This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Prem. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

By ‘Daring To Fall In Love’ I See Inter-Caste Couples Challenge India’s Oppressive System

More from Prem

By Prem:


Over the last three weeks, I have been encouraging most of my friends to watch the Nagraj Manjule directed Marathi movie, Sairat, insisting that people take their friends and families along, promising them that they’d really love it. I remember when I first watched ‘Fandry’ by the same director, and I remember feeling numb at the end of it. For those of you who have watched it, you’d understand when I say that while the last scene ends with a stone thrown and sudden silence, the viewer feels an uneasy certainty about the retribution that was sure to follow. It reminded me of the Khairlanji massacre. The facts, of course, are different, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the consequences for Jabya’s family, for him having had the nerve to assault the son of the village Patil.

Sairat establishes Manjule at the very top – it reassures us that his success in telling the truth as it is, in ‘Fandry’, was not a fluke, but comes from deep personal conviction and a lifetime of struggle as a Dalit. You might know that Manjule’s father used to break stones for a living and his mother was illiterate. Today, Manjule’s second commercial film has become the highest revenue earning Marathi film of all time, having raked in Rs. 45 Crores in its first two weeks. Having watched the trailer and followed the murmurs about the film, I was already excited about how subversive it would be for a film about inter-caste love made by a Dalit to become commercially successful. But as the film entered its second hour, I became conscious of the fact that I was sitting next to the woman I love (who is not a Dalit), and my cousin brother (who is a Dalit from Tamil Nadu) and the message of the movie sank in deeply. On the way back home, my brother told me that he, too, had once fallen in love with a Nadar girl (in TN, this is one of the frontline Dalit oppressor castes) and how that didn’t work out. I also felt relieved that I had the fortune of falling in love with a non-Dalit girl in a metro like Mumbai, where I wouldn’t be murdered for it.

It also reminded me of the assault on an inter-caste couple in Tamil Nadu last month, where the Dalit boy was killed and the girl was wounded. The boy, Shankar, was about to be the first generation engineering graduate in his family. The girl, Kaushalya, has decided to remain in the boy’s house as she feels a part of the new family. A few days ago, she tried to commit suicide, unable to deal with the loss of the man she loved. I read a very moving translation of her interview which was (surprisingly) published in HuffPost – it says that the murderers, when hacking away at 22-year-old Shankar, asked him, “How do you dare you love, you Pallar son-of-a-bitch?” I felt choked as I read this – I come from the Pallar caste. It probably wasn’t more than a few reckless decisions of my father that made him settle in Pune instead of Tamil Nadu. Under other circumstances, I could very well have been that ‘Pallar son-of-a-bitch’.

Dr Ambedkar said long ago that inter-caste marriages are crucial for the destruction of caste. This is rooted in the sound argument that there are two classes of total outsiders because of the Hindu social structure – Dalits, as the untouchable castes, and the woman, as the untouchable race. He argues forcefully in the ‘Annihilation Of Caste that the chaturvarnya system doesn’t even seem to provide for the place of women:

“The protagonists of Chaturvarnya do not seem to have considered what is to happen to women in their system. Are they also to be divided into four classes, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra? Or are they to be allowed to take the status of their husbands. If the status of the woman is to be the consequence of marriage what becomes of the underlying principle of Chaturvarnya, namely, that the status of a person should be based upon the worth of that person? If they are to be classified according to their worth is their classification to be nominal or real? If it is to be nominal then it is useless and then the protagonists of Chaturvarnya must admit that their system does not apply to women. If it is real, are the protagonists of Chaturvarnya prepared to follow the logical consequences of applying it to women?

They must be prepared to have women priests and women soldiers. Hindu society has grown accustomed to women teachers and women barristers. It may grow accustomed to women brewers and women butchers. But he would be a bold person, who would say that it will allow women priests and women soldiers. But that will be the logical outcome of applying Chaturvarnya to women. Given these difficulties, I think no one except a congenital idiot could hope and believe in a successful regeneration of the Chaturvarnya.”

The Hindu society has identified all women as objects who cannot exercise independent choice, and whose bodies are naturally acted upon by others. While Dalit males were restrained from marrying women from higher castes, the men from the higher castes could freely cohabit with women from the lower castes, regardless of their supposed impurity. Women are so insignificant in the Hindu psyche that, regardless of their caste, they were outsiders to the logic of purity/pollution – they are freely tradeable property.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that even today only 5% of the marriages in India are inter-caste. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that when young couples fall in love and run away to marry, they are hounded across state boundaries, brought back and murdered. Inter-caste love is the most fundamental assault on the caste system because the caste system can only survive by refusing women the right to love and make love according to their own choice. By virtue of having been born into a Schedule Caste, the lens with which I tend to view most arguments for social justice as ‘How will this act be a step towards the annihilation of caste’. Given where I come from, it becomes all the more poignant when I think of the possibility that most of the inter-caste couples who are being murdered probably never see themselves as waging a war to annihilate caste. They are simply falling in love. In a different way, it also inspires me. It tells me that modernity and education are enabling mobility of different classes of the oppressed in often unexpected ways. For women as well as the Dalits, it finally offers a chance to leave the oppressive space (be it the household or the Dalit ghetto in the village) and work towards a better future, one that is in their control. Secondly, it gives these young women the option of falling in love with someone of their own choice. To put it brutally, it finally gives them control over their own bodies. Note that in most cases, with these young couples, the families try to reason, and threaten, and then abduct the girl – it appears that there are stages, where the savarna families try to change the minds of the young couple. It is after realising that they can’t control the minds of the young that they decide to re-impose control over their bodies.

I tend to be exacting when it comes to political arguments and recently was reminded by someone that, in becoming aggressive when I argue questions of social justice, I revealed that I had forgotten something crucial. The struggle to build a better society for all is, finally, a struggle for a world where each one of us can live with dignity and, amongst other things, love and make love the way we desire. I remember being deeply ashamed of the fact that I had lost sight of this in my anger against the many injustices we see around ourselves.

It is true – the struggle for a better world is inherently a struggle of love against hatred. It is true that a human being can oppress another only in a world where it is acceptable to treat a human being as sub-human. Paulo Freire captures this truth beautifully in the ‘Pedagogy Of The Oppressed’, when he explains that the oppressed, in their fight against the oppressor, actually have to fight to establish the legitimate worth not only of their own soul, but has the responsibility of enabling the oppressor to reclaim the soul he lost, by virtue of being an oppressor. For this reason, we must learn to understand and respect the monumental courage of young people in India who recklessly challenge the foundation of Indian caste society, by daring to fall in, and continuing to remain in love.

You must be to comment.

More from Prem

Similar Posts


By Anusha S

By Charkha Features

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below