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Interfaith Marriage Panel: Maha Learning Wrong Lesson From Shraddha Walkar Case?

How did the Shraddha Walkar murder case become a cautionary tale against interfaith marriages?

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“It is wrong to weigh a couple on the scales of caste or religion. Love does not happen by deceit. This is a conspiracy to bring even private matters under the purview of the law,” said Pratima Pardeshi, an Ambedkarite activist from Maharashtra's Pune, about the state government’s decision to set up a ‘Interfaith Marriage-Family Coordination Committee." 

The panel, constituted through a government resolution issued by the Ministry of Woman and Child Development Department, will gather details about "couples in such marriages, and maternal families of such women if they were estranged" as reported by The Indian Express.

Citing Shraddha Walkar's murder case, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, "Cheating in interfaith marriages has increased in the past few years and some aspects have come to light in the Shraddha Walkar murder case."

Meanwhile, the state's Women and Child Development Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Prabhat Lodha, who will be heading the committee, reasoned:

"We don't want to have another Shraddha Walkar and this is the reason why the committee is being set up to ensure women in such marriages are not away from their families." 

The Quint spoke to activists in Maharashtra who help interfaith couples — on the implications of the formation of this 13-member panel, the Shraddha Walkar murder case being used as a cautionary tale, and why it is pertinent to advocate for an individual's rights in the face of 'love jihad' accusations. 

Interfaith Marriage Panel: Maha Learning Wrong Lesson From Shraddha Walkar Case?

  1. 1. But First, What Does the Committee Plan To Do?

    The committee will be headed by the state's Women and Child Development Minister and BJP leader Prabhat Lodha, and it will collect information on the following: 

    • registered and unregistered interfaith marriages 

    • marriages that have taken place in religious places of worship or after elopement

    This information will be collected from the stamp duty and registrar's offices. 

    The committee will then: 

    • contact newly married women involved, as well as their maternal families and find out if they are estranged 

    • obtain the addresses of the women’s maternal families in cases of estrangement and contact the parents 

    • take the help of counsellors for the women and the parents who are “unwilling” to resume contact 

    Expand
  2. 2. What Do Activists, Lawyers and Opposition Leaders Have To Say About This?

    The committee has received flak, not just from the Opposition but also from the Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW) which has taken "serious note" on the government resolution.

    On 19 December, senior women activists and representatives of more than 14 NGOs met MSCW chairperson Rupali Chakankar and demanded that the state government resolution be immediately withdrawn as it violates the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of India to every citizen.

    Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi on Tuesday, 20 December, claimed that "the proposed interfaith marriage inspection committee is aimed at dividing Hindus and Muslims."

    While the resolution had initially included intercaste marriages as well but after mention of the fact that intercaste couples are granted funds by schemes of the state government itself, the committee concentrated its focus on interfaith marriages.

    Meanwhile, Maharashtra-based advocate Vikrant Shinde, told The Quint:

    "The committee violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which is right to life and liberty. Choosing a life partner is a freedom given to citizens. I don't think, however, that any legislation can be attributed to an ulterior motive at the outset. The government is capable of abuse of process but the public trust is to ensure that it does not misuse the power given to them. Weaponisation is subjective topic but as far as our secular structure goes, it doesn't seem to be the intent at the face of it. It has more to do with women safety than minority issues." 
    Expand
  3. 3. What Kind of Support do Activists and NGOs Provide to Interfaith Couples?

    The Quint spoke to Shamsuddin Tamboli, president of the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal — founded by Hamid Dalwai in 1966, the NGO tries to bring in progressive reforms in the Muslim community, helps divorced women, runs a youth centre, a study circle, and help centre for interfaith couples, among other initiatives. 

    He narrated an incident from 2020 of an interfaith couple in Pune. "They were from the same village and worked in Pune where they fell in love. They gave a notice under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to the marriage registrar. The notice, which is then put up for public display, was made to go viral. When the woman's parents found out, they told their daughter that her father was ill. When she went back to her village, her family tricked her into staying back," recalled Tamboli.  

    The woman managed to make it back to Pune, after which her parents filed a missing person's complaint. "This is when the couple came to us for help. We sought police help and submitted a letter on behalf of the couple stating that they are both adults and want to marry each other... We facilitated their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, and they are now in The Netherlands,” he said. 

