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Despite odds


NEW LESSONS: Community leaders don't like girls going outside the house, even to study

This love is not defined by red roses or teddy bears. It blooms in the shadow of menace.

Is love blooming in Haryana? The question brings an unusual smile to the face of tough-as-nails activist Jagmati Sangwan. As state president of the All India Democratic Women's Association in patriarchal Haryana, she deals with khap vengeance almost on a daily basis. But she is a firm believer that change is coming to Jat-land. And that's what makes her smile.

Sangwan says the spike in violence against couples in love is reactionary in nature, a traditionalist society's desperate attempt to retain its hold. "Women in these regions are more aware of their democratic rights today, more involved in developmental processes, and this is showing up in all fields including relationships, " she says. "Love is blooming, it is something they need. They want more understanding and empathetic partners. "

Researcher Prem Chowdhry, author of two books on social systems in the northern belt, says that increasingly it is the young who are revolting against the repressive social order. One sign of this, she feels, is the fact that parents are paying attention to their children's preferences even as they arrange their marriages. "Parents of girls are actively looking for 'suitable' boys (from the same caste, even if not from the same gotra) whom their daughters can be happy with. That's a step forward, " she says. Movements are afoot to rationalise some rules such as gotra restrictions.

She says the khaps are in panic mode. "Their refrain is 'chhore to haath se gaye, chhoriyon ko bacha lo' (the boys are out of control, let's control the women). As always, the burden of 'honour' falls on the woman. But increasingly women are questioning this. They are asking, whose honour are they trying to save anyway? "It's not ours, for sure, " says Chowdhry.

Much of this talk of family and village honour has to do with limiting women's rights in areas where land prices have skyrocketed. But the very fact that more women here are demanding their share of ancestral property is an assertion of independence and progress, say activists.

There is nothing that connects the forests of Dandakaranya with Jat-land. Except the fact that here too, love has to surmount physical danger. India's Maoists may be ruthless when it comes to dealing with state forces, but they are not immune to love. "The CPI-Maoists are very open about love and relationships. Leaders make it very clear that the party comes first and guerrillas are discouraged from having children but there is no squeamishness about love, " says journalist Rahul Pandita, author of Hello, Bastar : The Untold Story of India's Maoist Movement who has spent months in conflict zones. "I have heard of many such cases, where a Maoist couple in a guerrilla zone - in Orissa, Jharkhand and Bastar - decides to die together to enable everyone else to flee, " says Pandita.

But the most moving story of love that he encapsulates in his book is that of Anuradha and Kobad Ghandy - two upper-crust Mumbaikers who became entrenched in the Naxal movement. Pandita calls it an "incredible love story" and in a chapter from his book titled 'The Rebel', talks of how the two met in the '70s when they were conspiring to set off a social "revolt" in Bombay and how they went underground, first moving to a Dalit slum in Nagpur and eventually to the forest.

He records how they spend months apart, and how Kobad first hears of Anuradha's life-threatening illness in an internet chatroom. When she dies in Bombay a few years later, Kobad is still in hiding. Yet, when the police apprehend him in 2009, he walks off with them chanting her name. "Even here, in the High Risk ward of Tihar jail, the five sets of bars that incarcerate us cannot extinguish the aroma that Anu radiates in one's memories," he writes.

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