Monday, 5 May 2014

Inter-caste Marriage: A Real Measure to Eliminate Caste Based Discrimination

Standing in the polling booth, I thought that reaching 18 grants us at least one freedom - the freedom to vote whomsoever we want. You might be thinking we get so many rights after getting to the age of 18, e.g. we become eligible for marriage, get the license and capability of taking decisions related to our life. But how far is it true? Today I will focus on one such freedom i.e. the freedom to get married with the person of our choice, particularly when our choice belongs to another caste in the Indian social structure.

The Caste Barrier to Marriages 
For years, Indian society has had an orthodox mindset. Indian sociology (a book by G.S. Ghurye) defines six features of caste, and marriage is one of them.

The practice of endogamy (marrying within a confined community) is believed to have emerged around 2000 years ago when the Hindu religious text Manusmriti (The Laws of Manu) was written, which supports the practice of endogamy.  Many citations of inter-caste marriage before that period suggest that inter-caste marriages were common before that period. 

In the traditional Indian society, members of each caste and sub-caste were to marry within their own endogamous group. Any violation of this rule was a serious offense, the punishment for which was usually excommunication from the caste. Moreover, considering inter caste marriage as a taboo is not just a rural phenomenon; even the educated families are not much present numerous examples. 

The gravity of the situation has increased more and more with time, due to continued hardening of the social beliefs. There has been an increasingly aggressive response of the society against inter-caste marriages. In the cases of love affairs in the past, only family members concerned used to intervene. However, nowadays, the intervention of outside groups in such affairs has become a trend; recent attack on Divya-Ilavarasan of Dharampuri is testimony to this.

Why inter caste marriage – Why not? 
The very first answer to people who condemn inter caste marriages is – Why not? When we support love marriages, we automatically support inter-caste marriages, because love does not see caste, religion, faith etc.

Taking legal perspective, love marriages (irrespective of caste) are legal under Special Marriages Act, 1954.  Even the Supreme court of India, the highest authority in Indian democracy, also held the view that inter caste marriages are in national interest and are a unifying factor where caste system is a curse ( See Article).

Even history doesn’t deny the notion of inter-caste marriages. For example, Santanu married Ganga and later Satyabati; both were from outside his own caste. In 160 B.C., Agnimitra, a Brahmin king, married a Kshatriya princess Malavika. Majority of historians believe that the practice of endogamy didn’t start until around 2000 years ago, before which, very few restrictions existed on marriage.

Who resists?
Recently, my friend's cousin got married for the second time. His first marriage was to the women of his choice who didn’t belong to his caste. However, the guy had to succumb to continuous resistance from his parents, had to break the bond of his first marriage and got married to the woman of his parents’ choice. The thing that shatters me the most is that if our society considers marriage as an unbreakable bond (a common saying that marriage is a bond that persists for 7 lives); how can they disapprove a marriage that has already happened.

I assume that most of the readers have heard of Khap Panchyats, and majority of readers would also condemn their acts in the name of "honor killing". What is the difference between those sinners and people denying inter caste marriage in the name of whatever excuse they have? In fact, this difference is a very thin line that can be crossed anytime. So, I would suggest those people, before condemning Khap Panchayats, they should be ready to answer the question, “what if their children were to marry outside the caste?” keeping the lame excuse of "It would be better if our children give us half of what we have provided them" aside.
Even if parents concede to their children’s wishes, it’s the society that doesn’t let them. Now, we can ask the philosophical question – What is society; rather, what constitutes the society? The answer is simple; we are the society, society emerges from us. If we want the society to change, we need to change first and then spread that change.

Social perspective: Practical answer to caste based discrimination
When we compete with the West in culture, technology, and development, we need to modernize our thoughts to rise above petty issues.

Few people give argument that it will lead to clash in culture and values.  If that is the case, there should not be any communication or trade between states because they are of different culture, and same stands for different communities too. India is gifted with diverse cultures; then why we are so scared of unifying people from different cultures for the common good while maintaining diversity (I am trying to emphasize and assume here that girl is not bound to forget her culture after marriage). Moreover, this amalgamation of different cultures will put an end to mindless racism and discrimination on the basis of caste in our exotic land.

