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The India Love Project celebrates couple from different backgraounds. Photo: Instagram

India Love Project aims to celebrate diversity, from intercaste unions to LGBT couples

  • The India Love Project features stories of couples who have overcome different backgrounds or resistance from Indian society
  • The page is a response to polarisation, including Love Jihad, which accuses Muslim men of seeking to marry and convert Hindu women

One Instagram post pays tribute to the marriage in 1973 between Pushpa Karekar and Shahadat Pathan, a Hindu and a Muslim.

“My parents worked together at the RTO [Road Transport Organisation] and couldn’t have been more different,” says the post, written by their daughter Shabana. “She was never on time, he was Mr Punctuality. She was the ever smiling diva, he was a serious John. But love conquers all and they fell in love.”

The post is one of many in the India Love Project. In India, where many marriages are still arranged by families, intercaste and interfaith marriages remain taboo. In many cases, families have attacked or even killed couples for falling in love or trying to marry someone outside their communities.

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Last year, an advertisement for Tanishq jewellery showed a baby shower for a Hindu pregnant woman hosted by her Muslim mother-in-law.

The ad which was meant to highlight India’s unity in diversity, but Hindu hardliners claimed it portrayed “love jihad” – an Islamophobic term that implies Muslim men ensnare Hindu women to marry them with the sole intent of converting them to Islam. Legislation against so-called love jihad has even been introduced in some Indian states.
The Tanishq ad was withdrawn due to the controversy. It prompted a group of journalists – married couple Samar Halarnkar and Priya Ramani, and their friend Niloufer Venkatraman – to launch the India Love Project on Instagram, as “a celebration of interfaith/intercaste love and togetherness in these divisive, hate-filled times”.

Each post features a different couple, telling the heartwarming story of how they met and their time together. Niloufer Venkatraman posted the first story, about her Parsi mother and Hindu father.

“My parents intentionally gave their three children Parsi first names and a Tamilian last name, saying we should be proud of both identities,” she wrote.

The project has gained a devoted following online, rejecting polarisation and celebrating interfaith relationships as well as same-sex couples, foreigners marrying Indians and even age differences between partners.


“All around us we’re seeing this unacceptable and disheartening increase of demonising and hating on interfaith marriages,” said Halarnkar, one of the founders.

“We wanted to say and spread the word that interfaith and any other non-mainstream marriage has been happening in India for decades and that it continues to take place. We felt that if we share real-life stories of couples, it will show others that all kinds of relationships are possible and acceptable.”

When a Hindu marries a Muslim in India, their lives can be in danger

The story of Lata Singh is also featured. In 2000, she ran away from home because she knew her brothers would not approve of her intercaste marriage. Indeed, her brothers sought to prosecute her husband for kidnapping. However, Singh fought a legal battle and in 2006 won a landmark judgment, in which the Supreme Court ruled “intercaste marriages were in the national interest”.

Another post tells the story of gay couple Sandip, who was working in San Francisco, and Bishan, who was based in Kolkata. It was years before they managed to live together, as homosexuality was not decriminalised in India until 2018.

“While they might not march in Pride Parades, our families have made their peace with who we are,” Sandip wrote.


Kavita Ramdas married Zulfiqar Ahmad, a Pakistani, 37 years ago.

“We gave up a lot to be with one another. We are sad that our homelands exist in a state of permanent hostility,” she wrote.

“Our daughter … has grown up visiting family across many borders. She is an American of South Asian descent. She has Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian relatives of every race, colour and caste. Our religion is Insaniyat [humanity] not Insanity. That is what we wish for India and the world in 2021.”

Maybe these stories can offer a ray of hope to those seeking alternative choices
Samar Halarnkar

In six months, the India Love Project has gained almost 50,000 followers. The founders have been heartened by the enthusiastic response.

“Both groups – the people sharing stories and people who feel happy reading them – tell us that it has struck a chord,” Halarnkar said.

“The numbers … are an indication that such a project was needed and that we are not so homogenous in our love choices after all. We’re a country of many who are willing to rebel and marry for love and talk about it too.”

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However, Halarnkar noted that although the stories appear to have had happy endings, the couples had suffered along the way.

“Most have had to endure years of resistance and tension before they triumphed,” he said. “In the long run, maybe real-life stories can reduce the narrow vision of what relationships ought to be.

“Maybe these stories can offer a ray of hope to those seeking alternative choices. The more people read these stories we hope they will realise there is space for cultural pluralism to flourish, that we all need to embrace cultural and religious diversity.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Instagram counters hate with stories of love and harmony