Two religions, one marriage

Do inter-religious marriages have a lesser chance of succeeding than a same-religion marriage? Vimla Patil tries to answer the tricky question.

Talk before you leap: No matter how  open-minded couples-in-love may be, they should discuss religious differences before they tie the knot in order to have a happy marriage.

“This is 2012 yaar! We are in the 21st century! Why are we even talking about inter-religious marriages? They have the same chance of success as any other.

Any two people can make a success of their relationship if they work well together,” says Anu Desai-Khan, a young, successful investment banker — a Gujarati Hindu married to a Kerala Muslim for five years, “The days of fighting over religious beliefs are gone and young Indians should accept that as diverse communities come together for education, employment, travel and social networking, there are bound to be more inter-religious marriages. I met my husband at work and we decided to have a civil marriage to avoid religious problems in the two families. However, both our families are unhappy about our marriage and we have opted not to connect with them anymore.”

Anu has brought up a very significant point that bothers present-day Indian society. Taking this point forward, actor Pooja Bedi says, “Why is it that people date people from other religious communities and then back out at the time of marriage saying there is opposition from the family? No matter how open-minded couples-in-love may be, they should discuss religious differences before they tie the knot. Relationships that lead to marriage are serious and haste can lead to disaster.” Pooja Bedi herself was married to a Muslim and is now divorced and has two children.

Though Bollywood has any number of examples of ‘happily married’ inter-religion couples, Indian society as a whole, according to social observers, has yet to truly accept inter-religious marriages. “The more liberal or non-religious the couple, the better are the chances of success for them,” says Manda Pachauri, a counselor, “But some couples do lose their families in the acrimony and defiance which surrounds the marriage!”

Pachauri’s words are proved by an audit of Bollywood. Here, one can list numerous A-list Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Christian marriages that have failed or succeeded because of reasons other than religion. Aamir Khan was married to Reena Dutta and had two children Junaid and Ira, both brought up as Muslims. After his divorce, he married Kiran Rao and has a son called Azad Rao Khan.

Shah Rukh Khan is married to a Hindu (Gauri) and has two children — Aryan and Suhana — whose upbringing is secular from all reports. Salman Khan is the son of a Muslim father (Saleem) and a Hindu mother (Salma). He and his siblings Arbaaz, Suhail and Alvira have been brought up as secular Muslims. Arbaaz is married to Malaika Arora who is a Catholic and Suhail is married to Seema Sachdev, a Hindu. The family celebrates Id, Christmas and Ganesh Chaturthi with equal enthusiasm.

However, when Zayed Khan married Malaika Parekh, she converted to Islam and had a Nikah. His cousin Fardeen Khan married Natasha, the daughter of actor Mumtaz and Mayur Madhwani. Sanjay Dutt, himself the son of the inter-religion marriage of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, was married to a Hindu (Richa Sharma with whom he has a daughter) and is now married to Maanyata aka Dilnawaz Shaikh through a Hindu ceremony. However, their twins have Islamic names: Shahraan and Iqra.

The above facts may prove that inter-religious marriages are successful when both partners and their families provide security, love and support to each other. Religion is not the biggest issue in their relationships. Having a lot of money, success and more than adequate personal space also helps. But among the aam janata, this is often not so. Parents who often have just two children, feel cheated if either or both marry way outside their culture and faith and often break off relationships creating a chasm of unhappiness between the two generations.

In India, parents, however progressive, look to their children as the ‘support’ of their old age. They hope for continuity in religious celebrations, cultural harmony and a stress-free life when they stake all they have to educate and provide everything to their children.  “It all depends upon what kind of bride comes into the family. She can break or make a family,” says Shobha Jain, wife of an industrialist, “In our case, things are truly sad.

We are a Jain family that lives on three floors of our bungalow in South Mumbai. The three brothers  — my husband and two others  — and their families had a common kitchen and celebrated festivals, parties and family occasions together. Now each young son has married either a Muslim or Christian bride. The result is that non-vegetarian food is cooked by them in kitchens which are now separate. The young daughters-in-law do not attend our religious or cultural get-togethers saying their religions do not permit them to do so. The happiness of the whole family is destroyed.”

The most recent couple to hit mixed-marriage headlines comprises cricketer Zaheer Khan and his girlfriend Isha Sharvani. While Zaheer is a Muslim, Isha Sharvani is the daughter of dancer Daksha Seth and Vissaro, an Australian composer. Born in 1984, Isha is an expert in yoga, dance and martial arts and lives in an ashram in Kerala. She has worked in films, among which is Subhash Ghai’s Kisna – The Warrior Poet. Zaheer hit headlines as the leading wicket-taker in the World Cup in 2011. The two met in 2005 and over a period of time, despite several differences, have decided to tie the knot later this year. They will be one more successful couple if they build a strong marriage.

“A major reason why families do not like mixing religions through the marriages of their sons or daughters is that in India, property, marriage and child custody laws are different for each religious group,” says Ankit Talwar, a lawyer, “The Hindu Code Bill applies to all Indic religions though local customs may vary. Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism have the same foundation of beliefs. Personal laws for Muslims and Christians are different. So when the only son or daughter of a family marries outside his religion, the parents are concerned about his being the heir not only to their family responsibilities but also to their way of life and assets.

Tap any parent in India and most will say that they would prefer their sons and daughters to marry any community within the religious commonality so that adjustments are easier. Of course, finally, the nature and willingness to adjust by both parties decides whether the family and the new couple will be happy together. Even in the West, psychiatrists realise today that young people who “have not made peace with their parents” cannot make a success of any relationship! Their guilt at alienating them is more in Indian society where parents are considered equal to God. Indian laws also demand that children should look after their elderly parents by supporting them. Their monetary help to their parents is tax-free unlike in other countries. This is the culture of India and it cannot be wiped out.”

“I was brought up as a devout Hindu,” says Srilata Ghosh, a successful doctor, “And I am proud of my heritage. I love the beauty of my culture.  I think every person has the right to be proud of his or her culture and religion. In India, religion is not limited to temples, mosques, churches or the act of praying or worship. It influences our food, relationships, apparel, language, festivals, sacraments, pilgrimages and even the way we look at the world. 

Experts like Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, have said that Indian thought and life even today connects to the edicts of Emperor Ashoka from 236 BC. Ours is one of the oldest cultures of the world. More than 90 per cent of Indians are profoundly religious. When two people have a totally different upbringing, how can they find peace together unless both give up their ways of life and create a third one successfully? Minor differences can be ironed out but major ones cause disaster after the first flush of romance has waned.”

Pooja Bedi sums up the debate, “If for any reason a young woman or man feels that his/her parents could oppose the marriage, he/she must figure out whether he/she is open to a life without the parents’ blessings and to handling the worst possible scenario after the honey-and-roses romance is over!”

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