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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 May, 2004, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
India: Modern love versus old taboo
By Shabnam Grewal
Assistant producer, World Weddings: Love Converts

Ujjala in tears with Asad
Ujjala's extended family is breaking up after her marriage to Asad
After a nine-year secret romance Ujjala and Asad have finally wed.

But they - and both their families - are paying a very high price for their marriage because she is a Hindu and he is a Muslim.

For nearly a decade Ujjala and Asad have met as often as possible, but always in secret and never alone.

Like many in love they wanted to marry, have children and build a home together.

But for this young, middle-class Calcutta couple, fulfilling so simple and commonplace a desire has not been easy; marrying across the religious divide is still taboo in 21st-Century India.

In India, many Hindus and Muslims view each other with intense suspicion, born of centuries of hostility and violence.

Of the 14 million people living side by side in Calcutta today one in five is Muslim, yet very few Hindus and Muslims inter-marry.

Asad and Ujjala are finally married
The couple finally married but it may have destroyed Ujjala's family
Although the Indian state of West Bengal has had little of the communal violence seen in recent years in Gujarat or Bombay (Mumbai), where thousands died in religious riots, there is still considerable mistrust between the two communities.

Fear and anger

Many Muslims are fearful of being persecuted by the Hindu majority while Hindus remain angry at the thought of their ancestors who were forced to convert to Islam.

During British colonial rule, divisions between Hindus and Muslims were encouraged, and after India gained its independence in 1947, the two communities turned on each other in bloody riots.

Both Hindus and Muslims remember the violence of India's partition, when more than a million people were slaughtered. As Ujjala's father Ashok says, "There is hatred - particularly among Hindus...there's a long history between us."

For Ashok, one of his worst fears has always been for his daughter to marry a Muslim.

For 18 months Ujjala's parents virtually imprisoned her at home in an attempt to put an end to her relationship with Asad
Ujjala and Asad met at college. Ujjala's parents were liberal in their attitudes and happy their daughter had friends of both sexes and many religions.

They knew Asad was a Muslim and he was welcome in their home, as a friend. But in secret, love blossomed between the pair.

When Ujjala's father, Ashok, found out the true nature of their relationship he was devastated: "I didn't like it, I really didn't like it. My feeling at the time was that if I had died, it would have been better."

Arranged marriage

For 18 months Ujjala's parents virtually imprisoned her at home, in an attempt to put an end to her relationship with Asad.

They arranged a marriage for Ujjala to a Hindu man that ended disastrously, with Ujjala claiming she was abused by her new husband and in-laws.

Ten months after the marriage Ujjala returned home to her parents.

Since that day she and her father have barely spoken a word to each other. Asad was still waiting for her, and the secret romance was then resumed.

It is possible for inter-faith couples to marry in India and for them to retain their own religion. But for Asad and Ujjala this was not an option.

Ujjala's father Ashok
Ujjala's father was devastated by the couple's relationship
Asad's family are devout Muslims and would never accept Ujjala unless she converted.

Ujjala lived as part of an extended family with her parents, two brothers, her father's brother, his wife and daughters and her grandmother.

They are all faithful Hindus returning every year to the big family temple - at their ancestral village - for three days of puja, or worship.

Family shamed

No one in their large, extended family had ever married a Muslim. It was inconceivable.

Ujjala knew if she married Asad her family would be shamed. The price of becoming Asad's wife would be losing her beloved parents and family.

For nine years Ujjala and Asad were trapped between the desire to marry and the desire to please both sets of parents.

Ujjala may never see her wider family ever again
Aged 29 and 31 respectively, they felt time was slipping away, so they finally told their parents they wanted to marry.

Ujjala would become a Muslim, marry Asad and move into his family home with his parents, grandmother and three siblings.

Her parents reluctantly accepted her decision but refused to come to the wedding.

Ujjala converting to Islam
Ujjala wept throughout her conversion to Islam
They are so shamed by her marriage they are now talking of moving away, to live somewhere where no-one knows about the marriage.

Their fears are not unfounded: Ujjala's uncle and his wife and children have already moved out of the joint family home.

They accuse Ujjala of damaging the marriage prospects of their two daughters and ask who will be willing to marry into a family where the cousin has married a Muslim.

There is talk of splitting the family business.

For Asad and Ujjala their wedding is bittersweet. They are happy to be together at last, and convinced all the heartache has been worthwhile.

But the price is the possible disintegration of Ujjala's family, some of whom she may never see again.


World Weddings: Love Converts was broadcast in the UK on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Wednesday, 26 May, 2004.


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25 May 04  |  This World


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