The State of ‘Marriage’ in India
“The language of marriage is often a language of ownership, not a language of partnership.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Marriage is the institution that legitimises a union between two adults. It provides social conformity, security and is solely established for the reason of procreation. Procreation is responsible for the progression of the human race. However, when marriage includes culturally binding laws that hinder an entire sex’s right to choose, love and live, marriage is viewed as an oppressive expression with an agenda, a single motive to maintain “genetic purity” and ensure the “continuum of the clan”.
The human race is obsessed with this “purity”. The drive to possess women and label them as a family’s honour also synonymous with laaj and izzat is a futile attempt to glorify a woman’s position in society. This adds to the undue pressure to cling onto myths such as virginity and chastity. Hence, we draw something coined by Arundhati Roy in the book The God of Small Things as the Love Laws. These laws dictate an individual’s choices to marry and love a person. Unfortunately, the state intends to sanction laws like “Love Jihad”.
Now, anybody who defies these ‘love laws’ is down to a perilous path. The Special Marriage Act, requires the parties to make their decision public a month before the marriage. This time period is sensitive as it is during this time that the couple is subjected to opposition, violence and isolation from the society. What’s peculiar is that the woman is not allowed to choose her partner. She is not allowed to exercise her sexual autonomy simply because such a norm does not exist.
Despite being of age, her “guardians” are still her parents. Honour Crimes before being casteist and classist are sexist and patriarchal. Here, the right to choose, to marry and live still rests with the family of the woman. As an individual the woman has little say here and no space to act independently. It may be because women are always viewed as “paraya dhan” (someone’s possession) and are traded in the act of marriage. In today’s context “Love Jihad” is the state’s interference in an ambiguous jurisdiction. It raises certain questions such as, is there a political obligation that marriage fulfils ?
Of course marriage is not a necessity, but marriage is the norm. It is supposedly a gateway to a “safe” and “secured” future. The need to get married, fulfils individualistic, societal and generational requirements. It is a licence to procreation, to be acceptable and to remain relevant. It occupies an exalted position in society. Women in conservative households are often fed with misogynistic ideas that marriage is sacred and must happen amongst individuals that the family approves of. That women don’t have the right to break off from this arrangement and return to their own family because now they are disowned.
“Love Jihad” shifts the narrative from the choice, autonomy and a woman’s agency to a man’s “maligned intention” to supposedly convert a woman to another religion. However, this is where it ends. It is exhaustible and there is absolutely no concrete evidence as to how much of it is true. This law is drawn out of speculation. Even if the couple is on trial the ‘mens rea’ here is already decided by the state, the intention is presumptive. It is drawn from the point of view of a family disapproving and now criminalising a woman’s choice, desperate to hold on to their “honour”. The most vulnerable stakeholder is ignored and quite shockingly is deprived of a voice.
How does a woman act in this case? Is legal emancipation a possible route? Will this discourse end in women’s favour?
The positives are that absurd notions such as “Love Jihad” are largely condemned by the public. People are actively engaging in this debate and there is a chance of a positive outcome. However, this notion arises from constant moral policing and the stigma that surrounds in the early stages of engagement such as dating and relationships. It’s this stigma that amplifies the moral compass a woman ought to uphold and the guilt and shame that accompanies any non- normative decision taken by her.
Shreya is currently pursuing B. A. English Literature from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She likes to engage in subaltern studies and gender ideology. She likes reading, writing, debating and public speaking. She works with Kanyaka Foundation as a Content Writer Intern.