Caste, All Bar

When unmarried children in India reach ‘that’ age and the family is worried sick about getting them marriage, most are still averse to the idea of even considering someone from outside their community for their child. This absurdity continues in modern India where marriage is still the end-all of everything and caste is deemed an important mark of identity. Inter-caste marriages break the sacrosanctity of holy matrimony for many and is a notion that extends even to the educated class of Indian society – young couples have been disowned, and some even killed.

Shockingly, India seems to be inured to news reports on honour killings. And so not many reacted to the lynching of a 19 year-old-girl from Ganugabanda village for eloping with an ‘outsider’ in August. Her mum didn’t deem it right to stop the girl’s father, D Linga Mallu from hacking her in the woods either. Of course they were arrested, but going to jail is just a minor inconvenience for the sake of avenging the death of one’s family reputation.

Aamir Khan’s show, Satyamev Jayate had addressed this issue too last year. Khap Panchayats (village law heads) were brought to light and accused of encouraging such killings. They denied the allegations stating that though they oppose marriages outside of communities, they would never support murderers. This point, again, is moot.

The logical mind may write off such affairs as heedless love, but for the family it is a disgraceful act – one punishable by murder. So much for believing that your parents are the most trustworthy people in your life. And if they don’t find the strength to butcher the offspring, they simply lock her up in a high tower, hoping this will daunt prince charming from trying any more.

Mumbai based psychiatrist, Dr Bhupesh Velaskar explains one aspect of this refusal to acceptance saying, “It is an inherent fear of the unknown, which also applies to people we see as ‘different’. This fear makes the mind narrow and rigid, unwilling to break the confines of its limited perspective, which feels safe in dividing people.” This rationalisation seems to echo the ire of the Kaurs on discovering their daughter Simran’s intentions to marry her non-Sikh boyfriend Samay (names changed on request). Regardless of living in Mumbai’s affluent, liberal, well-travelled society for four generations, they couldn’t shake off the nagging concern, ‘What would the rest of the community say?’

Simran stood her ground, disputing every pro-community reason they submitted – adjustments, differences, customs. Not knowing how else to drill sense into their daughter, they packed her off to London, set her up on blind dates with several Sikh boys, and the mother even attempted suicide when her daughter refused to abide. Finally when all else failed, they held her under house arrest.

When children are allowed to befriend other communities, invite them to their homes and even for religious functions, it is hard to understand the logic behind the taboo of inter-community relationships. University Of Delhi’s sociology professor Rajni Palriwala interprets part of such behaviour to be synonymous with control. “It’s tied to the idea with two things – one that the younger generation constantly needs guidance. Another is that the social order rests on inter-generational control and a familiar method (of marrying within the community). You will find many of them are not happy with even friends getting too close. It’s very easy to go out for dinner with somebody. It’s another matter for them to come and stay in your house.”

A South Indian Brahmin, Rita Iyer has lived in Los Angeles for all of 36 years of her married life and has a 31-years-old son. While her husband is open to the idea of inter-caste relationships, Iyer has always been wary of it. Alas, one summer, her son dropped the bomb on them. He was bringing his Muslim girlfriend home. The boy hadn’t even proposed yet and Iyer panicked about what kind of wedding would they agree to or how could this non-Brahmin girl possibly operate in the right way at family gatherings. Her biggest worry was the reaction of her in-laws about polluting the family line with this bold choice. All this while she knew her say in this matter was redundant. “There is little you can do when your child has progressed to an independent lifestyle.”

Financial independence is the key here. In one of her interviews, wedding planner Rekha Rangaraj of Sumyog in Chennai asserted that, “Kids from this generation who go abroad, become more articulate and even finance a large part of their weddings.” Indian children living at home still find themselves anxious of their parents’ – their providers’ – decisions. Yet again, even when they do reach that level of independence, there is an attitude of co-dependency that comes into play – all because moving out is not common culture.

No wonder Simran eventually contested these convoluted assumptions by eloping to Goa with Samay. Away from resistance, they defiantly tied the knot around the holy flame. Livid at her audacious decision, her father and uncles drove to Samay’s home with kirpans, ceremonial daggers carried by Sikhs. While Samay’s parents were handling the situation in their Mumbai home, Simran was confident that on her return, her family would accept their marriage. Thankfully they did, but not before severely rebuking her. What else could she have done? 

On one hand they deemed her responsible enough to explore marriage. On the other hand they didn’t deem her choice worthy of respect. Question such families and they still won’t acknowledge this paradox as unreasonable. Prof. Parliwal adds, “Ultimately it all boils down to the uncertainty about their place in society if their numbers dwindle (children through inter caste marriage).” No wonder the Parsi community had taken a bold step to cast away any female member who dares to marry outside their community and bear a child of a mixed bloodline.

Now that the children have denounced their communal sentiments, the worrisome uncertainty here is if the grandparents will be able to inculcate their customs in the baby. Think Marwari-Catholic baby. There is absolutely nothing wrong when a Catholic grandma swaddles her granddaughter in white at all times because it is the colour of a chaste angel. Then again, it could be a disturbing sight to the other Marwari grandmother in whose culture white is the colour of mourning. Keeping both sets of grandparents happy would be a task if we let it. One of two things could emerge from this – either the child grows up thoroughly confused, or learns nuances of both religions, harped on by the older generations, well enough to conduct himself in accordance.

Simran’s daughters have grown up to become experts on how to please the maternal and paternal grandparents. Even if they aren’t religious like their families, they have been trained well to know how to toe the line at festivals and community celebrations with practiced ease. “Luckily my in-laws don’t care much for religious nonsense.” Would married life have been a tad bit stressful for Simran had she wedded into a conscientiously devout family?

At the end of the day it really depends on how good a team the couple is. As Dr Velaskar puts it, “Human relationships have really nothing to do with how ‘educated’ one is in the literal sense of the word. Why and how one person wishes to be intimately related to another is all in the mind.”


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