The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Of love, marriage and conquest: The changing regimes of patriarchy

By Abhiruchi Ranjan

In a society where compromises and adjustments are the dominant social script of interpersonal relationships, is true companionship a real possibility? In a marriage which is premised on the economy of exchange of vows, is love a real possibility? Do love marriages, which are prefaced with the narrative of victory of choice over impositions of caste and religion, perpetrate new forms of compliance with hybrids of patriarchy? And in love marriages, where conversion of the woman precedes the wedding, can the act of love crusade against religious patriarchy or does the ritual of conversion mark entry into a new regime of patriarchy?

Love is intricately interlinked with the idea of freedom. While popular culture celebrates love as a radical rupture, the embeddedness of love in social mores of caste, religion, and gender militates against the very idea of unfettered love that sets free. The possibility of unfettered love is an important promise for women, for whom exercise of freedoms is the only exit from patriarchal regimes of family and samaj. The radical possibility of love holds immense promise for the women whose only escape from willful subjugation to dictates of faith, is to desperately hope for a radical exit. The idea of love as a radical rupture pregnant with possibilities is important for those who look at inter-faith love marriage as a source of freedom of choice and an extension of their struggle to subvert the rule of the Pater Familias.

Entry into the institution of love marriage is, for many, a way of exit from impositions and scrutiny of caste/ religion. Where expectation of religious conversion and fulfilment of gendered responsibilities becomes a social prerequisite for marriage, the component of love stands compromised. Since Islam permits the Muslim men, and not women, to marry Ahle-Kitab, the moral and social burden of acquiescing with the norm of conversion becomes saddled onto the women.

Unwittingly women treat this burden as a necessary choice for the lesser evil or a patriarchal means to feminist ends. If such is the case, then it becomes important to subject the institution itself to critical scrutiny and evolve new and better forms of partnerships and living arrangements, which offer women the real possibility of breaking away from patriarchal regimes.

Marriage embodies a decisive shift in the patriarchal contestation over ownership in severalty, of the body of the woman. This shift is socially affected through rituals and customs which imply a conquest of the woman’s body by the new regime of the in-laws. Vehement opposition by families to the idea of inter-faith alliance, especially when involving a Hindu woman and a Muslim man, stems from the inability to accept conquest or co-optation of the body of the Hindu woman by Muslim patriarchal regime.

Hindu patriarchs see the subjugation to Muslim patriarchy in an otherwise Hindu dominated society as an affront to their honor and ego. While it is perfectly acceptable and even desirable for the bride’s family to play the part of the recessive regime of patriarchy endorsing self-effacing marriage rituals, extending them to the patriarchs of the ‘other’ faith would entail a compromise with the socio-political dominance and power. Any such compromise would be deemed as an emasculation of the Hindu patriarch at the hands of the Muslim samaj.

Last year, the self-styled custodians of Hindu patriarchy, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha wrote to the dalit UPSC topper, Tina Dabi’s parents, reminding them of their social responsibility to persuade her Kashmiri Muslim boyfriend for a “ghar wapsi”. The prospective matrimonial alliance of a popular Hindu woman with a Muslim man was seen by the Mahasabha as a dangerous precedent. Dabi deflated the ensuing tension flared up on social media, by clarifying that both would continue to follow their separate religions and Hindu sentiments stood tempered. While Mahasabha’s patriarchal anxieties failed to raise hackles of the Hindu community in Dabi’s case, public protests and campaigns by chauvinistic groups have successfully prevented inter-faith alliances, when patriarchal sentiments were sufficiently roused.

There are enough and more instances of Christian and Hindu organizations sending out recommendations and warnings to families to subject their erring daughters to stricter control and patriarchal indictment, to protect them from “Love Jihad”. The 2012 Deepa Cherian case is permanently etched in the minds of community patriarchs as a saga of dangerous exit and is often invoked as a painful memory of loss of control and breach of moral patriarchal code by erring daughters. Shortly after Kerala CM, Oomen Chandy, tabled the figures on conversion of women to Islam, community patriarchs raised a high pitched alarm over ‘their women’ being converted to Islam under the influence of “love jihad”.

As tabled in the assembly, the fact that in 2009-12 as many as 2667 young women, of which 2195 were Hindus and 492 Christians, had converted to Islam roused the community leaders in agitation against inter-faith marriage. Evidently, unless the woman’s voice as an active agent and author of her life choices definitively drowns out the dominant narrative of victimhood, as did in the Tina Dabi case, the only meaning attached to her choice of inter-faith alliance or religious conversion for marriage with a Muslim man is that of falling prey to the machinations of “Love Jihad”.

Days after the RSS wing Dharma Jagran Manch in 2014 officially launched its campaign against “Love Jihad”, it was included in the agenda for the two-day state Execute Committee meet of the Uttar Pradesh BJP. The missionary zeal with which the demonization of Muslim men under the idea of Love Jihad was pursued thereafter spoke volumes of the extreme castration anxiety of the Hindu chauvinists invested in the conspiracy of dwindling numbers.

