Hey parents, listen to your kids!

interfaith marriage

Caste, class, and religion are not determinants of a happy marriage, do not let these aspects come in the way of your children’s happiness.

Ask any parent if they love their children unconditionally and you are bound to get a confused stare, and probably followed by a retort like, “What kind of a question is that?” Most parents love their children dearly and will do everything in their power to provide for them. They worry about their children’s health, safety, education, career, and overall well-being in life.

The parental instinct to protect and support their offspring is universal. This instinct transcends race, religious backgrounds, economic backgrounds, cultures, geographic locations, and so on. Cultural taboos and prejudices that exist in society, however, create conflict influencing parents to go against their instinct. One such conflict experienced by Indian parents pertains to the marriage of their children. While much of the world has moved away from arranged marriages, in India, the culture of arranged marriage for children continues to remain prevalent to this day.

The institution of marriage is deeply intertwined with class, caste, and religion, and therefore, marrying outside these constructs is viewed as disruptive to the established social norms. The desire to safeguard these so-called identity aspects and to carry them forward through children is powerful. Therefore, most parents oppose their children’s assertion of their independence on such decisions. Being a patriarchal society, it is more problematic for females than males. When children defy the constraints entrenched in society and decide to marry someone from a different caste or religion, it becomes a formidable issue. If they question their parents about their right to choose a life partner, parents either prefer not to discuss the matter at all or resort to irrational comments. Utterances such as “Log kya kahenge,” or “Ghar ki izzat ko mitti mein mila diya,” are commonly expressed. To uphold their caste or religious beliefs, parents dismiss their children in numerous ways. The notion “Parents know what’s best for children,” is often perpetuated. In the matters of marriage or relationships, parents take on an authoritative stance forcing children to remain fearful, timid, and submissive, even as adults. Parents make every effort to thwart their children’s autonomy; dismissing their feelings as fleeting and immature.

When children dare to marry someone of their choice, parents pull out all the stops by resorting to tactics such as physical abuse, psychological pressure, house arrest, forced marriage, and sometimes carry out their threats including, “Honour” based killing. When Farheen and Akash, a young interfaith Hindu-Muslim couple decided to tell their parents about their decision to get married, it did not go well for them. As expected, when Farheen broke the news to her parents, they reacted unfavorably. “They were extremely upset. I was told not to go to the office, and I was not allowed to use my phone or talk to anyone. They were hoping that all the emotional blackmailing and restrictions would change my mind. I expected this kind of reaction from them because they have always been worried about ‘log kya kahenge’ more than my happiness.” Farheen’s parents were unsupportive and refused to entertain any discussion on the matter. “To them, the thought of getting married outside of our religion was so scary that they didn’t even want to talk about it. My mom tried to manipulate us, saying that we shouldn’t meet or talk for some time until Akash finishes his onsite project and that the topic could be discussed further once he got back after 6 months. They hoped that he would leave, and in the meantime, they could get me married to a guy from the same religion, so we had to take the drastic step of getting married in court without their consent.” Akash’s parents had met Farheen a few times while they were dating. Akash summarized his experience when he revealed to his mother his intention to marry Farheen. “When I asked her how she felt about welcoming Farheen into our family, the ‘Jaini’ in her instantly overpowered all her sensibilities and outrightly rejected the prospects of a Muslim ‘bahu’. This led to a series of emotions beginning with denial, followed by anger and rejection, and some degree of confusion. All this surmounted by a feeling of helplessness and she caved in two days. In the next few days, she found ways of coping and brought herself to some normalcy, but not without spending hours of crying. Eventually, we talked about why I wanted to spend my life with Farheen, the sort of a person I knew her to be, and how we could make it work.” Akash’s mother revealed the news to her husband only two days shy of the wedding day. She had briefly mentioned to him a few months earlier about their son possibly being interested in a Muslim girl. He dismissed it, assuming that his son may not be serious enough to carry it through.

