She's Hindu, he's Muslim and they faced online hate

Ms Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan and Mr Shameem P. at their wedding last December. The couple's application for a civil union was posted online by a stranger and drew hateful comments because she is a Hindu and he a Muslim.
Ms Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan and Mr Shameem P. at their wedding last December. The couple's application for a civil union was posted online by a stranger and drew hateful comments because she is a Hindu and he a Muslim.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ATHIRA SUJATHA RADHAKRISHNAN

BANGALORE • All Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan, 33, and Shameem P., 34, wanted for their wedding reception last December was a fun party with friends and family. After all, following some initial reservations, Ms Radhakrishnan's Hindu parents and Mr Shameem's Muslim parents had eventually supported the couple's decision to marry.

Both Ms Radhakrishnan, a public policy professional, and Mr Shameem, a start-up consultant, are not religious "so there was no conversation about conversion", Ms Radhakrishnan said.

But because they were from different faiths, the couple had to apply for a civil union under India's Special Marriage Act. In accordance with the law, their application was put on the local marriage registrar office's notice board for 30 days.

A week later, a stranger tagged Mr Shameem in a Facebook post on their application, which also included their photos and home addresses. The post attracted hateful comments and, in half an hour, it was shared 150 times.

"Two weeks later, my mum sent me a (forwarded) WhatsApp (message) in Malayalam which read, 'In this month, around 108 Hindu women have been trapped by Love Jihadis.' It was a document with around 125 applications filed in Kerala under the Special Marriage Act, including mine," said Ms Radhakrishnan.

Although upset and scared, the couple focused on planning for their wedding. They registered their marriage without trouble and had a reception with 250 guests on Dec 26 last year.

In June, Ms Radhakrishnan saw the daughter of the Kerala Chief Minister being trolled online for marrying a Muslim.

She said: "If even the minister's daughter is not spared, what about less-privileged women? I decided to speak up against this nauseating hate and venom."

She wrote about her experience on Facebook and received messages from many other couples about how their personal details had also been shared online.

Ms Radhakrishnan tagged Kerala's state legislators in her post, demanding action. Finally, Public Works minister G. Sudhakaran instructed all inter-faith marriage applications to be removed from the government website.

"Those who talk about 'love jihad' think all Muslim men are potential frauds or terrorists. They think a woman is too stupid to decide for herself and needs saving. Enough of this Islamophobia and misogyny," Ms Radhakrishnan added.

In the middle of last month, she petitioned the country's Supreme Court to have the "discriminatory" 30-day rule removed as a violation of privacy.

She said: "Hindu marriage laws and Muslim marriage laws allow two consenting adults to marry. So why should two consenting adults who want to continue in their separate religions be put through so much trouble?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2020, with the headline 'She's Hindu, he's Muslim and they faced online hate'. Print Edition | Subscribe