Subhadra Khaperde and Rahul Banerjee met for the first time in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district. While working together for the rights of the Adivasi community, they fell in love. Their parents weren’t happy, though. Khaperde, who was a crèche worker at an non-governmental organisation before becoming a rights activist, was a Dalit Neo-Buddhist, and Banerjee, a graduate from Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur, who eventually decided to work in the social sector, a Brahmin Hindu. Going against their families’ wishes, the two got married in court in 1995.
“Since that day, we have lived and worked together,” says Indore-based Banerjee, 60. “We are a casteless, atheist couple fighting for a socio-economically just and ecologically sustainable world.”
Late last month, the couple shared their story with the world via the India Love Project, a new initiative started by journalist couple Samar Halarnkar, a Mint Lounge columnist, and Priya Ramani with their journalist-writer friend Niloufer Venkatraman on social media that describes it as “a celebration of interfaith/inter-caste love and togetherness in these divisive, hate-filled times.” “We wanted to share our story with the world and just to let people know that castes, religion don’t matter. Love is love,” says Banerjee.
That was precisely the idea behind the project, says Halarnkar. Though they had discussed it over a year ago, the real push for the project came about a month ago when an ad by a jewellery brand, showing a baby shower organised by Muslim in-laws for their pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law, drew criticism from radical groups for promoting “love jihad”. “It’s a platform for those who want to share their love stories. People are being fed a fake narrative around love and interfaith marriage, and we want to fight it by showing the truth,” says Halarnkar.
In a deeply divided country, the short, warm stories of couples with sepia-tinted photographs shared on the timeline of the India Love Project aim to show "how widespread love is", which is why perhaps it’s fast gaining global attention. “Couples are reaching out from different countries, from young to old couples. It’s getting difficult to cope. We even got an intern,” laughs Halarnkar, adding: “It shows that inter-faith and inter-community marriages have been happening for decades. It’s not some new concept.” The three-member team eventually plans to expand to offer counseling and legal help to interfaith and inter-caste couples.
In a 3 November post, Rupa, born a Hindu Brahmin, shares her “relatively open-minded” mother’s first reaction when she informed her that she was planning to marry Razi Abdi, a Muslim. “He'll say ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ three times and kick you out,” her mother said, referring to the now-outlawed practice of instant divorce in Islam in India. “However, once my parents met Razi and realised what a wonderful human being he was, their misgivings faded,” she writes.
They have been married 30 years and have two sons.
Writing about his marriage to Vineeta Sharma, a Hindu, in a post, Tanvir Aeijaz, a Muslim, says: “That our Hindu-Muslim marriage can be a role model of secularism seems to belie people's expectations ... They're dumbfounded, almost disappointed that our love would have to be called love, and not love jihad.”
Such stories, says Halarnkar, “show the many beautiful realities of India… about the things people do for love.”