“Two days before our wedding day when it finally dawned on him that this was moving forward, he threw a tantrum denying entry into the house for either me, or my-to-be.” Unlike Farheen’s parents, Akash’s mother was open for discussion. Eventually, she came to support her son’s decision while Akash’s father remained adamant for many years. Akash’s strained relationship with his father changed for the better after suffering a serious health-related episode. “My mother was far more open about the whole situation. Some of the most pressing questions on her mind were – What about religion? What about the food? What does her family say about all this? Will she convert?” “Although she was disappointed with some of my responses, we finally agreed to some ground rules mainly around food habits, where consumption of meat was the main point of contention.” “My father was not supportive until he had a life-threatening stroke. He finally mellowed down. I finally set foot in his house three years after my wedding. A few weeks after the life-threatening event, he began to show signs of change. With recovery on the way, he finally exhibited acceptance and affection in his ways.”

Like many interfaith couples, Naaz and Prashant also faced opposition from their parents when they revealed their relationship. Naaz recollects her experience. “When I first told them about my intention to marry Prakash, they went silent. My family knew Prakash for many years as my friend. They knew that he was very dependable and caring. Though they liked him very much, they were apprehensive because of society. They feared that my marriage would harm the prospects of my younger sisters’ marriage. They were happy that I was settling down, at the same time worried about the future of their other children.” Naaz’s discussions with her parents were dominated by how society would react. Naaz’s parents were supportive of her decision but had concerns. “They were supportive of my decision concerning my life; however, their main concern was the possible negative impact of my marriage on my younger siblings. Only if Prakash belonged to a Muslim community, they would have jumped with joy on the prospect of me getting married to a humble, supportive and highly educated person.”

Prakash and Naaz became close friends in college. Since Naaz visited Prakash’s house frequently, Prakash’s parents knew of her. “My parents might have suspected that something was going on but would have calmed themselves down thinking that we would not take the road of marriage.” When Prakash told his parents about his intentions, they reacted with mixed emotions. “They reacted with fear – what others might say and think, a tinge of slight embarrassment and a rare cocktail of sadness and happiness. Happiness, I think was because they reminded themselves that Naaz was very good in all respects, and sadness because she was not a Hindu.” Prakash and his parents had two discussions. The first discussion was about his relationship and the second; marriage. Satisfied, they became fully supportive of their son’s decision. “In the first instance, the conversation hovered around matters like right and wrong, good and bad. Then the conversation shifted to the consequences. They reminded me that there would be consequences such as people socially boycotting and gossiping for pleasure, and so on. During our second conversation, it was assumed that Naaz and I would get married, and we talked about how to go about it. Matters like how and when we would meet Naaz’s parents, which place shall we hold the marriage, so on and so forth.” Interestingly, while Prakash’s parents came to terms rather quickly, his extended family behaved irrationally. Prakash explains. “My father put out the word to our closest relatives. Soon we were subjected to religious sermons of all kinds. My relatives started deserting us. They hated to bump into us and if they did, they would throw us that rare but a very fake smile. My mother’s relatives were close to us, so we had told them first. My aunts suddenly hesitated to even look at me. One of my aunts who had a failed marriage was notoriously against our marriage. I am still sad about my parents. They still live there and have to listen to anti-Muslim rants, a fashion, and a hobby, all around the town and which is changing and has changed for the worse.” Despite facing tough times, Farheen & Akash and Naaz & Prakash, consider themselves to be lucky couples. Perceiving their love, and commitment to each other, the parents were able to shed their biases and accept them.

The primary concern for young adults when they decide to marry their chosen partner is parental acceptance. They have a strong desire to have their parents’ presence in their married lives. It is imperative for parents to place children’s needs and desires above what our societal and cultural prejudices dictate. Offering adult children the freedom to make their life decisions and respecting their rights, contribute to better interpersonal relationships leading to a healthy and productive society. Young people prefer creating homes around mutual support and understanding. It is time for parents to shed caste and religion, as this matters less and less in the ultimate wellbeing of our children and future generations. Disclaimer: The names and identifying details of certain individuals have been changed to protect their privacy.

Shailaja Rao Team Member, Dhanak of Humanity (NGO) Website: https://dhanak.org.in


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