Valentine’s Day is in 9 days. Granted that the history of this day might have very little to do with love, people all over the world still take some time to celebrate love on this day. So, the idea of anyone being forced to get married on such a positive day is probably extremely upsetting, and rightfully so. Forced marriage is exactly what lies in store this year for many young couples in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. This idea of forced marriage is bolstered by distorted, perverted sentiments of “religious truths” that are quite untrue and quite Anti-Hindu. The surreal horror of this situation actually reflects the meticulously planned, systematic elimination of personal choice in people’s lives, using religious power and fear as effective weapons. In the end, this could happen anywhere, within any religion and any community, given the right conditions. That is exactly why it is imperative to know about and learn from this situation. Here is the back story:
Two days ago, the Times of India website published this article about how the Hindu Mahasabha is going to enforce forced marriage on Valentines Day this year. The Hindu Mahasabha is a nationalist political party, which was started by its founder to protect the Hindu way of life. It is the political party whose members have been involved in efforts that opposed the national Quit India Movement during the fight for India’s independence, in the assassination of the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, and more recently, in the “ghar wapsi” program in India, which aims to “re-convert” non-Hindus with Hindu ancestry back into Hinduism. Their most recent plan is the Forced Marriage Initiative. This initiative will have teams on the streets of cities and towns in Uttar Pradesh (a state in Northern India), performing on-the-spot Arya Samaj weddings of unmarried couples who get caught with each other on Valentine’s Day. This will happen whether the couple wants the marriage or not, or even if they are merely unsure about the timing. As icing on the cake, they will also be “converting” all non-Hindus to Hinduism through “purification rituals” before they perform any forced marriage.
Here are their justifications:
- That Valentine’s Day is a “foreign festival”,
- That Valentine’s Day and the idea of pre-marital love is anti-Hindu,
- That the entire population of India is Hindu, and,
- That love without marriage should not exist.
The story in itself is actually comical, considering the range of reactions from the Indian populace, and considering some undeniable census facts, such as the fact that Hindus make up 80%, not 100% of the national population. But the issue at hand is quite far from being funny. Forced marriage cloaked in religious imperative is merely a tactic that is being used to hide the real purpose of this campaign. It is the underlying sentiments behind this forced marriage campaign that are dangerous, and have the potential of unleashing catastrophe on the equality and very existence of human rights in India.
Hinduism, as it is meant to be practiced, is actually a lifestyle and not a prescribed religion, and is almost entirely about choice. The fundamental cornerstones of its entire belief system, Dharma, Bhakti, Karma, and, Moksha, are based on the interactions between an individual’s choices, actions, and later consequences. Nothing in Hinduism supports the removal of choice from anyone’s life, in fact, it looks down upon the idea!
Many scholars consider Hinduism to be one of the most tolerant religions of the world, because of its lack of a singular text, or one individual set of teachings or scriptures. Hindus follow many teachings, all of which emphasize an individual’s journey toward Brahman, the Universal Supreme Divine, that resides within each person. Hinduism does say that one has to stay pure-hearted and committed to one’s path in life, but it doesn’t define what that path is. Hindu teachings and teachers emphasize the individuality and uniqueness of each person’s journey in life. All of these teachings have a very palpable, unbreakable foundation: no one can be “converted” into or away from Hinduism! One either is or isn’t. What a person chooses to identify with is entirely his or her choice.
Yes, there are few laws, called The Laws of Manu, which discuss the morality of the choices that people make, and which also recommend behaviors that promote a peaceful society. None of these laws take away from personal choice. They are meant to protect individual sovereignty. Hindu scriptures not only describe the eight types of marriages possible between human beings, but they also specifically say that marriages that happen without choice are not legal within the Hindu lifestyle. People may get married with the consent of their parents and elders; this is the most recommended path, and is also the basis of the concept of arranged marriages. They may exchange money, jewelry or even cows and goats as incentives to sweeten an otherwise unappealing marriage prospect. They may even choose to elope with the person they love, without any outside consent. However, no person may force or be forced into a marriage without his or her consent; this is especially explicit in the case of a woman’s consent. The idea of forced marriage goes against the very fabric of a Hindu existence; it is thought to be so abhorrent, that it is even named “Demon Marriage” to signify its inherently evil and un-Hindu intent!
Hinduism also does not ban love, or even sex, before marriage. Most people even somewhat versed in Hindu mythology would probably scoff at the Hindu Mahasabha’s assertion of love and sex being restrained to the confines of a marriage. Several Hindu Gods, Goddesses, Kings, Queens, warriors, and, heroes were conceived outside of marriage, in any definition of the word! Hindu literature however does spend much time on the evils and Karmic consequences of using force and power against someone else’s will, as in the case of forced marriage. It does rile against treating people – each individual person – as anything less than divine. It does not condone any injustice and atrocities that are committed in the name of God, Brahman, or the Universe.
What the Hindu Mahasabha is doing quite successfully, is warping religious truth into a distorted caricatured version that fits with their real reasons behind the forced marriage campaign. The real impetus of the forced marriage campaign has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with the increasing choices and ensuing independence that many young adults of India face today and in the future. It is about using religious principles to remove the voices of entire generations and communities. Controlling people’s marriages ensures complete control over family principles, which then translate into societal structures. The Hindu Mahasabha’s campaign of forced marriage is really about controlling lives and the political power of these lives, by drastically limiting people’s options and opportunities to develop any individual thoughts or opinions.
Today it is happening within Hinduism in the context of forced marriage. Many times in the past, it has happened within other religious communities in other contexts and issues. It will continue to happen in religious communities all across the world, until people address the problems of inequality, power control and human rights that are currently safely hiding behind a convenient pseudo-religious façade. Religious interpretations and extremist views will continue to be used as guises to mobilize twisted political agendas until religious beliefs are given the privacy and the sanctity that they deserve, so that we can collectively focus on the real issues of inequality that plague our societies!