind trafficking of young women.
Therefore, although marriage is a personal matter, yet in the Indian context, marriage-related crimes create enough scope for external intervention. Whenever the situation gets complicated, there is an opportunity for some corrupt people, holding the position of power, to fish in troubled waters. Such an opportunistic tribe includes not only the police but then political bosses as well.
No sensible person can say that intercommunity love marriages are not desirable. A civilized society can hardly prevent such marriages from taking place in spite of all possible efforts. Ideally, there should not be any interference when mates are adults and legally married. However, complex situation often arises out of such marriages. It is a fact, though undesirable, that even in this age of cultural globalization, intercommunity marriages without family consent are discouraged, resisted and often end in tension and conflict. Such situation is not welcome and it deserves serious attention.
To ensure safe and peaceful time for the lovers after marriage, the best option would be to remove tensions among the communities and establish a culture of responsibility. Here the civil society has one important role to play. But this is not an easy task to accomplish and there is no shortcut to success. Only blaming the conservative parents and asking them to become open minded and to respect individual choice are not going to help much. Experience shows that love marriages in large number end in cheating, in trafficking of young girls etc. There is a general belief that love marriages often lead to divorce due to failure in adjustment and lack of commitment to the relationship. In the Indian family value system, divorce is not easily acceptable and remarriage is difficult. After years to investing in children’s upbringing and spending huge amount for their marriage, no Indian parents would like to witness separation after a few months. Asking parents to be tolerant and allowing youths to go after their own choice – even to the extent of becoming irresponsible in the name of individual freedom – may not be the proper approach to establish a healthy social atmosphere.
It is a simple fact that unless the bitterness among different sections is not mitigated, conflicts may ensue from time to time fro intercommunity love marriages. Such unfortunate happenings are not unnatural or infrequent in a society which has poor record of checking communal riots as also of organizing speedy trial and delivering justice to the victims. Therefore, due to the failure of the political system, the task for the civil socity is to create a conducive environment for tension free interaction among all the communities. Mere use of attractive words – just to blame some fundamentalists and thereby claiming a secular label forgetting other real issues – will not serve any real purpose. Time has come to remember that playing to the gallery by the intelligentia can hardly achieve any positive result. Abusing police after an unfortunate incident and criticizing political parties selectively will fall far short of what is needed. There is no denying the fact that, there are reasons for communal tensions to exist in India. Fundamentalism and narrow sectarian mentality apart, special schemes aimed at appeasing specific communities for vote bank politics affect social harmony beyond repair. But unfortunately, such harmful acts have rarely faced any strong, continuous large scale movement lead by the civil society. Similarly, very little has been done by the civil society to pressurize the political system to go for reforming the police and judiciary. The intention on the part of the opportunistic intellectuals to remain politically correct in every occasion only allows communalism to spread its wings. Unless the civil society realizes its roles and duties, a culture of discipline and responsibility can never be established in the Indian social context. Otherwise, many lovers, sharing a common dream from different community backgrounds, will suffer.
Ananda Mohan Kar (Asst. Professor, Department of Sociology, The University of Burdwan, India).