What’s common between these couples? Bakhtawar Master and S Venkatraman. Maria Manjil and Sandeep Jain. Rupa and Razi Abdi.

Master, a Parsi woman, fell in love with and married Venkatraman, a Hindu Tamilian, in 1958 against the wishes of her family. The story of Jain marrying the Catholic Manjil in 1998 is no different, as is the marriage of Rupa Abdi, born in a Hindu Brahmin family, with Razi Abdi, a Shia Muslim.

Drawing attention to these stories is the India Love Project, an online forum launched in October by journalists Priya Ramani and Samar Halarnkar, along with writer Niloufer Venkatraman. It brings together first-person accounts of love and marriage across the faultlines of religion and caste on Instagram and Facebook. Some stories are told by the children, even grandchildren, of the couples.

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BAKHTAWAR MASTER & S VENKATRAMAN By @niloufervenk I was eight when I asked my parents why a schoolteacher had called me “mongrel”, a word I’d heard used only for dogs before. That’s when I first heard their story. In 1954, my Parsi mother, Bakhtawar Master, was studying at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and regularly volunteered at the institution’s Social Service League. There she met another volunteer, S. Venkatraman, a Hindu-Tamilian man, nine years older, who worked for an airline. They fell deeply in love. He had no immediate family. Her huge family disapproved. Four years later, on the morning of 9th May 1958, when 24-year-old Bakhti left home for work she told her mother she wasn’t returning that night. She and Rami married under the Special Marriage Act that day. My parents intentionally gave their three children Parsi first names and a Tamilian last name — they said we should be “proud of both identities”. Throughout their long partnership of 31 years, each followed their own religion. They refused to attend a wedding if they knew dowry was part of the deal. And they fervently supported other inter-faith marriages and adoptions; several of these unions and celebrations took place right in our home. PHOTOS #1 S Venkatraman and Bakhtawar Master #2 After 25 years together #3 They hosted several interfaith unions at their house. _________________________________. #love #couplegoals #india #interfaith #vintage

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The impetus to launch the project came from the renewed focus on “love jihad” – a pejorative term coined by the Hindu Right to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men charm Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.

In October, Bharatiya Janata Party chief ministers in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka declared their intent to enact laws to prevent “love jihad”. The slew of declarations came weeks after Hindutva activists forced the jewelry brand Tanishq to withdraw an ad film that showed a Hindu woman happily married in a Muslim home.

The India Love Project aims to counter “the blatantly fake narratives and politically motivated hate-mongering” with real life love stories, said Halarnkar. “Campaigns like so-called ‘love jihad’ are merely excuses to snatch away agency from women, strengthen the hold of patriarchy and perpetuate stereotypes and lies,” he said.

In February, the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre itself admitted in Parliament that it had found no evidence for “love jihad”.

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LATA SINGH AND BRAHMA NAND GUPTA By Lata Singh Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. I eloped with my friend Brahma Nand because my family would never have allowed our Rajput-Bania wedding. When my three brothers found out we had married they filed a case of kidnapping against his family. We spent the next 7 years in court until the Supreme Court (Lata Singh vs State Of U.P.) in 2006 ruled that intercaste marriages were in the national interest and that adult Indians could marry whoever they wanted. We still have that newly married feeling. Maybe because for the first 7 years after we ran away from Farrukhabad to Jaipur, he spent most of his time working. I was in court all the time. We’ve seen only two films together—Mardani (because I wanted to) and Happy New Year (because one day I got angry that we never go out and this film was in theatres). We’ve spent more time together in #Covid-19 than ever before, even discovering hidden stories about each other. Three years ago my eldest brother died. If he had lived a little longer, I feel he would have come around. I would have been able to go back to my childhood home. Now that will never happen. My advice to those who marry for love? Give your relationship 100 percent, but if it’s not working don't think so hard about exiting. Don’t do samjhauta with anyone. (As told to @babyjaanramani) PHOTOS We only have these pose-y photos with each other. We rarely click natural pictures :) ____________________________ #intercaste #love #marriage #India #UP #couplegoals

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Halarnkar hopes that the India Love Project would eventually become a community “where those seeking love beyond traditional confines can find advice and support,” he said. “We hope to get lawyers on board because we have already had requests for help from some people. We hope to hold offline and online conversations and bring people together.”

On November 7, the India Love Project organised its first online talk session in which Lata Singh spoke about her seven-year ordeal to get her inter-caste marriage accepted by the law.

Born in a Rajput family, Singh married Brahmanand Gupta from the Bania community in 1999. Her brothers filed a case of kidnapping against Gupta’s family. The Lata Singh versus State of Uttar Pradesh case was resolved in 2006 when the Supreme Court ruled that inter-caste marriages are in alignment with national interest.


The project documents the struggles of inter-community couples but also their resilience. The stories offer a glimpse into the texture of Indian society, where families respond with violence but also with acceptance.

