We have all heard that India is a sex-negative country but it also has the much more dangerous distinction of being a love-negative country. The right to fall in love in India is shrouded in constrains of religion, caste, lifestyle and wealth, and even when we aren’t forced to marry within the norm, we do it. Why do we do it?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
My friend once told me about something that baffled him so immensely he rolled over in my meticulously-made, ash-covered bed for a full minute before I could respond. It was something he had come across on a Tamil debate series. A young man, arguing in the favour of a hybridised version of arranged and love marriages, said that he could choose to marry anyone but if it was someone outside of his caste, he couldn’t even imagine being attracted to her in the first place. He saw this set-up as a free-decision based on love, whereas my friend saw it as an arranged marriage where you could choose out of a series of pre-approved women, and you may like one of them more than the other but it’s not free love. In their own mind, I suppose they are both right, but overall, I see a fundamental flaw in their equivocation. Marriage in India is not about love. Nothing in India is about love.
In the deeply insulated leftist schisms of liberalism that we populate, we often talk about the struggle of living in a country that is so fundamentally sex-negative, and don’t get me wrong, it really is. When I was a teenager and starting to date (I made a series of truly spectacular choices in terms of men, a real who’s who of human garbage), a cousin I was close to told me that it was fine to date, even though she insisted that I was too young to date, but she would lose respect for me if i had sex, she made me promise that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t have penetrative sex. I broke the promise, but what’s important is that I made it in the first place. It’s important that sexual knowledge is imparted in this guilt-based format from trusted sources and that teaches all of us that having sex is inherently wrong because it makes a comment on our morality. This example I cite is very tame, prissy and privileged but evidence of our sex-negative attitude is all around us all the time: from hotels that wont rent rooms to unmarried couples, to the violent responses to a woman who may have had sex, to all the virtue-signalling, to our responses to the depiction of sex on screen, to the complete lack of sexual education in our schools. Its all around us. India is, indeed, a sex-negative country.
But is also, and perhaps more so, it is a love-negative country.
At the heart of this is an equivocation of sex and love, but not in the way that is obvious. The liberal school often teaches the young ones that sex is okay but only if you are in love with the person you do it with, but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that sex and love in India are painted with the same brush. Sex is wrong and dirty ipso facto, love is wrong and dirty. Whether you tell your mother that you had sex with someone or that you are in love with someone, the potential for the response to be dire is equally high. A part of that is exactly what my friend was talking about, because unlike an arranged marriage which is governed by societal constraints (like caste, income, religion, attitude towards working women), love is governed (at least in theory) by free-will, and when i am attracted to a person, I don’t make that decision based on their ethnicity or religion or caste, I’m just attracted to the person. If I fall in love, it wont be because of or despite their caste, it will just be. That love is governed by free-will is a large part of the case against it. After all if your daughter has sex with someone, it’s nothing a hymenoplasty, a severe beating and an ipill wont fix, but if she falls in love with someone, there is so much that could be wrong with her choice that is non-negotiable.
I know we all love to behave like we are in an era of liberalism and India is becoming a progressive country but if you wish to see the truth of people’s social liberalism, look no further than the industrial complex of marriage-making in India. Not only is the only acceptable form of love the love that leads to marriage but it’s deeply heteronormative, nothing outside of that registers as anything less than perversion. All the people who “don’t even know their caste” are looking for matches in very specific sub-sections. Heck we’re so afraid of inter-religious marriage we created the concept of love-jihad and then instituted laws against it despite a total lack of evidence of its prevalence in the projected numbers. Sex has the potential to flout the norms of social decency, but love has the potential to shake the fabric of Indian society because norms of marriage is how we uphold social stability here and love opens the door to marriage that doesn’t make sense to our norms. It’s not without reason that even in 2021, only 3% of Indians have “love marriages” and even that number is not fairly representative of the culture of love in India. There is something important that needs to be understood: love is for fun and marriage is for settling down. While the most “progressive” of our families are open to us having fun for a while, when it comes time to settle down they want us to think differently about finding a partner. Just like the man who was told to find love, but within his own caste, many conditions are placed on many of us and even when we make decisions of love “freely”, we’re really dating within the confines set by the marriage police. It’s not a coincidence that so many people end up falling in love with people of their caste, religion, tax bracket, age or socio-economic status. We sow our wild oats wherever we may like but when it comes time to “settle down”, we police ourselves into whittling our dating-pool down to an acceptable set of variables. It’s quite similar to the way in which arranged marriages are made.
And it get, arranged marries *can* work. I agree, but they are not about love. Indians scoff at love. Love is a stupid, tawdry thing and the only acceptable form of it is the guilty, grateful love children are supposed to feel for their parents. Romantic love in India is portrayed as painful, sacrificial or unrequited. To see that we needn’t look any further than our cinema or television, the only forms in which love is displayed as successful is when the lovers have to lose each other, their lives or their families to achieve it. We are taught to romanticise pining for love throughout our lives but also to realise that ultimately taking the dutiful and responsible route is the mature and Indian thing to do. Sacrificing the possibility of self-chosen happiness for society and duty towards family is the happy ending in our love-stories, and they often actively work to display how that is where true actualization is found.
Sacrifice and compromise are taught as virtue, love as a dirty thing and unhappiness in marriage as an acceptable condition for it. The right to love is absent, unacceptable and too much to ask for, the best you can ask for is a love marriage that is true to acceptable norms. That’s the best case scenario, the worst is falling in love with whoever you want and being killed for it. Love doesn’t matter in India, not when it is competing against the abstract concept of honour. Honour always wins, and it makes sense too, when the loss of love is taught to us as the ultimate form of romance.