Sumitra died on 3 March 2005.

Anees died on 10 October 2018.

It has been a rapid descent since, far away from the khichdi road into a loud cry calling for separation. And more separation. The anxieties that India thought it had pushed behind into the history books from 1947 have come right back to haunt it and shape its todays.

It is not as if all was hunky-dory in the seven decades since it threw off British rule and attained Independence. There was a lot that was cause for deep distress. Scholars have described it vividly over the decades. There was often violence that enabled the capture of democratic processes.

This ensured that while democratic rules were formally obeyed, the grand goal of any democracy – of forging a sense of equality between each citizen – was subverted. But that was still in waves, in flashes of time and in the states.

Nationally, there was a firm belief that Indian democracy had made it first past the post, ahead of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, so that the danger of majoritarian control had passed. Just like businessmen and maharajas lost elections, so did overtly divisive candidates.

There was a belief that Indian democracy had been able to provide the safety valves that ensured that the boat would not capsize, come what may. India, it was hoped, would be the shining exception to the rule that South Asia was turning out to be. It was its own unique type, a marvel to have made it so long and so far.

There are many views on what made the republic suddenly vulnerable. Was it the long shadow of 1947 catching up, an inevitability of what should have been? Was it the explosion in the 1990s of economic deregulation, caste upheavals in north India and a renewed effort by the Hindu Right to push ahead with a drive to reclaim India as a land for just Hindus, the Hindu homeland?

After 2019, the re-election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was interpreted now as the mandate to cut the cloth in the manner of what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) blueprint had been in 1947. A series of symbols have been put in place to effect the switch without necessarily tampering with the Constitution in letter.

The Central Vista is to be its most vivid sketch, but other than that, after the Ram Mandir has been secured at Ayodhya, with the Supreme Court judgment of 2019 paving the way for a Ram temple at the exact spot where the Babri Masjid stood, primacy has been given to cows, followed by the “protection” of Hindu women.

In the fast-paced technological as well as economic change that India was witness to since the 1980s, the BJP may, in hindsight, seem an inevitability. The 1980s and then the 1990s threw India into a churn that changed it fundamentally. It of course saw the rise of forces that challenged much of what was retrograde; the mobility, provided by the rising school enrolment rates, urbanisation, mobile phones, technology and mass media shook shibboleths and threw open doors of interaction between castes, classes and religions.

It afforded far many more opportunities of inter-mingling, “mixing”, leading often to breakdown of taboos to some extent and to more mixed marriages and certainly mixed romances. To those wedded to older ways of doing things or the certainty of old social hierarchies, the threat to the status quo rang alarm bells.

When a Dalit rode a horse through his village on his wedding day, or a Hindu and a Muslim couple decided to marry, it scared all those with a vested interest in the stability of the past. The rapid change ushered in the decades following the 1990s generated generated enough pushback from those who had a lot to lose.

The backlash to the social upheaval of the ’90s came in full force. The number of rules infringing the ease with which those of different faiths/castes could get married under the Special Marriages Act, 1954, grew multifold. They now involve the police giving No-Objection Certificates and they even involve parental consent to what are patently adult decisions.

The case of Hadiya, an adult woman studying medicine, marrying a Muslim man and its managing to waste several hundred hours of a Supreme Court bench would have embarrassed any another democratic country. But in India, it was only a precursor of more unlawful “laws” being introduced in states that now criminalise marriage between people of different faiths, much on the lines of what has happened in societies that have had deeply unhappy endings.

The Nuremberg Laws in Germany or the Miscegenation Laws in the US explicitly forbade sexual relations and marital ties between Jews and non-Jews or between Blacks and Whites and had chilling consequences. In India, while it is yet to be seen how it all ends, the process of unravelling is certainly underway.

The point of preventing such marriages is not that these are plentiful. The National Health and Family Survey 2015-16 showed that such inter-faith marriages are only 2.5 per cent of total marriages; inter-caste marriages, by contrast, comprise 13 per cent, a significantly higher portion of the total.

But what they do is demonstrate the possibility of breaking out of boundaries. Stereotypes get shattered with each marriage. It keeps people aware of what it is like on the other side of the ghetto, and in the long run prevents the demonisation of minorities. This demonisation is vital to keep stoking the cauldron of fury, which becomes that much harder to keep on the boil when love allows you to jump past those barriers.

The opening up of the mind that follows and its possibilities and then the progeny of such marriages, all together take away from politics that thrives on separation and the creation of distances. These theories are easy to nurture and foment if there is zero contact between people of different faiths.

For those who benefit from divides, conflict needs to be dusted up all the time, distances widened and new agendas of hatred pushed every day. That couples find each other, find love and happiness, discover a new shared identity, that romantic or conjugal relations nurture, means that they cross divides with a possibility of staying happily ever after, makes the Eternal Anger project much harder to keep going.

A law brought about in the autumn of 2020 via an ordinance in the middle of a global pandemic in India’s largest state (Uttar Pradesh) is worth mentioning here. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, was introduced by one of the most prominent poster boys of the BJP, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath – the mahant of the Gorakhnath Math and a firm believer in his own version of Hindutva from his Hindu Yuva Vahini days.

He and his politics are cognisant of the need to break the bonds of coexistence in its everydayness if a permanent majority for a Hindu Republic must be developed and then kept going. This is a point eloquently developed by Sudha Pai in her book Everyday Communalism, where the conviviality or just sharing of non-hostile spaces – whether eating together, travelling, living or being buried/cremated side-by-side – is sought to be criminalised and the warp and weft of living together (and dying too) is torn apart. This ordinance which is now a law chimes with the deep-seated prejudices of all those who nurse the fear of having their identities diluted.

Marriages in India have been the primary means of keeping caste alive and not just caste but religious and class differences too, with endogamy being the norm across society.

It is trite to quote them, but the matrimonial columns in newspapers along caste and religious lines are a testimony to how strong social barriers are. In less fraught times, attempts have been made to minimise social divides but they are now amplified by majoritarian governments at the Centre and in the states.

In fact, eight other states already have anti-conversion laws. Other BJP states would bring in similar laws, given that it has an obvious appeal to their base and more. Karnataka’s version, clearly makes it impossible for people of different faiths to get married. The burden of proof that they have not committed a cognisable offence is squarely on them.

Sumitra and Anees: Tales and Recipes from a Khichdi Family

Excerpted with permission from Sumitra and Anees: Tales and Recipes from a Khichdi Family, Seema Chishti, HarperCollins India.