Love is a beautiful feeling, and it has the supernatural ability to flourish in the most unlikely of situations. Love knows no borders, community, caste, gender or religion, and it seems enough for all intents and purposes in an ideal world.
However, the world is more complicated than that. The idea behind love is an amalgamation of fantasy and the reality around us. The Indian society is an impressionable one. Thanks to movies, love is a dreamy feeling as it surpasses all boundaries and wins everyone over.
The Constitution of India has given its citizens the freedom to choose a partner. It is a human right to fall in love with someone, irrespective of their religion, gender, sexual orientation, caste and class. The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that choosing a partner is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the sacred document.
Despite the legislations in place, it has been questioned quite so often by the Indian public. According to BBC, a global survey in 2021 states that while our country calls itself 'secular' and 'tolerant', it has several qualms against interfaith relationships. The report also made disturbing inferences that show the accurate picture.
In November 2020, Uttar Pradesh passed the 'anti-conversion' law to prevent forced 'inter-religious marriages, or 'Love Jihad'. However, it became a ploy for right-wing communities to target minority religions for 'influencing' and 'wooing' young women to marry them.
Such legislation's flawed execution has given rise to unnecessary hatred towards interfaith marriages. Social ills like honour killing became a norm in the northern states where a couple was killed because they were in love.
Fighting For Love
Although such hindrances exist, some people champion the right to choose a partner. An example of this is 'Dhanak of Humanity'. Based in New Delhi, it is a support group that helps interfaith, intercaste and LGBTQIA+ couples to live a dignified life. 'Dhanak' is the Urdu word for rainbow, a rare and beautiful phenomenon. Therefore, the not-for-profit organisation fights for love and counters communalism.
The group was formed in 2005 by a man named Asif Iqbal. The inspiration behind it is stemmed from his own life experiences. He fell in love with a woman named Ranu Kulshreshtha in 1998, and they wanted to get married. Things were tricky as she was Hindu and he was Muslim, resulting in their families not accepting the union.
"When my wife and I were going to get married, there were personal and administrative issues. We felt that the latter was more because solemnising marriage under the Special Marriage Act is challenging. At this time, we felt that there should be a platform where such couples could get help and support, especially when they are going for marriage solemnisation," Iqbal tells The Logical Indian.
For the unversed, the Special Marriage Act 1954 is the legislation that allows two people from different religious communities to tie the knot. Despite this, such aspiring couples found it challenging to solemnise the marriage. Asif Iqbal explains, "When couples go forward for the process, they do not get witnesses. During those days, relevant documents were required that were to be attested by a gazetted officer."
Inclusive Support For All Couples
In theory, the courts have asked the police forces to protect such couples. However, the entrenched stigma against such unions results in no support. In light of this, Iqbal felt the need for someone to support them. "The idea behind it was that there should be a group to make its presence felt in such cases where there is a 'hungama' (chaos) or where there is a need for representation in the police station," he said.
The unparalleled support comes with a caveat. Not many couples can muster the courage to be public about their relationship. Therefore, 'Dhanak of Humanity' serves as the appropriate platform for interfaith, intercaste and LGBTQIA+ couples to talk about their issues, and it is a safe space.
This idea formed the organisation between 2004-2005, where a few couples came together to form the informal support group. The services involve counselling for couples, where they are made aware of their rights and legal avenues as protection.
"It starts with counselling. Generally, the couples call us in many situations, asking for our help in making their parents understand and convince them about their children's marital alliance. In other cases, the couples reveal that they tried their best, but now they want to go ahead with the marriage. Some are in a conflicting position where their parents are prohibiting them from getting married, otherwise, there will be dire consequences," Iqbal adds.
However, there are times when the consequences turn bleak. In such scenarios, the group advises them to listen to their parents, which could jeopardise the couple's future. Other services involve providing legal advice and assistance, police and court protection, marriage solemnisation under the Special Marriage Act, safe houses for the couples if necessary, financial aid and employment opportunities.
Their support is not just limited to heterosexual couples. 'Dhanak' works towards helping LGBTQIA+ couples by keeping them safe. Not only that, they connect them with other organisations that are working specifically for the community that can take the efforts forward and safeguard their rights.
Awareness And Sensitisation
A significant chunk of Dhanak's work lies in raising awareness. Their social media platforms are constantly buzzing with activity as they continuously share posts and videos to keep the public posted about the necessary rights and freedom. Apart from online presence, the group also organises events offline that were put on hold during COVID-19. Every year, 'Sahas' is celebrated on Valentine's Day to further the cause to the masses. The word in Hindi means bravery and is an abbreviation of 'Strengthening Of Humanity And Secularism' rooted in Dhanak's primary motivation.
Asif Iqbal continues his conversation with The Logical Indian, "We organise an annual event called 'Sahas' on Valentine's Day. We are very active online as we post videos and posts that initiate dialogue, debate and discussion. Offline, we used to stick posters around the city, theatre activities, student interaction that we indulged in. We want to make people understand that there is nothing wrong with such relationships, and they are legal in nature."
'Dhanak' is aware of the flak such unions get in our society, and Iqbal believes they are walking on thin ice as they are prone to serious legal consequences. "No one has intimidated us till date, but we know we are walking on a sharp razor edge, and anything can happen. We are aware that a couple assisted by us can state us at times, stating that we told them what to do. The laws say that anybody helping or abetting such couples can also be penalised," Iqbal speaks of the potential fears.
Apart from legal consequences, some elements are out of their hands. One of the services in 'Dhanak' is reconciliation with parents, which is only possible after the couple is married and living together. While they are ready to help, they need to know in writing about the same. Unfortunately, the condition has resulted in many giving up on the idea of reconciling with their ideas.
However, Iqbal explains the attitude, "Generally, people think that someone else will save them from a particular situation. When they don't find a solution, they come to us. But, we cannot talk to parents unless we have consent from the couples, and we cannot proceed otherwise as it can backfire. The parents can blame us, stating that we instigated them and file a legal complaint as a result.
Not only that, it is not sure if the families will take our advice. The organisation might be asked to stay away from an external party in the 'personal matter.' Therefore, it wants complete conviction for the concerned couple to plan the next step forward during such situations. "We ask the couples if you will be fine if the family refuses. Will you walk away with us after this? There should be clarity about the same," he adds. A majority of them hope for an amicable solution, but there is a possibility that it may not happen.
Impacting And Touching Lives
Looking at this, 'Dhanak of Humanity' can be called a perfect amalgamation of idealism and reality. While it wholeheartedly believes and fights for love, it keeps it honest and allows the couple to forge their path.
In a polarised country like India, the organisation is turning out to be a shining ray of hope for many couples, and they do not hide it. "People are aware of our work. We are not keeping any secrets, and everything is publicly announced, like where our office is, where we work, etc. People ask how difficult our job would be, but we are not doing anything wrong. We are working within the framework of the Constitution. Even if something unforeseen happens, we trust the judiciary to pass a favourable judgment. All these thoughts give Dhanak immense confidence," Asif Iqbal adds.
'Dhanak of Humanity'' has helped over 5000 people, couples and individuals alike, in forced marriages. In 2021, they were awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Human Rights and Equality for their exemplary work. Taking their noble work forward, the organisation spreads love that trumps hate every day.