The women raised their voices against this oppressive silencing by upholding their right to choice, on the slogan of breaking all boundaries. As enticing and uplifting as it may seem, the slogan of breaking boundaries betrays the social reality of compliance with realigned boundaries of patriarchy within the institution of love marriage. Be it Vivah or Nikah, it is the daughters-in-law as bearers of faith whose body, acting as the site of reproduction, is to be claimed, controlled, and co-opted.

For women, marriage marks a shift from negotiations with father-centric patriarchy to more fraught negotiations and new centres of power. When women are governed by the regime of same faith patriarchy in the father’s house, overt compliance is not a routine necessity to gain social acceptance, but when crossing over to the new regime, overt display of loyalty becomes indispensable.

Last year, the news of Ashitha and Shakeel’s impending marriage in Mandya, Karnataka, was met with protests and dharnas outside the bride’s house. For the Vokkalinga patriarchs, the exercise of free choice by a woman of their samaj was an insult to their code of honour. Burning tyres and bandh marked the disruption that the community patriarchs felt being caused to their regime of control.

The alliance, which was described as a “triumph of love” by the father of the bride, was preceded with the ritual conversion to Islam before the solemnization. When faith based conversions mark the primary precondition of acceptance in marriage, possibility of struggle against religious patriarchy stands compromised. But even the occasional triumphs are dubbed as the father’s forgiveness of the daughter’s indiscretion.

Agency and choice of woman are the first casualty in any popular discourse of disruption or restoration of patriarchal order in any saga of “triumph of love”. Once again in the Ashitha case, restoration of order was achieved owing to the indulgences of the benevolent father of the bride. At any rate, the ritual of conversion was seen as a necessary compulsion, a befitting price to pay for the exercise of choice, in the view most of those who approve of, defend and even encourage inter-faith marriage. An essential cost borne by women for choosing to love in the “other” faith.

Mira Rajput, a young socialite, who shot to fame after her matrimonial alliance with the film star Shahid Kapoor, recently reignited the debate on women’s agency and freedom of choice with her views on marriage, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Mira had expressed pride in the conscious choice of being a householder and fulfilling her reproductive and gendered roles within the institution of marriage.

Mira’s vindication of motherhood and domesticity as the right to choice betrayed the ageist social narrative of ‘21 year old girl marries 34 year old star’, surrounding her arranged alliance. The tacit appeal of the match lay in fulfilment of patriarchy’s latent desire for consummation of marriage with the purpose of perpetuating lineage.

It is most natural for a young bride, an embodiment of abstract value of reproduction in the domestic space, to base her life choices on a patriarchal common-sense, notwithstanding her own feminist intuitions and training. Logically, women’s free choices are not conducive to the code of patriarchy. It is upon the reduction of choice as a mere signifier of abstract values of patriarchy and it being rendered unfree, that the two become conducive.

Demands of active compliance with patriarchy in the institution of marriage place insurmountable limitations on women’s freedoms such that they completely displace any semblance of free choice. Choice becomes a possibility only when compliance with patriarchy is rejected or remains subject to contestation.

Social opinion on Mira Rajput’s view stands divided. On one side are those who argue that the right to homemaking is class privilege masquerading as feminism, not assertion of free choice. While the other side firmly believes that right to choice as a homemaker can be viewed as a feminist assertion. While discussing feminism in the light of International Women’s Day, Veena Venugopal argued that privilege-wielding women uphold a depleted and vacuous idea of feminism and that the majority of Indian women still remain deprived of their right to choose.

There seems to be a prevalent belief that when women arrive at decisions consensually and amicably, they accrue from a place of pure agency. In marriages, more often than not, women willfully subject themselves to patriarchal codes for various reasons; ranging from competing for benefits like better respect and status in the family to acts of repentance and absolution, to atone for the inability to bear male child. The reasons and nature of the complicity with patriarchal codes is never fixed and is an area that needs more attention and research.

Having said which, the struggle for exits, ruptures, and cracks is an ongoing process, and the possibilities for new ways of loving and living, endless. The film, Sairat, which opened in April last year becoming an instant hit with the masses, is a great example of changing sensibilities and the ever-growing desire for new ways of loving.

The film saw a rapturous response and became an instant hit with the young demographic. Not only did the film immortalize the idea of inter-caste love, it introduced the idea of a caste superior woman falling for a lower caste boy. The plot struck a big blow to the idea of caste perpetrated through clan, kinship, and lineage in the body of the woman as the caste-carrier.

Such was the impact and appeal of the film on young rebellious minds, that the film inspired young people across Maharashtra to come together to help and support eloped couples marry against the wishes of their families and samaj. The Sairat Marriage Group (SMG), with close to 100 volunteers across Maharashtra, is a spark of change and a cry for love as a radical rupture.

When status quo envelops us like the smog, wrapping our every desire for change in the thick blanket of norm, every breath of fresh air is a radical rupture. If love is that breath of air, then let it be sustained in institutions and ways of living which mark women’s complete exit from all regimes of patriarchy. If it means a withering away of marriage itself as a socio-legal institution, so be it.

Read this in conjunction with Urba Malik’s ‘Why Love Matters for Justice’.

Abhiruchi Ranjan
is a PhD scholar at CPS, JNU. She is devoutly atheist and an anti-marriage, existential feminist.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Urdu in Contemporary India: Predicaments and Promises’, edited by Fahad Hashmi, Independent Scholar, Delhi, India.

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