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New Delhi, Ajaz Ashraf(FP): The current debate on love jihad focuses primarily on how the notion of patriarchy seeks to control a woman’s choices and her body. This is apart from noting how it harnesses inter-religious marriages to propagate Hindutva through a stoking of sentiments against Muslims.
These arguments are certainly valid, but they miss a key aspect of RSS’ campaign: its world view in which it is the family — not the individual, whether male or female — is regarded as the basic unit of society.
You have to read the ‘philosophy’ of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch on its website to fathom the anxieties and fears the RSS has about individualism. An affiliate of the RSS, the SJM was formed on 22 November, 1991, just months after the Narasimha Rao government embarked on the path of economic liberalisation.
The SJM seeks to promote swadeshi in the economic realm, but it also intuitively understands that liberalisation fosters individual freedom, which could erode the cultural values the RSS cherishes.
Therefore, SJM categorically declares, “The lowest socio-cultural economic unit of society in the Swadeshi view is not the individual but the family.” Further, the SJM says “it believes that the unbridled and unbalanced individualism of the West is destructive of community living.”
The “Western notion of individual freedom” is destructive because it “fragments and compartmentalises family, economy, culture and social values.” This is why individualism is not acceptable to the SJM.
It says a person’s freedom is tempered by his or her integration into the family and community, and religion provides “support and linkage to community living.” Individualism, therefore, must be circumscribed. The method of restricting a person’s freedom is to subordinate him or her to the family.
Cultural anxiety aside, such subordination is also necessary because of economic reasons. You get a peek into the SJM’s thinking when it says, “This single institution (family) relieves the modern State of extraordinary welfare commitments like old age benefits and unemployment doles which work out to over half of the GDP in many Western countries, like USA and Germany.”
In other words, the SJM wants the family to take the responsibility, economically as much as emotionally, for the old and the indigent, the sick and the dying. So what then is the State there for?
“The State acts only to protect it (the family) from incursions.” In protecting the family from unbridled individualism that can fragment it, the State also shields the community, which is defined in religious terms.
It is this worldview of the RSS which has spawned its narrative of love jihad. Inter-religious marriages destabilise the family, or the basic social unit, and, therefore, also the religious community. No doubt, patriarchy has a role in the campaign against love jihad, but this is enacted against the backdrop of the RSS’s opposition to what it calls “unbridled individualism”, a term it is loathe to describe.
Yet it isn’t difficult to imagine when the line of control is violated, or when the individual is seen to have thrown off the bridle. Indeed, the relationship between the individual and his or her family is not always harmonious. It often begins fraying as the child, reveling in his or her discovery of individualism, begins to disagree with his or her parents or elders on such issues as subjects to graduate in, the dress to wear, the length of hair to sport, the profession to pursue, et al.
But nothing challenges or undermines the imagined idyllic family life than the individual’s choice of whom to love and marry.
But individualism is tolerated as long as lovers belong to the same class-caste and religious background because it is seen as perpetuating the tradition dear to family elders. It is not considered destabilising; the individual hasn’t violated the bounds of class-caste and religion. It becomes more a case of tradition taming modernity so it remains within bounds, and therefore not deemed dangerous.
By contrast, inter-religious marriages become an expression of unbridled individualism, for it undermines not only the right of elders to choose for the young, but also what they value as tradition. Once the rein of tradition has been thrown off, it is impossible to tell what other experiments with modernity will the individual attempt.
This experiment with modernity triggers anxiety among elders because they fear the tradition and sentiments binding them and their children might get ignored repeatedly. The famed cohesiveness of the family structure is loosened, conveying dreadful future possibilities to elders in the absence of comprehensive welfare measures.
Inter-religious or even inter-caste marriages also complicate the relationship between the family and the community. It makes the line separating social groups fuzzy, as also their idea of identity, and threatens the principles around which community living is organised. All this further aggravates the family’s anxiety about its future. This is particularly true of areas where people don’t live their lives in metro-like anonymity.
It is important to note that while the ‘love jihad’ campaign is the specific expression of the RSS’s worldview, interfaith relationships threaten both sides of the equation. This fear of individualism is as much part of certain sections of the Muslim community and their organisations. Both communities seek to fetter individualism, deter the young from finding the flight path separate from that of the family.
The RSS’s narrative of love jihad is at odds with and aimed at neutralizing the pull of individualism unleashed by the last 25 years of liberalisation. It also highlights the faultline within the greater BJP-RSS worldview where the free market impulse wars against its cultural conservatism. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi tell the RSS that economic liberalisation and individualism come together in a package deal? Will he point out the reason why love jihad overturns the philosophy of liberalisation? Oh, well…