Lata Singh And The Indian Woman’s Right To LoveBloombergQuintOpinion
“These are all faltu discussions,” says 40-year-old Lata Singh. “As long as there is agreement and consent between two people, caste, religion, nationality, gender doesn't matter at all. Singh is referring to what elected representatives from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have said about ‘love jihad’ in recent days.
She should know. In 2006—after a seven-year legal battle—the Supreme Court said in support of her inter-caste love story: “This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes.” Lata Singh vs State Of U.P. became an oft-quoted, landmark judgment.
Eighty-five years after anti-semitic laws were passed by the Nazi Party forbidding marriage and sexual relationships between Jews and Germans, state governments led by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have said they want to regulate Hindu-Muslim marriages.
Adityanath spread some festive fear by warning against ‘love jihad’ – that Hindutva bogey where Muslim men lure unsuspecting Hindu women away from their faith using the lethal weapon of marriage. He promised a law against religious conversion for marriage and issued a clear death threat to Muslim men who didn’t heed his words.
BJP-led governments in Assam, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have said similar hateful things and Karnataka said it will take a call after seeing what other states do; the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad went a step further and demanded a public hanging in such cases. This is no laughing matter in a country where targeted bovine-related lynchings have been a recurrent hate crime in recent years. Incidentally, one reason that inter-religious couples convert is simply because it is safer than marrying under the Special Marriage Act.
I don’t suppose it helps to remind our politician-love marshals what the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Lok Sabha in February: The law doesn’t define ‘love jihad’ and there are no such cases. “There is no love jihad, only love,” says Sanjoy Sachdeva, the head of Love Commandos, a network of volunteers that has helped thousands of couples hurdle over the barriers society throws in the way of inter-religious and intercaste marriages.
India’s intercaste, interfaith connections run deep and span generations, as we reconfirmed recently when we launched the India Love Project, telling stories of love and marriage outside the shackles of faith, caste, ethnicity, and gender. We were flooded with submissions that began, “I’d like to tell my story.”
Remember Hadiya’s repeated, emphatic assertion? “I want my freedom,” the medical student told the Supreme Court which, in 2017, ruled that her conversion to Islam and her subsequent marriage to a Muslim man was perfectly legal. We live in an age where the apex court has decriminalised adultery and taken a clear stand against khap panchayats. The Delhi High Court is hearing petitions to legalise same-sex marriage. Adityanath and his cohorts may do their best to make it more dangerous to marry outside the rigid confines of the Hindutva rulebook but their threats will never be able to exert control over the choices of women or stop two people from falling in love. Many before them have tried and failed.
Ask Lata Singh. It’s just coincidence that we are speaking exactly 20 years after she eloped with her love Brahma Nand Gupta, a member of the lone bania family in a cluster of 16 or so Rajput villages. Their intercaste marriage, five days after she left home, set in motion a chain of events that included a kidnapping charge, a mental health evaluation, a hurried mini exodus, arrests, intimidation, death threats, and of course, a long court case.
“I don’t even remember where our love story began,” says Singh. Growing up in a village in Farrukhabad district, their families were fine with them being friends. When they both left home, he to work in Delhi, and she to continue her studies in Lucknow, they lost touch for several years.
They reconnected in 1999, at the wedding of one of her brothers. “We met and exchanged numbers, and when we left the village we stayed in touch, started chatting a little. I thought we were in a relationship but marriage won’t be possible,” she says.
But then Singh’s parents passed away and, in a time of loneliness, she realised that she wanted to spend her life with Gupta. So she called him up and asked if he would marry her. Yes, he said, when should I come to get you?
On Nov. 2, 2000, they met in Lucknow and she left home. They were married on Nov. 7. It was the first intercaste wedding in her family. “I thought it would take a month or two before my brothers found out, but they got to know about our wedding only two days later.”
When her three brothers began going to Gupta’s relatives’ houses and attacking them, 27 family members were forced to flee Uttar Pradesh. They left their fields and homes and fled to Rajasthan where they live to this day.
Singh and Gupta were hiding in Himachal Pradesh where they kept switching hotels every two months, until they heard that her family had filed a case of abduction against his family. Two of Brahma Nand’s sisters who had stayed behind were arrested. Thus began a long legal battle that culminated in a sweet victory for Singh in the Supreme Court.
She recalls the time she went to court in Lucknow to record her statement. Her brothers caught up with her in Kanpur as she was returning home. “I was seven months pregnant but I climbed the boundary wall of the Kanpur Bus Stand and, without looking back, I kept running until I reached a bakery. It was raining and I was drenched. The old man running the bakery made me sit in front of the oven and gave me chai and toast. My legs were badly swollen. There was no movement in my stomach, and I thought I had lost my child.” Luckily, her baby was unharmed.
After she won her case, Singh knew what she had to do. “I took the story of my case and went to many places. It’s not difficult to get justice, they (women) just have to reach the right platform,” she says.
Who do you think Indian lovers are more likely to be inspired by – Lata Singh or Yogi Adityanath?
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.