Love Azaad! What does freedom to love cost in contemporary India? A webinar to celebrates tales of love and the struggle for rights
15, Feb 2021 | CJP Team
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) held a day-long event which started with an engaging Instagram live with independent journalist and founder of The Ladies Compartment where CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad and she discussed the recent love jihad ordinances and answered some questions on the Special Marriage Act this was followed by a second Instagram live with mixed-media artist, storyteller and Ambedkarite Siddhesh Gautam also known as @bakeryprasad on Instagram where topics from the choice to love, caste were discussed and personal experiences and stories were shared. The day-long event ended with a webinar that celebrated intercaste, inter-faith and same-sex relationships that break society’s Manuvaadi (Brahmanical) mindset and work towards a progressive India as envisaged by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani from Vadgam hosted the ‘Love Azaad’ webinar on February 13, 2021 evening wherein various couples shared their lived experiences of facing societal hate for marrying or living with someone outside their community.
The illusion of ‘Love Jihad’ has led violence and intimidation by police and non-state actors. The ‘Love Jihad’ laws legitimise un-constitutional, anti-minority and misogynistic beliefs, and help further the hateful, communal agenda of extremists. CJP is challenging these laws as they impinge upon the privacy, freedoms and autonomy of consenting adults. Help CJP fight for equality and choice. Donate now to denounce Love Jihad and keep #LoveAzaad.
The webinar was organised in continuance of CJP’s legal and constitutional challenge to four laws, recently passed by states that impinge on individual freedoms and violate the Constitution. CJP has filed two petitions to the Supreme Court against the Love Jihad laws passed in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand (December 2020), and now (February 2021) Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Says CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad, the petitions that challenge the laws against religious conversion (“love jihad” laws) are on the multiple grounds of violating the fundamental right to personal liberty and autonomy, privacy, adults’ freedom of choice, right to conscience, right against discriminations, constitutional obligation of governors, the principle of secularism, Ambedkar’s ideology. The petitions also argue that the laws militate against international laws and conventions.
“We believe that there are sound principles behind challenge and hope that courts honour the human rights jurisprudence that has developed in India over 75 years honouring the shraman vs brahman struggle that has gone on for centuries through history,” said Setalvad.
Praising these legal initiatives, Mewani talked about the importance of inter-caste marriages for the annihilation of caste as envisioned by Ambedkar. “These laws suggest upper-caste people are the sole arbitrators of everything. These laws validate Brahmanical patriarchy by controlling the sexual freedoms of women. These “Love Jihad” laws are turning India into a ‘Romeo Squad-driven’ country. People who marry inter-caste or inter-faith have contributed greatly to India’s progress. We should celebrate love,” said Mewani.
He also stated that after becoming an MLA, Mewani has endeavoured to provide legal help and shelter to people wanting to have inter-caste or inter-community relationships. The need for such support structures is apparent when listening to anti-caste activist and Founder of Shankar Social Justice Trust Kausalya’s lived experience of losing her husband to a brute honour-killing attack in 2016.
You can watch the entire video here:
Gowsalya Sankar’s testimony was the most searing and powerful. “Though Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the globe, in India the celebration of love is considered a sin because ‘caste’ is the basic matter of pride in this country. This pride is embodied in the body of women. ‘They’ carry the caste pride forward and because of this, it is Indian women who suffer.” Speaking confidently in Tamil, her account was translated by Shalin Marya, who herself was inspired to battle Dalit atrocities after watching the account of Shanar’s brutal murder on local television.
When Gowsalya met her to-be-husband Shankar, a Dalit, she not only fell in love but felt free, liberated and transformed. Caste just was not a factor. For her family however, that invested caste honour in their daughter, there was brutal and violent opposition. They not only opposed her marriage to a Dalit but hounded, mercilessly, the couple after they eloped. Finally, Shankar was hacked to death on March 12, 2016 when the couple had gone out shopping. The incident was recorded on CCTV cameras after which his death played across newsrooms in Tamil Nadu. Despite a long legal battle and harassment from her community, Gowsalya recounted, only the contract killers were jailed and not her parents and uncle who were the main accused in the incident. (The lower court had convicted her father, this conviction was overturned by the High Court for ‘lack of evidence of conspiracy.’
