The more India changes, the more it remains the same. Days after the media expounded on the changing face of the country by highlighting the increase in inter-community marriages — and, in the course of it, extolling young people’s newly-acquired confidence in exercising their right of choice — conservative India hit back hard. The Star News office in Mumbai was badly damaged and its employees heckled for bringing to light the travails of a minor Hindu girl from Surat and her Muslim lover. The two had fled their neighbourhood and arrived in Mumbai. Like scores of others who defy religious strictures and the rigid, unwritten codes of social behaviour to follow their heart, the two risk losing their lives. It may even be argued that it is their brief moment of fame that has earned them a temporary reprieve. Elsewhere in India, couples are burnt or butchered for the same crime, without the nation batting an eyelid. The news channel, which intended to tell the tale of this victimhood, has been accused of “glorifying” transgressive behaviour. Such a blame may as well be apportioned to the judiciary, which regularly solemnizes inter-caste and inter-community marriages. It has done so recently in Bhopal, which is fast becoming the storm centre of another conservative backlash.
The juvenility at display in the attack on Star News betrays a cardinal truth about India —its refusal to grow up. The young are considered to be old enough to choose between brands, but they are never seen to grow into their right to choose their life-partners, especially from among those who belong to a different class, caste or community. The venom of the traditionalists, presently directed against Muslims, flows equally when caste-or class-divides are broken within the Hindu community itself. And just as in several of the present cases, the police and the State’s other organs for dispensing justice become acquiescing parties to the zeal of society’s self-appointed moral guardians. It is not without reason that the little-known Hindu Rashtra Sena wields the same muscle in such matters as the Shiv Sena or Vishwa Hindu Parishad does while flailing against the perceived threat to the other endangered Indian virtues. The media have little to defend themselves against this hooliganism. Nor do those Indians who do not wish to stand by such bigotry.