“The Newlyweds” by Mansi Choksi

Mansi Choksi (Photo: Adam Perez) Mansi Choksi (Photo: Adam Perez)

Mansi Choksi’s The Newlyweds is an investigative journey into the lives of three young couples, who, to be together, defy conventions of caste, religion and sexuality. These individuals belong to small towns and villages—home to almost 70% of India’s current population—often growing up with strict moral codes and duties towards their families and communities. Choksi documents their journeys as they break traditional barriers, trying to understand and showcase if love really survives the ordeals that follow. 

 

They are exactly the kind of young Indians who are raised to resist the urge to surpass the boundaries of traditional Indian society. So, after they risk everything for the sake of love, they suddenly cannot recognize themselves. Each of them is tormented by one central question: Was it worth it?

 

Neetu and Dawinder, an inter-caste couple from the same village, elope in the thick of night, seeking shelter with an organization called “Love Commandos” that offers protection to interfaith and intercaste couples. As the fear of being caught fades and the reality of beginning a new life sets in, the couple’s relationship starts to unravel. Negligible savings, delays by the shelter to solemnize their union, a horrific honor-killing of another intercaste couple and Neetu’s family assaulting Dawinder’s mother, all influence this young couple’s relationship.

 

“When we had time, we didn’t have each other,” Neetu told me one afternoon in May 2020 over a video call. They had called to share the news that Dawinder had been promoted at work. “Now we have each other, but we don’t have time.”

 

Arif, a Muslim and Monika, a Hindu, choose to get married, as an unplanned pregnancy and fears of being accused of committing love jihad—a conspiracy theory in India that alleges that Muslim men marry Hindu women to convert them to Islam—looms above their heads. However, after having braved a turbulent period, their lives take new turns. Arif gets transferred to another city for a job, while Monika, continues to live with his family, expected to adopt their lifestyle. Arif conveniently overlooks the emotional and psychological impact of their marriage on Monika, who longs to reunite with her parents and sister and struggles with the limited economic resources his family has to offer.

Reshma and Preethi, on the other hand, are a lesbian couple who, after many trials and tribulations, find home in another town, only to be separated. Despite being forced to return to their homes and constantly harassed by their family members, they reunite. However, the thing that finally breaks them is rooted in jealousy, mutual indifferences and unresolved emotions.

 

The Newlyweds: Rearranging Marriage in Modern India, Mansi Choksi (Atria Book, August 2022; Icon Books, Penguin Viking India, September 2022)
The Newlyweds: Rearranging Marriage in Modern India, Mansi Choksi (Atria Books, August 2022; Icon Books, Penguin Viking India, September 2022)

While such relationships have been part of India’s history and society at large (The Special Marriage Act, 1954 allows couples from different faiths to marry, and same-sex relations were decriminalized in 2018), they are still not readily accepted. In recent times, hostilities towards them have continued in the form of honor killings, threats from self-appointed moral police and even passing of anti-conversion laws in some states. The Newlyweds does not really answer the question if love is worth all such battles these couples face, but leaves enough room for readers to examine it for themselves.

Choksi explains how the patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia always present to some extent within both families and communities is given cover by the right-wing Hindutva nationalism sweeping the country, in turn shaping the Indian society such couples choose to inhabit, resist and make peace with.

 

Every Valentine’s Day, a procession of sword-wielding street fighters of the Bajrang Dal, a youth affiliate of the Sangh, passed through Reshimbagh, alerting Hindu families to the danger of Muslim boys lurking outside colleges to seduce Hindu girls.

Through a tireless journey of documenting their lives, Choksi also shows how these stories are about more than just romantic love. At a point, Dawinder wishes to return home, knowing that the ostracism would break his father’s spirit, while Preethi misses her parents, feeling guilty about her choice to be with Reshma and her responsibility as the eldest child in the family. This is where Choksi’s writing is at its best, with love as the centerpiece to be examined and re-examined. The Newlyweds ends up describing love in the face of oppression and resistance, and recognizes it as a force to reckon with—not just for the Indian society, but for the couples themselves.


A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer, poet and communications consultant in Singapore . She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree. Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.