A proposed amendment to India’s marriage law would end the requirement to cite one’s religious affiliation. The move is seen as a way to ease cultural pressures on inter-faith marriages.
Proponents of the amendment say it will encourage marriage registration by those who previously were driven by social norms to hide their inter-faith union. The practice has often led to legal disputes in matters such as child custody and property rights.
Taking the move a step further, The Times of India reports this week that the state government in Uttar Predesh is actually promoting inter-faith marriages with the promise of money and interest-free loans. The move is seen as a means of changing a society mired is caste-ism, and bringing to an end the illegal practice of giving dowries.
The Modern World vs. Tradition
Although marriage in India is predominantly within the same religion, rapid changes in cultural values and socio-economic diffusion have opened the door to more mixed marriages. And even though the officially secular government guarantees religious freedom, sectarian tensions often simmer beneath the surface of a seemingly tolerant society.
Rohit Chopra, an Indian who teaches Communication at Santa Clara University in California, says the institution of marriage in India is undergoing changes. Traditionally, he says the majority of people in India enter into “arranged” marriages. Families make the decision as to who will marry whom.
ROHIT CHOPRA TALKS ABOUT MARITAL CUSTOMS IN INDIA
So-called “love marriages” (marriages in which the two people fall in love and decide to get married) were once rare in India. But Chopra says today they are becoming more common.
“Increasingly in the last two decades, and especially in the big cities, more and more people have decided to choose their own partners,” Chopra said.
“More young people are moving away from their families to work,” said Chopra. In doing so, he says the traditional sources of authority have been challenged and weakened. “Young people are asserting themselves and making their own decisions,” he said.
Chopra points to the increasingly global relationships of ideas, economic activity and popular culture.
Blame It On Bollywood
Observers cite one conduit of popular culture in particular – the Indian film industry and its common theme that love can overcome all differences.
“Bollywood’s movies are really amazingly portraying that ‘love is everything,’” says Dilip Amin, who runs a website (http://www.InterfaithShaadi.org) dedicated to giving advice to Indian interfaith couples.
Amin says sooner or later even the most “starry-eyed” lovers must face the reality that Indian culture strongly discourages inter-religious marriages. Those who choose to marry someone of a different faith can find themselves adrift from friends, family and financial support.
“That’s where the movie ends and real life starts,” Amin says. “Real life is not Bollywood.”
VOA INTERVIEW WITH DILIP AMIN
"Bollywood films generally have been an interesting kind of place where a lot of conflicts and issues about Indian society have played out,” Rohit Chopra says. “The theme of ‘love conquering all’ was actually a theme that was reflected in many films,” he said.
Chopra says many movies in India highlight the conflict between traditional and modern approaches to life.
“On the one hand, they have tended to, I think on the whole, reaffirm conservative values about family and about authority, and about a the role of women…and generally the male being the authority figure. But on the other hand, even while generally making an overall conservative point, they have explored these issues,” he said.