    Tamboli said that the organisation receives several such cases and while they don't have shelter homes, the couples are accommodated in "homes of trustworthy activists." 

    But there's a condition: “When a couple comes to us, our first condition is that there shouldn’t be any conversion in it and that the marriage should take place through the Special Marriage Act only. We support those who accept this condition. Religion should be their personal matter. One should not force another for conversion,” he stated. 

    And then there is Pune-based activist Pratima Pardeshi, who shared a tragic reality. She told The Quint, "There are couples who have to move far away from their families because if they didn't they would not have been alive. When the family does not accept a couple’s relationship, it is a big disappointment to them as well.” 

    Just like Tamboli, Pardeshi too helps out interfaith and intercaste couples get married. She shared an anecdote of a couple who didn't face opposition at home but had to leave their village due to the opposition they faced from the villagers.

    Pardesh told The Quint, "We helped them get married. When I spoke to the woman's mother, she wept and was distraught that she couldn't attend her own daughter's wedding. She told me that the society is rotten but she is glad that her daughter and husband were at least alive."

    Expand
  4. 4. Love, at the Mercy of Society

    Opposing the panel formed by the Maharashtra government, Pardeshi said, "The committee will impose expectations of parents on the women. Interfaith marriage is not a wonder, it is a simple part of the socialisation process. The fact that the government considers it as a problem is wrong.” 

    She added that the Shraddha Walkar case cannot be the basis for this committee.

    "Yes, it was an interfaith relationship but religion was not its sole identity. They were in a live-in situation and had moved away from their families by their choice."
    Pratima Pardeshi.

    Speaking about her organisation, Satyashodhak Marriage Center, Pardeshi said, “Not everyone can be in a live-in. At the same time, one does not necessarily have to change their religion to marry. We believe in the counter-culture started by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, who talked about Satyashodhak marriage, in which no one has to change their religion.” 

    Meanwhile, Tamboli accused the BJP of "not wanting secular integration in our society." He said that Walkar’s murder should be seen as a crime as it has nothing to do with "love jihad." He said, "The love jihad angle is a fabrication. They want to polarise the environment and prepare for the next elections. In fact, there is no judgment by the Supreme Court or any data to even suggest the existence of love-jihad.” He said that the party is attempting to "use the (conservative) attitude of parents to oppress individual oppression.  

    Only 2.6 percent of Indians marry across religions, as per data from around 64,000 couples from the 2015-16 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS).

    Though there is no data for how many such couples receive parental support, a 2021 Pew Survey highlighted that "the Indian public prioritises stopping the interreligious marriage of women and men at nearly equal rates." It added that over 65 percent of Indians consider it a "high priority" to stop interreligious marriages of men and women.

    While the BJP-led government is laying base to model a law on 'love jihad' from other BJP ruled states, it remains to be seen how the committee discharges its functions and whether it actually improves the safety of women.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

But First, What Does the Committee Plan To Do?

The committee will be headed by the state's Women and Child Development Minister and BJP leader Prabhat Lodha, and it will collect information on the following: 

  • registered and unregistered interfaith marriages 

  • marriages that have taken place in religious places of worship or after elopement

This information will be collected from the stamp duty and registrar's offices. 

The committee will then: 

  • contact newly married women involved, as well as their maternal families and find out if they are estranged 

  • obtain the addresses of the women’s maternal families in cases of estrangement and contact the parents 

  • take the help of counsellors for the women and the parents who are “unwilling” to resume contact 

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What Do Activists, Lawyers and Opposition Leaders Have To Say About This?

The committee has received flak, not just from the Opposition but also from the Maharashtra State Commission for Women (MSCW) which has taken "serious note" on the government resolution.

On 19 December, senior women activists and representatives of more than 14 NGOs met MSCW chairperson Rupali Chakankar and demanded that the state government resolution be immediately withdrawn as it violates the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of India to every citizen.

Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi on Tuesday, 20 December, claimed that "the proposed interfaith marriage inspection committee is aimed at dividing Hindus and Muslims."

