Loving in a culture where all love outside marriage is forbidden is taxing. Read our Editor’s take on it.
Love is the common language spoken across the world. Stories of love have existed in every society that ever told stories. When we remember how fundamental romantic attachment is to human beings, how common and natural, our society’s desire to stop people from loving, it seems toxic and selfish. Our parents don’t accept the fact that we could or would want to experience dating, companionship, or love. Most of us aren’t “allowed” to date, not that it means we don’t. We don’t tell our parents about our love life and significant others, caught in the fear that they may never approve. We don’t seek love advice from them, introduce them to our significant others, or share the details of our whereabouts with them with honesty. And if, by chance, our love strays from the hetero-normative narrative of love between a female and a male, the discomfort and fear of acceptance increases manifold.
For most Indian kids, love begins with lies. “I am going to meet Neha,” we say as we dash to the farthest end of our street for a sneaky ice- cream, and walk with someone who is certainly not Neha. These cloak and dagger games can be exciting initially but, as we grow up, we realise they are something far more sinister. Most families hold different beliefs regarding dating and love. Some might want their children to keep away from relationships “to keep them focused on academics” while others have far more rigid ideas about the same, like believing love and sexual experiences are reserved within the institution of marriage. It is in these households where young adults who are actively dating are, at best, at the risk of parental disapproval and, at worst, of losing their freedom, agency, as well as independence. The punishment of love in India without parents’ approval can range from having one’s phone taken away, to being made to quit the pursuit of education and, in extreme cases, to honour killings as well. Our culture has intertwined love with marriage, with controlling ideas about monogamy, togetherness, and “purity”. The impact on women has been undeniably worse since the “punishment” for loving has been known to be far more unforgiving on them than on men.
We don’t grow up with the right ideals of love. We live in a country where a common experience of all our peers is telling their first big lie to their parents with regard to someone they were dating. We couldn’t talk to our parents openly, or ask them questions about love, sex, relationships, boundaries, consent, and respect because we could never anticipate if it would be met with disapproval or punishment. We hid under our blankets sneakily texting our 9th grade crush, or sneaked out for study sessions with our boyfriend/girlfriend, and came to college and talked to our parents about everything in detail, except the person we loved.
Love, in itself, is capable of inciting fear. We invest our time and energy into someone who could one day casually walk up to us, say that it isn’t working out, and walk away, leaving us to deal with the walls crumbling around. But aside from the natural insecurity, in families, cultures, and communities where love is taboo, people are more likely to confuse love with and abuse. After all, they were never taught the difference between the two.
The approval of our parents is important. Running home after a star in our notebooks, or winning a match, a debate, a rangoli competition, and hearing them say, “I am proud of you, beta” is immensely precious for many of us, and nothing really beats that, not when we were ten and not now as well. It is sad therefore, that our parents don’t say it enough, and sadder perhaps that the approval they reserve for academic and extracurricular achievements, isn’t extended to forming beliefs systems which make us healthy, happy, fully-functioning human beings. Our parents will not tell us they are proud of us for breaking away from a toxic partner. Most of us would never have our parents sit down next to us, and comfort us with a cup of chai and a heart-to-heart conversation about heartbreak, like they did after every bad result, lost match, public failure.
I wish, like all the kahaaniyan (stories) our parents told to put us to sleep when we were children, the ones that taught us how to be brave, how to be kind, how to have compassion, also told us how to love, how to be respected and respectful in love, when to stay and when to leave, when to hold on and when to let go. Perhaps, we would have been kinder to ourselves and those we have loved, then. For Indian parents, who claim to do everything for the well-being of their children, do one more thing – give them the freedom to love, whomever they want and however they want.