Trigger Warning: Violence and Harassment
The horrendous crime of Shraddha Walker’s murder spurred fierce discussion across the country. Marriages between interfaith couples have likewise become a contentious issue. The killing of a young woman, reportedly by her live-in spouse, has heightened authorities’ attention to instances involving crimes against women. As a control mechanism, the Maharashtra government established a panel to keep track of all inter-caste and inter-faith weddings.
According to the news reports, over 20 women’s organizations have issued a call to action in response to the government’s plan to form the ‘Interfaith Marriage – Family Coordination Committee (state level)’. They have also asked for the public burning of a copy of the government resolution that established this committee, passed by the Women and Child Development Department. However, this drew harsh criticism from women’s organizations, including Stree Mukti Andolan Samiti.
Manisha Gupte, convenor of the Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti, said that the state should focus on giving free education, healthcare, and job opportunities rather than meddling with what people eat, dress, or who they marry. Adding to that she explained how the rationale given for convening this panel is therapy and reconciliation with estranged parents, while this may appear high, we cannot overlook the reality that the rising communal and divided climate, as well as media reporting about the goal of this panel, will lead to greater division of our people, Gupte highlighted, in a news article.
Whereas the senior activist, Kiran Moghe, proposed a public demonstration in which copies of the government decree would be burned. “The state committee should be abolished immediately since it has no policy or legal foundation. “Ministers make choices that violate women’s rights and have little clue of the genuine difficulties confronting women in the state,” Moghe added.
She emphasised how it is completely unlawful and amounts to a grave interference in the freedom to choose, particularly for women.
“There are several cases of mental harassment and physical torture subjected to women in marriages within the same caste and community. Many women in the state suffer from domestic violence and mental harassment, irrespective of whether they are in inter caste or interfaith marriages. Why have they skipped them?“Clyde Crasto, National Spokesperson, NCP
Even the opposition slammed the government’s move to form the panel. “Why have they just talked about interfaith and inter caste marriages?” remarked Clyde Crasto, National Spokesperson for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). It should be inclusive if they wish to safeguard women from torture and criminality. The government’s restriction on interfaith and inter-caste weddings reveals a concealed purpose to target specific populations.
“Regardless of religion, caste, or beliefs, the government must ensure safety and a panel should be available to all married women for any assistance due to a difficult or toxic marriage situation, if they do not, it will be evident that this panel was put up with malicious purpose,” opinionated NCP spokesperson. “Who is the government to spy on who marries whom? In liberal Maharashtra this is a retrograde, nauseating step. Which way is progressive Maharashtra heading towards. Stay away from people’s private life,” he added.
“There are several cases of mental harassment and physical torture subjected to women in marriages within the same caste and community. Many women in the state suffer from domestic violence and mental harassment, irrespective of whether they are in inter caste or interfaith marriages. Why have they skipped them?”, asked the NCP spokesperson.
The government panel’s decision and these questions have been spurring heated debates and discussion among the people.
“The fact that the government has set up a panel only to tabulate interfaith marriage shows how non secular the government is. In communal times like these, this panel will only escalate the tension in the country. There are high chances that terms like love jihad will become more familiar and popular because of this move. No matter what the justification is, human rights should be placed above everything and the panel should be nipped in the bud,” said Ishwarya Lakshmi, media person from Bangalore, to FII.
“The resources actually should be focused more on protecting women in the first place instead of getting into inter-faith or inter caste marriages, if the government comes out and explains the reason and motive it will be for good, I guess,” says Ahana Bagchi, a media person from Delhi, to FII.
Inter-caste and inter-faith marriages are still deemed unacceptable in the modern Indian society. The communal violence and Love Jihad shamings are very much existing with many interfaith couple marriages in the Indian society. In any case, it complicates a woman’s life significantly. As a result, the reasoning for the foundation of the committee that will investigate the lives of these couples is certain to generate a number of issues. The committee which is said to have district-level officers to keep an eye out for couples who marry against the wishes of their families.
“The so-called new panel set up by Maharashtra Government to gather information about inter faith marriages is a new tactic by the ruling party to create communal unrest and bigotry. As per the government resolution, the committee is set up to look into issues faced by women in interfaith marriages. Women have been facing issues in their marriages since time immemorial. The sudden interest of the government to look into the issues faced by women in interfaith marriages makes me wonder if this is targeted towards people of a particular religious group,” Steffy*, a media graduate from Ernakulam spoke to FII.
According to a report on Inter-faith marriages, it has been shown that around 10% of total weddings in India take place between various castes, whereas just 2.1 percent of marriages are inter-religious. The caste system and religious prejudice are stumbling blocks to India’s prosperity.
In the Indian context with the loops of murders and violence against women keeps happening, the panel’s decision is a questionable mistake to many organisations with arising questions like, doesn’t the access to such information can also be abused, resulting in unanticipated consequences for the marriage?
The government should reconsider the decision and examine the many concerns and issues raised by the women’s panel thereby being inclusive of all women irrespective of their choice of partners or their religious beliefs. With India’s rising communal and polarised climate, as well as media reporting about the goal of this panel it is to think about how far the decision will further polarise the people.
Not just for women, there are many people from the queer community who have been facing discrimination and violence and if the government’s motive is to provide a safe environment for everyone, they should consider people from diverse walks of life and work towards the betterment of society with proper awareness as well.
The names mentioned with * have been changed to protect the identities of individuals.