While the resolution had initially included intercaste marriages as well but after mention of the fact that intercaste couples are granted funds by schemes of the state government itself, the committee concentrated its focus on interfaith marriages.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra-based advocate Vikrant Shinde, told The Quint:

"The committee violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which is right to life and liberty. Choosing a life partner is a freedom given to citizens. I don't think, however, that any legislation can be attributed to an ulterior motive at the outset. The government is capable of abuse of process but the public trust is to ensure that it does not misuse the power given to them. Weaponisation is subjective topic but as far as our secular structure goes, it doesn't seem to be the intent at the face of it. It has more to do with women safety than minority issues." 
0

What Kind of Support do Activists and NGOs Provide to Interfaith Couples?

The Quint spoke to Shamsuddin Tamboli, president of the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal — founded by Hamid Dalwai in 1966, the NGO tries to bring in progressive reforms in the Muslim community, helps divorced women, runs a youth centre, a study circle, and help centre for interfaith couples, among other initiatives. 

He narrated an incident from 2020 of an interfaith couple in Pune. "They were from the same village and worked in Pune where they fell in love. They gave a notice under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to the marriage registrar. The notice, which is then put up for public display, was made to go viral. When the woman's parents found out, they told their daughter that her father was ill. When she went back to her village, her family tricked her into staying back," recalled Tamboli.  

The woman managed to make it back to Pune, after which her parents filed a missing person's complaint. "This is when the couple came to us for help. We sought police help and submitted a letter on behalf of the couple stating that they are both adults and want to marry each other... We facilitated their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, and they are now in The Netherlands,” he said. 

Tamboli said that the organisation receives several such cases and while they don't have shelter homes, the couples are accommodated in "homes of trustworthy activists." 

But there's a condition: “When a couple comes to us, our first condition is that there shouldn’t be any conversion in it and that the marriage should take place through the Special Marriage Act only. We support those who accept this condition. Religion should be their personal matter. One should not force another for conversion,” he stated. 

And then there is Pune-based activist Pratima Pardeshi, who shared a tragic reality. She told The Quint, "There are couples who have to move far away from their families because if they didn't they would not have been alive. When the family does not accept a couple’s relationship, it is a big disappointment to them as well.” 

Just like Tamboli, Pardeshi too helps out interfaith and intercaste couples get married. She shared an anecdote of a couple who didn't face opposition at home but had to leave their village due to the opposition they faced from the villagers.

Pardesh told The Quint, "We helped them get married. When I spoke to the woman's mother, she wept and was distraught that she couldn't attend her own daughter's wedding. She told me that the society is rotten but she is glad that her daughter and husband were at least alive."

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Love, at the Mercy of Society

Opposing the panel formed by the Maharashtra government, Pardeshi said, "The committee will impose expectations of parents on the women. Interfaith marriage is not a wonder, it is a simple part of the socialisation process. The fact that the government considers it as a problem is wrong.” 

She added that the Shraddha Walkar case cannot be the basis for this committee.

"Yes, it was an interfaith relationship but religion was not its sole identity. They were in a live-in situation and had moved away from their families by their choice."
Pratima Pardeshi.

Speaking about her organisation, Satyashodhak Marriage Center, Pardeshi said, “Not everyone can be in a live-in. At the same time, one does not necessarily have to change their religion to marry. We believe in the counter-culture started by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, who talked about Satyashodhak marriage, in which no one has to change their religion.” 

Meanwhile, Tamboli accused the BJP of "not wanting secular integration in our society." He said that Walkar’s murder should be seen as a crime as it has nothing to do with "love jihad." He said, "The love jihad angle is a fabrication. They want to polarise the environment and prepare for the next elections. In fact, there is no judgment by the Supreme Court or any data to even suggest the existence of love-jihad.” He said that the party is attempting to "use the (conservative) attitude of parents to oppress individual oppression.  

Only 2.6 percent of Indians marry across religions, as per data from around 64,000 couples from the 2015-16 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS).

Though there is no data for how many such couples receive parental support, a 2021 Pew Survey highlighted that "the Indian public prioritises stopping the interreligious marriage of women and men at nearly equal rates." It added that over 65 percent of Indians consider it a "high priority" to stop interreligious marriages of men and women.

While the BJP-led government is laying base to model a law on 'love jihad' from other BJP ruled states, it remains to be seen how the committee discharges its functions and whether it actually improves the safety of women.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Maharashtra   Devendra Fadnavis   Hindutva 

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