What does love mean in 2023? It perhaps depends on who is asked.
To “Gen Z” and the aspirational young, love is a “situationship”, a convenient renaming of yesteryear’s ‘friends with benefits’.
To married couples, love is a day of peace in the absence of the other.
To intercaste couples in safe houses to protect them from caste-based honour killing, love is a battle against the tyranny of history.
To Hindus, love is hugging cows. Once a nation that hugged trees to save the forest, saving the cow is now the only worthwhile kind of conservation.
To Bajrang Dal, love is a ‘western import’ that threatens the Indian ethos (of controlling women by beating them into submission instead of treating them as equals)
To the media, love is an ad campaign and a well timed celebrity wedding can work wonders. Cue Kiara-Sidharth
To inter-faith couples, love is a secret or jail time.
To politicians, love is in the optics of rescue in an unforeseen earthquake
To the lovelorn millennial, love is an SRK movie
To the rebels without a cause, love is Pathan
To the gurakshak, love is killing in the name of ‘ahimsa’
To social media influencers, love is the seven OTT looks or cake recipes, one for each day of the Valentine’s week, that their followers requested
To the dispossessed and urban homeless, love is an address that once was
To the manic, love is to remember
To the lonely, love is to forget
Love can surely be a many-splendoured thing.
They say that love is colour-blind. Yet, seen through a prism, it has many hues. It is emotional, political, and economical and charged with layers of metaphors and similies. It is perhaps no surprise that celebrations of love threaten those in power or those who propagate hate and order. In India, Valentine’s Day, the so-called international ‘day of love’, continues to jog the national imagination with demands for turning the day into "cow hug day" quashed just in time to save the country from total humiliation on Twitter. Millennials and their parents would remember the decades when the Bajrang Dal was out combing the parks of Uttar Pradesh for young couples on February 14 to beat them with sticks and humiliate them for their “inappropriate” act of love.
Love has also become the site for the assertion of majoritarian, masculine, and jingoistic ideology. In Assam, the state government is leading a crackdown against child marriage but many claim that only Muslims are being targeted under the pretense of action against child marriage. Many Muslim men have been imprisoned in the past year over charges of ‘love jihad’. In the name of ‘love’ for the holy cow, many in India have been serving up myths and fiction as truth and justifying the harming and killing and lynching of those against their philosophy of cow love and non-violence. In patriarchal societies,’ Love’ can be the name given to gender roles and unrealistic expectations from women to prove their worth by serving the man - the object of their love.
In a country riddled with deep-rooted patriarchy and casteism, love has always been in shackles. But out of the doom appears tales that light up our lives. We have been through apocalyptic times, and we are still in the tunnel. But we hope that love—pure and unshackled—can perhaps bring out the best in humanity. Love is hope. Even in all its shades. Green, blue, grey and disappearing red.
On Valentine's Day, Outlook looks back on its 2022 issue 'All You Need Is Love' on the politics of love and its many shades and the conflicting representations, interpretations, connotations, and implications of love that drive the nation.