There are times my country drives me to despair. These tend to be occasions when the gulf between what I believe is right and what the authorities consider acceptable is so huge I feel like an alien in my own land.
The recent judgment by the Allahabad High Court on religious conversions and the undisguised threats by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath against what he calls “love jihad” are perfect examples of what I have in mind.
In a recent ruling, the Allahabad court proclaimed that religious conversion solely for the purpose of marriage is legally invalid. Good heavens, why? To my mind, this is a perfectly understandable reason for converting. It’s proof of a commitment to your partner that overcomes differences of culture and faith. What greater sign of love can there be than a willingness to give up my God and embrace yours so I can live my life with you? If I want to make this gesture who are the courts — or the law, for that matter — to claim I cannot? It affects no one but me. It’s, therefore, a decision I alone have the right to make and no one has the power to question.
However, I want to go one step further. Most women grow up visualising their marriage in terms of the religious ceremony sanctified by their faith. When I married Nisha, a Goan Catholic, a church wedding was her dream. Falling in love with a Hindu seemed to put it beyond reach. Fortunately, Father Terry did not feel constrained by the excluding conventions of his faith. Regardless of my Hinduism, he married us in church and gave Nisha full communion.
But if he had not, I would have gladly become a Catholic so my wife could have the wedding she wanted. Not for a moment would my Hindu gods have felt offended or betrayed. They would recognise Jesus and Mother Mary as incarnations of themselves. And, anyway, making my wife happy is a surer way to God’s heart than hours spent in ostentatious but unfelt prayer.
Let me now turn to Yogi Adityanath. In a recent speech, he issued thinly-veiled ultimatums to men who practise “love jihad”, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s crude oxymoronic term for Muslim men who marry Hindu girls. “Agar woh sudhre nahin toh Ram naam satya hai ki yatra nikalne wali hai,” he said, threatening to take the lives of those who don’t mend their ways.
The chief minister’s position is dumbfounding. First, what has convinced him that young Muslim men are conspiring to lure Hindu girls into Islam with offers of marriage? In February, the central government, in a statement in Parliament, repudiated the concept. “No case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies,” said minister of state for home, G Kishan Reddy. So what facts is the chief minister relying on? He has a duty to reveal them. But if he can’t — because they don’t exist — he faces a more compelling duty to keep silent.
Once again, I want to go one step further. India is a heterogeneous country. We comprise a perplexing plethora of creeds, castes, cultures, cuisines and complexions. For many, they end up defining our identity — at least until we choose to do so ourselves. But India’s future — and by that, I mean its capacity to realise its potential — depends on our success in forging bonds that dissolve our differences in a new consciousness of being Indian. Marrying across religious divides is perhaps the surest way of doing that. The love that surpasses sectarian dogma is the key to that India. How come a yogi, of all people, cannot understand that?
So, now, can you understand my despair? We’re two decades into the 21st century but we’re still in thrall to the thinking of the 19th.
The men who should light the path forward seem to hearken to the past. At this rate, it’ll soon be goodbye to tomorrow.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal