India Love Project: In the Time of “Love Jihad” Fear Mongering, a Celebration of Interfaith Love

Love and Sex

India Love Project: In the Time of “Love Jihad” Fear Mongering, a Celebration of Interfaith Love

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

India is home to many of the world’s largest religions. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, Jews, and other faiths all reside together within its borders, and our “rich and varied heritage” is something that is enshrined in the National Pledge and taught to children in schools. However, intolerance toward interfaith marriage has been on the rise in recent times, and has come to a head this year. First there was the backlash toward a Tanishq advertisement featuring a Hindu woman marrying into a Muslim family, and now, within the last seven days, leaders in several states have been harping on about the dangers of “love jihad”, and promising to implement laws to stop it.

Against this backdrop, an Instagram page that celebrates how India has been home to some of the most harmonious unions of people from different religions is a reminder that the country wasn’t always so scandalised by the idea of interfaith marriage. India Love Project is a page that seeks to highlight “Love and marriage outside the shackles of faith, caste, ethnicity, and gender” as per its bio. Founded by editor Samar Halarnkar, journalist Priya Ramani, and writer Niloufer Venkatraman, its posts showcase the couples who married for love – despite the societal barriers of religion and tradition.

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BAKHTAWAR MASTER & S VENKATRAMAN By @niloufervenk I was eight when I asked my parents why a schoolteacher had called me “mongrel”, a word I’d heard used only for dogs before. That’s when I first heard their story. In 1954, my Parsi mother, Bakhtawar Master, was studying at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and regularly volunteered at the institution’s Social Service League. There she met another volunteer, S. Venkatraman, a Hindu-Tamilian man, nine years older, who worked for an airline. They fell deeply in love. He had no immediate family. Her huge family disapproved. Four years later, on the morning of 9th May 1958, when 24-year-old Bakhti left home for work she told her mother she wasn’t returning that night. She and Rami married under the Special Marriage Act that day. My parents intentionally gave their three children Parsi first names and a Tamilian last name — they said we should be “proud of both identities”. Throughout their long partnership of 31 years, each followed their own religion. They refused to attend a wedding if they knew dowry was part of the deal. And they fervently supported other inter-faith marriages and adoptions; several of these unions and celebrations took place right in our home. PHOTOS #1 S Venkatraman and Bakhtawar Master #2 After 25 years together #3 They hosted several interfaith unions at their house. _________________________________. #love #couplegoals #india #interfaith #vintage

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The page has quickly gained thousands of followers, crossing 3,500 soon after being founded. Each of the posts on the page features a different interfaith couple, telling their story of all the years they’ve been together and all the obstacles they’ve overcome. And people on social media have been appreciative of the content, taking it as a tonic to the increasingly toxic, intolerant attitude toward interfaith marriages in mainstream discourse.

The India Love Project is a fitting reply to all who try to demonise the institution of interfaith marriage.