- Published on Monday, 26 September 2011 10:15
- Category: Letters From the UK
I confess to being a fan of Nihal, a DJ and a radio presenter on BBC Asian Network, where he presents a phone-in show in the afternoon that deals with social and political issues. Sometimes I even speak with him live on air.
There was a show on a recent Wednesday, that was inspired by the Bollywood film industry. Two Bollywood stars are planning on getting married after several years of courtship. “What’s the big deal?” I hear you ask. There is none. But when the actors are both of different faiths (she’s a Hindu and he’s a Muslim) then the gossip mill start churning away.
The question for that session was “Are Hindu-Muslim marriages in Bollywood making it more acceptable for everyone else?” Apparently Bollywood, that shining beacon of hope and morality for the South-Asian Diaspora, which churns out tall, fair-skinned Amazonian women, is that influential in our daily lives. Many a time, nestled up with a hot mocha in the local Costa Coffee (they do the best coffee – sorry Starbucks) while considering lifestyle changes, I’ve said to myself: What Would Aishwarya Rai Do? On a more serious note, I’ve yet to hear one person say in my presence that a lifestyle decision they have made was influence by a Bollywood star.
Actors are most definitely role models these days, that is why they are told to keep fit and healthy and endorse brands. Young girls do look up to the likes of the glamorous movie stars, but mainly in terms of their looks and trendy outfits. But no one will come home and announce to their parents that they are going to marry a person of a different faith because Shah Rukh Khan did.
There were a few callers who came on the show that had married someone of a different faith. One caller from Manchester told listeners how her Muslim father had married a non-Muslim woman and as a result, she had had the most idyllic childhood. But not everyone is as fortunate.
In my own community, I know of several Muslim men who have married non-Muslim women after they got them pregnant. Are they then treated as outcasts and pariahs, shunned by their family and community? No. In fact no one even bats an eyelid. “Boys will be boys!” is a phrase often used in my neighborhood; I’m sure has its origins in either the Middle East or South Asia.
One of the callers on the show, Jayesh, had his own theory, believing that Muslim men are encouraged to marry non-Muslim women in order to spread Islam. I chuckled just a bit, remembering all those women who are now living with or married to the Muslim men in my community – not one of them is religious in the slightest, though they will don the cultural garments from the husband’s side from time to time to look presentable to his family when they visit. This is a centuries-old scenario where religion will be used as a method of control when it benefits them. The same people who are blind to their son’s discrepancies (to put it politely) will have their eyes wide open when their own daughter is misbehaving. The same people will not pat their own daughters on the back when they are impregnated, shrugging it off with “Girls will be girls” because such a mentality does not exist.
In India, where it seems everybody knows your business, the biggest scandal is not that some guy got a girl pregnant but rather two people of different castes met and fell in love. Same religion, same language even, but different ancestral backgrounds. What chance is there of marrying someone of a different faith when marrying someone from a different city ‘back home’ is frowned upon?
Bollywood will not make these problems vanish overnight or even over a generation. Nor do I expect it to. No matter how many times we see something on screen, endorsed by our favourite actors, we can separate fantasy from reality. We all like seeing romance on screen sometimes wishing we could experience it for ourselves, cheering on the star-crossed lovers and urging them to get together. But the real world is different and more complex. It will take more than a few movies and dance numbers under the banyan tree to change people’s mentalities.
By Iram Ramzan, Aslan Media Contributor