For instance, Rupa Abdi wrote about her marriage to a Muslim man: “My mother-in-law was a humble, religious woman who hadn’t received any formal education. During my first visit to her house, while Razi’s younger relatives were getting all worked up over the fact that Razi had married a Hindu girl, my mother-in-law’s reaction was simple. ‘If Razi likes her, then I like her,’ she said.”

Halarnkar observed, “I think it’s been established by now that education in itself is no answer to bigotry. The life you lead, the people you grow up with, the experiences you have are probably more important.”

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RUPA & RAZI ABDI By @rupaabdi “He’ll say ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ three times and kick you out”. That was my mother’s first reaction when I informed her that I was going to marry a Shia Muslim. However, once my parents met Razi and realised what a wonderful human being he was, their misgivings faded. I was born into a Hindu Brahmin family but my parents were relatively open-minded. I met Razi at a research institute in Gujarat that I visited often to meet a college mate who was working there. For me it was love at first sight. After wooing him for a month, I proposed and he gave in. My mother-in-law was a humble, religious woman who hadn't received any formal education. During my first visit to her house, while Razi's younger relatives were getting all worked up over the fact that Razi had married a Hindu girl, my mother-in-law's reaction was simple. ‘‘If Razi likes her, then I like her”, she said. It’s been 30 years since we got married and we have two adult sons. Both Eid and Diwali are celebrated in our home. PHOTOS #1 After our court marriage, Razi’s colleagues hurriedly arranged a small party on the terrace for us. #2 Our two sons are adults now and have learnt to respect all faiths and follow their own moral code. #3 Love is a faith that conquers all. _________________________ #love #marriage #India #interfaith #pyaar #couplegoals #lifegoals

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Within weeks of going online, the India Love Project has drawn a storm of appreciation as well as endless first-person accounts of inter-community marriages and relationships.

Ramani shared some of the messages they had received: “You guys restore my faith in love….I wish to marry my muslim boyfriend soon one day, you guys are a total motivation”; “I am a child of an interfaith marriage (Hindu + Muslim) and now married to a Christian”; “I’m a child of an interfaith couple. Now my spouse and I are an interfaith couple.”

Another reader had a suggestion: “don’t you think breaking the shackles of age gap…are also equally important.”

The India Love Project does not believe in any shackles on love – evident from the story of Salma Siddiqui and Krishan Chander, shared by their granddaughter. Both left their first marriages with children to begin a new life.

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SALMA SIDDIQUI & KRISHAN CHANDER By @rehana__munir It was the late 1950s, and India was inventing its post-Independence identity. My witty and charming paternal grandmother Salma Siddiqui had admired Krishan Chander, a leading light of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, for many years. Her father’s friend, he was older than her by about 20 years. She had been a fan of his Urdu short stories and novels while in university in Aligarh, in the heady years of Nehruvian idealism. Now she was the mother of a young son, my father, with a talent for satirical prose. He, meanwhile, was a much respected public intellectual in Bombay, and a father of three. And then came the plot twist. They fell in love—unabashedly, irreversibly, inconveniently. Disbelief, anger, judgment, consternation, guilt: the emotions that enveloped the couple and their families were operatic. A Muslim woman from a respectable family leaving her kind lawyer husband for a much older, married Hindu writer? Unheard of. In the best progressive tradition, they proved their critics wrong. For 20 years, until Krishanji’s unexpected death in 1977, the couple enjoyed a married life that is the stuff of family lore. The Urdu word ‘fidaa’ aptly captures Krishanji’s adoring response to my grandmother. She told us stories of his humour and humanity until her last days in 2017. I’ve preserved a wooden statue of Saraswati that my grandmother kept among her books – a legacy of her relationship with her second husband, with whom she shared a deep love for a syncretic Hindustan. An atheist myself, it reminds me of where I come from and of the cultural riches I have inherited, no matter how bleak the times. PHOTOS #1 Romancing the ’60s #2 Toast of the town #3 At their Bombay home. _________________________ #interfaith #love #marriage #family #Muslim #Hindu #India #couplegoals #writer #Nehru #Urdu

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“We are merely a forum,” said Halarnkar. “We do not censor stories, nor do we intend to present love as something pure and unblemished by human failing. Love, as we know, can be messy, painful and demanding. If some couples want to share its messier side, so be it.”

What about those who won’t be pleased to encounter such stories of love that defies social bounds? Halarnkar believes that “the elemental power of love and its myriad possibilities” would win over even detractors.

That aside, Halarnkar added, it is only logical to endorse inter-community relationships in India: “In a country where people struggle to find a suitable life partner, ignoring social barriers could provide a much larger pool of prospective partners. And if you do find a partner, it will likely make you happier and calmer. That’s what India needs to be, a happier and calmer place.”