This post touches upon two really sore topics – Hindu-Muslim marriages and gender bias.
Reader discretion is advised.
I am not a big fan of religion because of the inherent principle of there being a misogynistic old man in the sky that wants women to remain pure for their husbands and wear veils and traditional clothes unless they want to rot in hell. Oh but he loves you so much, he will send you to heaven if you follow all the rules (which, btw, include propagating your religion and making donations to places of worship).
Growing up, my sister and I were taught to read the Durga Chalisa on a daily basis and to offer (diluted) milk to Shiv ji. We saw our mother, who was otherwise “modern”, cover her head in the presence of the male members of the family. We yawned through several all-night jagraatas where people sang on loudspeakers and wore gaudy clothes and danced together in a sort of reverie; limbs brushing against each other, cleavages showing (and being seen) and the formality of the purdahs forgotten. All this probably made god very happy.
We were taught that it was ok to talk to muslims. But experience taught us other subtleties. It was not ok to eat or drink in a muslim household. We could visit them and talk and smile and laugh at their jokes, because all religions are alike; equal, even. But we couldn’t eat there.
So when my sister was 19 and in love with D., a muslim boy, I knew that the charade of equality was just that, a charade. I knew that I was perhaps the only truly secular one in my family. I gave her my blessing because I could see nothing wrong with two people wanting to be together. I couldn’t see why religion had to be in the way of their happiness.
I thought about how their children could be taught true secularism, and how this little change would have an impact on society. Boond boond se ghada bharta hai. Ever inter-religion relationship counts.
My sister was more than thankful. I met the boy. I thought he was intelligent and very much in love with my sister. He was a jeans-clad college student who did not wear a white kurta-pyjama with a cap and did not sport a mulla beard. He looked just like any other college student.
He didn’t have much money and too many brothers and sisters and lived in a shabby locality in old Delhi, but money can be made and brothers and sisters are great and localities can be changed.
My sister and I spent nights talking about how she would never give up wearing shorts and t-shirts, wear a burqa or stay in old Delhi or have too many children. She wanted to marry him, but follow her own religion and bring up her children to be human, not hindu or muslim. I knew that she would. She was a headstrong woman even as a ten year old.
Five years later, my sister had turned into a person who kept her head covered at all times, wore only salwar kameez, addressed her boyfriend as “yeh”, and knew how to read and write Urdu. “Hey bhagwan” had turned into “ya allah”. She went by a muslim name and had changed her religion and was being serenaded by a bearded man who always wears a white kurta-pyjama that ends just above the ankles and a cap.
She married him two years later.
I got separated the following year.
She listened to everything I had to say and then told me how a woman’s duty was to put up with everything in a marriage, because all men are basically babies that need mothering and I had no hope of finding another man if I were divorced. She gave me some really good advice too, but I couldn’t think beyond the comments that sounded a lot like “you’ll be second-hand material”.
Then, she went around my back asking people if I was having an affair with Mister, because a man and a woman can never be friends. I didn’t, I couldn’t speak to her for a whole year after that.
And I’m not telling you my life story; only what religion can do to a person.
Imagine a boisterous college student who walks around showing off her midriff and not caring if people are looking at her. And then picture a burqa clad woman who has panic attacks if someone catches a glimpse of her hair. Would you believe me if I told you it was the same person before and after the brainwashing?
I was so horrified I kept asking myself the one question: If my sister had refused to convert, would her now-husband change his religion just to be with her?
Religion is so sexist it fucking sucks.
But then as I was writing the above sentence, another thought occurred to me that depresses me even more.
Would a Hindu man marrying a Muslim girl convert just to be with her?
I don’t know the answer to that question. Do you?