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The love story as resistance

A TV show and a new book provide an alternative narrative for couples seeking the autonomy and freedom to love in India

Love Storiyaan on Amazon Prime is adapted from real-life love stories shared by couples

By Shrabonti Bagchi

LAST PUBLISHED 23.02.2024  |  11:23 AM IST

Love is so hazardous and so political in the India of today that the prospect of a male lion named ‘Akbar’ being mated with a lioness called ‘Sita’ is enough to cause a meltdown. Policing love is not new in India — one could argue that Bollywood’s entire oeuvre would be halved overnight if you took away stories about love being opposed and censored — but what was once done by families alone is now also, apparently, the State’s concern. Just this month, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill, one of its more controversial terms being the compulsory registration of live-in relationships between consenting adults. In August 2023, Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel said that his government would examine the viability of implementing a system that mandates parental approval for love marriages. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance (2020) effectively polices inter-religious marriages — a prime example of the State boldly entering the realm of conspiracy theorists who believe in the spectre of ‘love jihad’. 

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In this environment, a new show that centres love stories that do not adhere to the strictly patriarchal and endogamous rules of marriage and relationships in India, where a superhit Hindi film portrays an upper-caste Bengali girl marrying an upper-caste Punjabi boy as transgressive, is nothing short of revolutionary. But Love Storiyaan on Amazon Prime, produced by the same studio that made the aforementioned superhit film (and reportedly on a budget that would have just about covered one song in it), is not interested in revolution. It is a gentle, loving, intimate look at six relationships — their highs and heartbreaks; their moments of joy, and of romance, struggles and challenges — adapted from real-life stories shared with the digital platform India Love Project (ILP).  

It so happens that none of the relationships are the kind that are widely socially accepted — a divorced woman with two children marrying a single man; two cross-border love stories; an inter-religious one that includes themes of addiction and support; the inter-caste love story of two political activists; and one between a transgender man and woman — but the storytelling consistently emphasises the personal over the political. ‘These are real people,’ it seems to say. ‘They are not ‘types’, they are human beings.’

Love policing seeks to dehumanise people by reducing them to their religion, caste, class and status; denying their essential human-ness. Love Storiyaan gives them freedom and autonomy. “ILP wants younger couples to know that interfaith and intercaste families have always existed in India. Our grandparents’ generation defied their parents to marry a person of their choice and we should have the basic right to choose a life partner too. I call it positive news as resistance," says Priya Ramani, one of the founders of the India Love Project and a former Lounge editor and columnist who runs it along with journalists Samar Halarnkar (a Lounge columnist) and Niloufer Venkatraman. “We’ve created a little corner of the internet where people feel safe to share their love stories and, in turn, inspire younger couples to do the same." 

Exactly one month after ILP launched, UP criminalised inter-religious marriages. “The conspiracy theory of ‘love jihad’, apart from having no basis in fact, presumes that women have no agency. We have no ability to choose, think, or look out for ourselves. We must be protected and saved from ourselves by the patriarchy at all times," says Ramani. 

Interestingly, a new book, Love Jihad and Other Fictions: Simple Facts to Counter Viral Falsehoods by another bunch of journalists, Sreenivasan Jain, Mariyam Alavi, and Supriya Sharma, aims to debunk the very basis on which these laws were passed in UP and, subsequently, in several Indian states. In a factual, reportage-based investigation, the authors interrogate some theories that they say “are part of the landscape of WhatsApp chats and social media feeds of millions of Indians every day." Starting with the first known case of ‘love jihad’, the book investigates a list of ‘love jihad’ cases, travelling to the state where the largest number of arrests have been made under the new laws to explore if the crackdown is justified. They also examine other widespread claims made by the right wing in India, such as ‘population jihad’—the claim that Muslims are waging a holy war by producing more children— and conversions to Christianity.

Both projects undertake the same task — that of providing an alternative narrative to the dominant one of the State’s necessary interference in private lives — but via different approaches. While Love Jihad and Other Fictions takes the data and fact-based route, ILP and by extension Love Storiyaan take us into the hearts and minds of real people. “We have created a community where we crowdsource answers to key questions many couples ask, the most popular one being ‘How do I convince my parents?’" says Ramani. “I don't know how much of an impact our love stories will make, but I know we are already a beacon of hope in a country that hates young lovers."

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