“Even though caste-based killing is discussed there are also marriages where killing doesn’t happen, just emotional torture and social stigma is ongoing and continuous. Those incidents should also be treated as crimes. There should be separate laws against honour killings to bring down such incidents of murder,” she said.
As an example of how women are enslaved by communities, Gowsalya said that while her family pampered her with material goods treating her like “a deity” with them she never enjoyed freedom. However, Shankar treated her with dignity, like a human being unlike her family that saw her as a material object.
Gowsalya now lives with her partner and performer Sakhti Ravanan who helped her overcome the trauma of Shankar’s death. The two spread the message that love has no barriers.
Bearing Witness on February 13 were also couples like designers Shalini Dhawan and Amir Rizvi. Despite studying in the same college, the two professionals met each other after graduation. While neither cared about each other’s faith, their marriage was uncommon even for Dhawan’s family who did not mind inter-caste marriage. Meanwhile, Rizvi came from an orthodox Muslim family. However, he was pleasantly surprised by his family who acknowledged his civil marriage. Dhawan and Rizvi were also amused by the fact that everyone around them had an opinion about their marriage. Rizvi gave an example wherein he had to show his identity card and marriage certificate to the postman to receive a package (containing the passport) for Dhawan because “How can a Rizvi be married to Dhawan?” said the postman.
This ‘societal judgement’ by neighbours and all and sundry continues to be a problem for same-sex couple Avijit Chakravarty and Raj Ahir as well. The two men met at a Pride Parade four years ago and finally told their parents about their relationship. While their family has slowly come to terms with the coupling, Chakravarty and Ahir even now have to pretend to their neighbours that they are cousins. Chakravarty also talked about how his father took 12 years to accept his son’s sexual orientation even though he came out to his parents 15 years ago. Meanwhile Ahir’s mother has taken them under her wing for a while now.
Chakravarty also talked about his parent’s inter-caste marriage stating he has seen the lived experience of a Scheduled Caste woman trying to co-exist in a Brahmin family. He remembered insulting sentences aimed at his mother who is still not allowed to participate in the Pooja rituals in Kolkatta.
Similarly, child rights activist and prominent LGBTQIA member Harrish (Iyer) talked about the role of caste within the LGBTQIA community as well. He also talked about his own caste-blindness years ago due to which he had written a caste-preference in his matrimonial advertisement only to realise his error of judgement when reactions came in later.
Meanwhile, journalist and husband of Setalvad, Javed Anandspoke about the two diametrically opposite meanings the term “love jihad” has developed over the years.
“Love jihad has two meanings: one given by the BJP-RSS of a “struggle against love” and the other is Ambedkar’s notion “struggle for love.” Thus the term includes two opposite takes of a Manuvaadi ideology against Ambedkar’s ideology,” he said. Talking about his own experience, Anand said he is from an extremely conservative family. However, the same conservative family nowadays witnesses more such inter-faith marriages where his niece and nephew engage in inter-caste marriages. He hoped that this generational change indicated good times to come. “The Supreme Court also reminded Indians recently about what Ambedkar said regarding annihilation of caste. Nothing should come in the way of love,” said Anand.
The webinar was also serenaded by Indian spoken word poet and writer Hussain Haidry who recited ‘Chhipkali’ poem, an allegory on how state talks about non-violence but attacks with violence. He also recited another poem ‘Abhi Tak Waqt Hai’ that talks about how violence can still be curbed. He concluded his performance with a ghazal.
The event concluded with performances of Yalgaar Sanskrutik Manch Mumbai, a young band known for its outspoken political opinion, who sang songs celebrating love in memory of the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Mewani also recited poems in Gujarati and Hindi to celebrate the notion of “love azaad.”
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