Interfaith Couples Overcome Challenges Thanks To ‘Dhanak of Humanity’ Initiative


NEW DEHLI — It was in 2018 when Shirish Solanki, a 33 year old from Gujarat, India, looked up “Dhanak of Humanity” on the internet.

“I couldn’t gather the courage to contact Dhanak initially,” recalled Solanki, reflecting on his initial apprehensions about the possibility of marrying Anisha, who is Muslim, “given the religious differences and growing intolerance in the country.”

Dhanak of Humanity was founded in 2004 by Asif Iqbal, who started it as a support group for interfaith couples aimed at providing guidance and assistance to those facing challenges due to societal prejudices surrounding interreligious unions.

READ: A History Of The Word ‘Bharat’ And Its Hindu Ties

The organization was formally registered in 2012 under the Societies Registration Act, marking a significant step in its mission to understand and respect the right to choose one’s life partner regardless of religious affiliations.

Shirish Solanki’s journey to marrying Anisha was far from easy.

“My parents blackmailed me into an engagement with a Hindu girl,” Solanki revealed, shedding light on the familial pressures he encountered.

However, love and determination prevailed as he and Anisha decided to take matters into their own hands. Approximately 20 to 25 days prior to the scheduled marriage, the couple made the bold decision to elope from Gujarat to New Delhi, seeking refuge at Dhanak during the impending second wave of the pandemic in 2021. With the support of the Dhanak organization, Solanki and Anisha were married on April 9, 2021, and lived under police protection in New Delhi. 

“Interfaith marriages are becoming more dangerous in India,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal pointed out that this trend is following a similar pattern to the challenges once being faced by intercaste marriages. The concern has been exacerbated by legislative developments in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where a law passed in February 2021 criminalized religious conversion through certain means, including marriage.

Iqbal said this legal shift has intensified discussions around the intricate juncture of religion, marriage and personal autonomy. He further highlighted the stringent stance of the government and law enforcement on interfaith unions, “particularly when the woman is from the Hindu community.”

“Even friends are hesitant to act as witnesses due to the potential legal repercussions for assisting such couples,” he added.

Iqbal added, “While open confrontations are rare instances of parents collaborating with the police to issue threats have surfaced in these years.”

Dhanak’s own statistics indicate that the majority of women seeking their help are Hindu (73%), followed by Muslims (22%), Christians (2%), Sikhs (2%) and Buddhists (1%). With over 5,000 couples assisted so far, the organization remains a crucial resource for couples facing challenges.

Ravi, 36, an assistant program executive at Dhanak, spoke from personal experience. His intercaste marriage in 2013 faced many problems. Without Dhanak’s support, he said, “life for such couples would be considerably more challenging.”

“Every year, the organization receives 500-600 pleas for assistance,” Ravi added.

Adil, 30, once a wrestler hailing from India’s Uttar Pradesh, remains etched in Ravi’s memory.

“His story intertwines with that of Versha, a Hindu girl from Madhya Pradesh,” Ravi recvalled. “Adil and Versha’s interfaith relationship faced numerous hurdles.”

Adil, who now works as a security guard, said “there were many problems surrounding our marriage, but we were adamant on living together.”

In 2021, the couple eloped to New Delhi and found shelter at Dhanak. They were later married civilly.

“Love is a natural feeling, and it will cut boundaries,” Iqbal said.

However, in India’s evolving landscape, Iqbal pointed out a concerning trend where certain legislative measures seem to target specific communities. From Iqbal’s perspective, these policies — particularly the recent Love-Jihad laws — have created more obstacles for interfaith couples.

As a result, Dhanak provides a lifeline through its help desk, accessible via their official website and phone number.

“Dhanak not only offers practical assistance but also serves as a testament to the enduring dedication of Dhanak in ensuring that love’s choice remains an inviolable right for all,” Iqbal said.

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