To love against the odds

What is it about love that gets our goat?

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:06 am IST

Published - May 27, 2016 12:45 am IST

It is never easy getting things done in India. Businessmen say this all the time and successive governments have tried to make it easier for them to do what they do.

Nor is it easy being in love in India. Young people say this all the time and countless movies in many languages have told their stories. But unlike in business, nothing much seems to have changed in this situation; in fact, if anything, it has only become more difficult for two individuals to carve a life out for themselves based on their personal decisions.

Watching the >Marathi movie Sairat brought this lesson back to me once again. This story is one in a long line of stories that are only becoming more frequent. Various sections of society gang up against two people in love. Why is everybody — the family, the community and its leaders, the neighbours, the public, and finally roving bands of aggressive, unemployed youth — so bothered about what two people do? What is it about love that gets our goat?

Sundar Sarukkai

Individual and social actions Are we as a society suspicious of love? Not always, since we are expected to love our families, communities, or the nation. The suspicion is reserved only for two individuals who fall in love, since this is unmoderated and uncontrolled love. Love, like everything else in our society, has to follow the rationality of the social. The problem is that love by nature is not bound, not predictable, and does not follow social norms.

Our society cannot tolerate love because it cannot understand individual action which is not sanctioned by the social. There are innumerable examples of inter-religious couples who have gone through hell just to continue to be together. It is the same for >marriages across caste and class . And this seems to be getting worse. Earlier the middle class family was the greatest obstacle to couples getting together, but now that space has expanded to include almost all sections of society.

Love marriages are a direct affront to the greatest Indian institution: the Bureau of Arranged Marriage. An arranged marriage is not about love between two individuals, it is more an arrangement between two families. Often it is the families that fall in love with each other rather than the two people who are getting married. The boy and the girl are incidental to all this; they are but two goats who are needed to build this whole edifice of the social.

An arranged marriage is based on the powerful idea that love comes after marriage and not before. And since marriage is a social sanction, love too has to be socially sanctioned. The idea that >love comes after marriage may well be true, for after all if you inhabit a space with somebody all the time you will find ways of putting up with each other. Maybe our collective wisdom is that this is all there is to love: nothing more than just tolerating each other. And having children helps!

A love marriage challenges this and is an affront to this Bureau. It makes the desire of the other individual central to the idea of marriage. It publicly states that one desires the other person independent of family and other attributes of the social. It is also an affront because it directly raises the spectre of sex. There is something overtly sexual about the way love marriages are seen by others. Arranged marriages are conducted as if sex is non-existent. What exists in a lot of cases are mostly coy looks, vague nudges, whispered mutterings of ‘first night’, and the terrible traditional practice in some communities of checking the marriage bed the morning after. After all, for the Bureau, love and sex are just distractions on the way to creating the all-important entity called the family.

It is the family that is the greatest Indian invention. There are wonderful things about the family but they come with a price. More than being moulded, we are often dictated by the desires of the family: what to study, what job to take, whom to marry. It is the family which in most cases perpetuates the worst of caste, religion and class prejudices.

Where India fails What is this reaction against love really about? Is it primarily a statement about the object of love? We want our daughters not to love another individual but only that person’s caste, religion, or social class. This means loving caste, religion and family — and now nation — is more important than loving any individual.

Couples who decide to marry on their own find everything working against them. Here is where Indian society fails. A society is an umbrella. Given the wide disparities among people, a truly liberal society should offer shelter to those who are not privileged. Even love needs protection; the police, hotels, and civil authorities are in a position to give this protection. But all this fails in India. Those who have to protect are also the worst abusers. The poor and the powerless are the worst hit.

This is not to say that love marriages are made and sustained in heaven. There is really little that is romantic about love marriages too. People might assume something that is not love to be love, or they may not know what the reality of love really is. > Sairat’s brutal portrayal of life after the couple runs away captures this difficulty very well. But at least there is a sense of individual ownership and responsibility to this decision. Sairat is as much about the girl becoming a responsible adult when she is away from the protection of her powerful family. It is ultimately her love — a love that she is willing to fight for, a love for which she is willing to give up all the comforts that she cherishes — that gives her the strength to do this. And whether that love is worth it or not is a decision that has to be left not to the family or society at large but only to the concerned individuals.

Sundar Sarrukai is a Bengaluru-based philosopher. Email:

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