In India, parents murder their own children because they dare to love, strangers assault people because they appear to be in love, the police criminalise lovers because, apparently, in India it is a crime to love. Well, it is if you happen to be gay, and while we can blame the British for the law, it is the governments of independent India that have actively defended a colonial law against love.
Parents who kill their children are merely exercising their authority, punishing their child for showing them disrespect. The ones who cut them off (“you are dead to me”) are doing the same thing. “Children” – Indians are always children, never mind how old they are – have no right to love, because it is disrespectful to their parents. Why? Because when children fall in love, it has nothing to do with the parents (we will ignore Oedipus and Electra for the moment). Falling in love is an autonomous act, and respectful Indian children are never autonomous of their parents.
Indians, of course, cannot be disrespectful to their parents, because they “owe them everything” (I am still figuring out how this is explained) and because “it is our culture”. Respecting your parents, at the very minimum, means a) marrying the “boy”/“girl” and their family your parents pick for you, b) knowing that you have no right to happiness, only your parents do and what makes them happy is that their children are obedient to their wishes. Being respectful is to accept that your parents do not love you unconditionally.
Strangers who assault young lovers and the police who cart them off to the police station also demand the same sort of respect. Their defence – “how can you be so shameless?” and “it is against our culture” – is an exercise of parental authority by proxy. Driving them is the terrifying thought that somewhere hidden from their sight, their own child may be challenging their authority by falling in love. Okay, so there may be an element of envy too – seeing the free expression of love that they, bound by their duty to respect, have denied themselves. But in the end, it amounts to the same thing. They batter love down with their fists.
No place for love
This loveless culture has long been institutionalised in khap panchayats, which exist in some form across the country. Now a modern political organisation, the Sangh Parivar, has put its heft behind it. Over the last decade, marauding bands of Hindutva goons have been running a toxic and violent campaign against love, one inter-faith couple at a time. Because this love not only challenges parental authority, it challenges the order of society the Sangh Parivar is working towards.
In Rajasthan, the government, powered by the Sangh Parivar, is hoping that catching them young and indoctrinating them will solve the problem of having to beat up couples and break up marriages. It has announced that from next year, February 14 – Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate romantic love (and sell roses that do not have a chance of blooming, Chinese-made teddy bears and twee greeting cards) – will be Matr-Pitr Pujan Diwas (Worship Mother-Father Day). Education Minister Vasudeo Devnani has been quoted in The Hindu as saying, “Students should learn to love and respect their parents first before anyone else.” Because as we know, if you truly love and respect your parents, there is no chance that you will, autonomously of them, fall in love.
There is one upside to this miserable situation – it helps sustain a movie industry that turns out mostly crap cinema. Bad movies – with no actors, but only romantically entangled heroes and heroines – become box-office hits, as a nation vicariously sublimates its longing for love.