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Is being secular in India dangerous?

DUBAI: On October 9, Indian jewelery brand Tanishq released an advertisement as part of their ‘Ektavam’ or ‘unity’ concept – a Hindu daughter-in-law got a traditional baby shower by her Muslim mother-in-law.

In India of my mother-in-law, or ‘Mom’ for me, and my mother, whom I call ‘Amma’, it is part of the socio-cultural ethos of a country that is thousands of years old. It does not strike them as something else. And this is the India I inherited.

On October 11, the Tata Group, which owns Tanishq, pulled the ad. 48 hours – A giant conglomerate died. Why? A massive hate campaign on social media led by right-wing Hindu nationalists put their shop staff under physical threat. #BoycottTanishq

It seems like it is now a dangerous proposition to be secular in India. You dare to suggest ‘unity in diversity’, and the troll will descend, frothy and fumbling, and in this case shout ‘love Jihad’. Do they even understand what the word ‘jihad’ really stands for or what the Indian constitution means?

I was born in a democracy, an Indian citizen with the “Haq” or “right” to practice my faith while living in respect for others. Today I feel like I’m a refugee in Tagore’s country, where I once walked with my head held high. You see, I am a Christian who is married to a man with a Hindu mother and a Muslim father.

I am not unique; there are millions of people like me back and forth across India. Indian social media has been evidence of these reports of interfaith marriages since the outbreak of the Tanishq controversy. So, I do the only thing I can – add my voice to the wave of secularism and say to each of those who shouted #BoycottTanishq, all you really did was remind us that India is a confluence.

Shut up – you will not. Welcome to life on the edge.

Tales of inter-faith love in Bollywood

DUBAI: The sentimental Tanishq ad – which showed the glorious bond between a Muslim mother-in-law and a pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law – may not have had a chance to survive as it was pulled down by the makers an avalanche of social media hatred, but there are some interfaith romances that have stood the test of time and flourished.

While a large proportion of Indians question whether the Tanishq jewelry campaign was pretentiously secular or indicative of India’s common harmony – or whether ‘love jihad’ was promoted, India’s leading Bollywood stars show that love knows no religion. But they do not do so through their films, but display their secular fabric in their personal lives.

The best actors, including Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt, are the best examples of those who are blessed in marriages between faiths. Their love lexicon seems to be centered on shared interests and mutual respect for their beliefs.

Of all the real romances in Bollywood, it is Shah Rukh Khan who rules the inter-religious love story space. Bollywood folklore surrounding Khan’s love story is legendary and will compete with any dazzling Hindi language romance. A terrible Muslim boy (Khan) who falls in love with a Hindu, Brahmin girl (Gauri Chibber) and her relentlessly nurtures and resists his girlfriend’s family and both rebel against the world are legends. Their respect for each other’s faith and beliefs can not be confused here either.

SRK: What he said about marriages between faiths

Hum mein koi Hindoe-Musalman ki baat hi nahi ki. Meri biwi jo hai Hindu hai, chief Musalman hoon. Aur mere jo bacche hain, woh Hindustan hain. “There is no mention of Hindu-Muslim between us. My wife is Hindu, and I am Muslim, my children are Hindu),” Shah Rukh Khan declared while judging a reality dance program. He was so moved by the patriotic dance number of a contestant, that he announced that he only believed in a religion called ‘Indian’. He also talked about how he reacted to his daughter Suhana’s questions about her faith she inherited from her famous parents.

Kai baar jab woh school gaye toh school mein wo bharna padhta hai ki religion kya hai. Om meri beti chhoti thi te jab, usne aa ke puchha bhi mujhse ek baar ki, ‘Papa, hum kaun se religion ke hain?’ Toh maine usme ye likha ki hum Indian hi hain yaar, aur koi religion nahi hai. Aur hona bhi nahi chahiye [When they went to school, we had to fill in the religion section in some form. My daughter was very young, and she asked me once, ‘Papa, what is our religion?’. So, I wrote saying we are Indian only, there is no religion and there shouldn’t be one either,”], Khan recalled during that television episode.

His wise words about life in a secular world today seem to take on more meaning as the hot and fuzzy Tanishq ad is pulled down by its producers after being blown up with an avalanche of online hate and accused of promoting love -jihad (a term used by the right) -wings when accusing Muslim men of marrying Hindu women for the purpose of conversion).

While the ad reached a glorious end, the love stories of the heroes of the new life flourished. Shah Rukh Khan is not the only A-lister who can lead by his example when it comes to how effective and blissful marriages between faiths are. Another superstar, Aamir Khan, is married to Kiran Rao and they are also a portrait of a contemporary Indian couple, defined by love and shared ethos. The two met on the set of ‘Lagaan’, but they only formed a band after a few years.

“I can never imagine my life without Kiran as my partner. I feel very blessed and feel very grateful for it,” Khan said in an interview with Rediff in 2018 while promoting a film.

Another couple who can increase your confidence in interfaith relationships are actors Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Khan. Both were at the top of their careers when they got married in a series of lavish wedding rituals that follow their beliefs in 2012.

Although there were rumors that Kareena Kapoor could convert her religion to Islam, she chose to remain a Hindi, just like her mother-in-law Sharmila Tagore, who married the Muslim cricketer and the real royal Pataudi. Both Kareena and Saif are regularly seen along with Christmas celebrating all Muslim and Hindu festivals.

Saif Ali Khan’s sister Soha Ali Khan also married her longtime Hindu boyfriend and actor Kunal Khemu. According to reports, on the sets of‘Dhoondthe Reh Jaoge (2009), caught fire like a proverbial house and got married in 2014. Another interfaith relationship that has excelled includes actress and politician Urmila Matondkar and Mir Mohsin Akhtar. The ‘Rangeela’ star is a Hindu Maharashtrian, while her husband Mir is a Kashmiri Muslim.

Just like in the examples above, there are more than three dozen couples in Bollywood who belong to different faiths but who have told their experienced love stories. Unlike the germ-cut Tanishq ad – which is outraged nationwide – these Bollywood bands seem to have survived the times.

Source: Gulf News

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