Wouldn’t we want our next generation to be more peaceful and more socially acceptable to different people in the world?

Restriction on feeding and social intercourse will also go when physical intercourse is acceptable to the higher castes; assuming we don’t want any taboo on social intercourse. So this caste based discrimination can be uprooted through inter-caste marriages. I will go so far to say that if we want to end this division of country on the basis of castes, inter-caste marriages are the fastest and the most effective solution.

Political Perspective: Answer to caste-based politics
It is no news that Indian politics has been revolving around the notion of castes for at least a couple of decades. This change in Indian political system, marked by caste mobilization and narrow identity politics is worsening the problem of caste-based discrimination. In the Ilavarasan case, the government and the police failed to take action against members of the dominant caste even though they knew well that they were doing something illegal, because of vote bank politics.

Unless we emerge united, we cannot fight this dirty politics where corrupt politicians come into power making promises to a certain set of castes, instead of having any motivation to serve in the country itself. This kind of politics serves nobody’s purpose and divides India while those corrupt politicians fill their pockets with everyone’s money irrespective of what the caste of a person is.

Medical Perspective: Better Genetic Adaptation
There is an interesting observation from the point of view of genetic adaptation, if you consider people from different castes to be of different genetic structures. This is an answer to the people who propagate the concept of Pureblood . First of all, we need to understand that the concept of Pureblood has nothing to do with blood (We transfuse blood to people all the time in hospitals).

The concept of PureBlood comes from the concept of evolution that certain sections of society have evolved to a better genetic structure over time. It might be true, but it does not support the negative impacts of inter-caste marriages. Moreover, the tendency of genes to try to evolve to a better structure supports the concept of inter-caste marriages. The idea is that, if we assume that two castes are different genetically, on inter-caste marriage, the genetic set of the child has more good qualities to choose from than just marrying people with similar genetic structure (genes have tendency to choose the best from the constituting genes).

This was just one aspect of how inter-caste marriages can be advantageous from the medical point of view. In her article, Dr. Shuchita Vatsal explores the medical/genetic upsides of an inter-caste marriage in detail.

What needs to be done?
Education has broadened the scope of thinking and helped people develop analytical powers. We need to do better in education sector to provide people with better thinking level so that they grow above these barriers of caste.

A survey revealed that 80% of women, adversely affected in inter-caste marriages, belonged to the Dalit community. This incites fear in women from Dalit community from taking the step of going for an inter-caste marriage. One possible remedy is to make changes in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and encourage by giving incentive to the people taking initiative in this direction that could be in the form of reservation.

Financial incentives can also be given by the government to encourage youth and to make them independent (as done in one such government scheme here ).

Summing Up
We discussed that marriage is one of the features in the Indian caste system. The inter-caste marriages will attack on remaining five features of the caste system and ultimately help in eliminating the oppressive caste system as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said, "it will cause disappearance of caste - based Segmental Division of Society". Economic divisions, class etc. will still remain, but that is currently being dealt by reservation.

After all, a marriage is considered as the union of two souls, which never requires caste, creed, and other customs of the society; it only requires that happiness, understanding and peace should always remain there in the family. Moreover, inter-caste and inter-religion marriages serve as a beacon light for social equality. In order to eliminate the perils of the caste system, it has become incumbent that there should be a lot more inter-caste marriages. As we close this discussion, I would like to quote Dr. Ambedkar again "Caste is a mental state, therefore it cannot be eradicated through constitutional measures alone”.

It is time we gave a second thought to our hypocrisy in which we applaud movies like "Two states", but we don’t have the guts to accept inter-caste marriages in front of the society. 

This article solely expresses the views of the author on subject matter. It is not intended to conflict with individuals' views. Please feel free to comment to suggest improvements or report problems.

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