By Aakanksha Bhatia:
Our intriguing encounter with an old gentleman at the IGI Airport, while we were going for our honeymoon, was something that changed my perspective towards inter-caste marriages in India. He was a middle-aged man who was on duty to check the identity document and flight tickets of all the passengers before they can enter the airport. As my husband handed over our documents to him, he gazed at both our passports a little longer than we expected. With a muddled smile, he asked,“Are you going for your honeymoon?” It is quite easy to identify newly wedded couples. I was not deliberately wearing any mark of my marital status as I didn’t want to be tagged as a ‘honeymooner’. I wanted to travel free with my husband. However, my recently changed marital status was pretty evident from the faded henna designs on my hands. For the sake of formality, we replied to him by nodding our heads.
I could sense the sweet turmoil of his spurring emotions. He finally expressed his amusement over the ‘deadly combination’ of our surnames. No, our surnames are not ‘Tata’ and ‘Ambani’! What he meant was that a ‘Bansal’ (Marwari) boy married a ‘Bhatia’ (Punjabi) girl. He seemed to be delighted by our nuptial alliance despite our cultural disparity. He blessed us and expressed his happiness over meeting a couple like us.
It wasn’t the first time that we were receiving reactions from people over our inter-caste marriage. Though the reactions were never harmful, they were often quite intrusive in nature. I couldn’t understand the sudden interest that people had started displaying in our personal life. People wanted to know about, how we managed to convince our respective families, were there any hiccups in our wedding etc. When I tried to answer them, they were never satisfied with what I said. Most of them just sighed at our good fortune! I wondered what is there to be so lucky about! I could not understand why they expected a Bollywood drama in our life where our love suffered objections and restrictions, and ultimately triumphed only when we declared a war against our own families!
I considered this entire ‘inter-caste’ notion so futile. However, as I walked ahead in my marriage and as I started paying close attention to other couples and their family opinions regarding their partners, I realised that autonomy to marry the person you love is not a given in our society. Unfortunately, it is only a ‘luxury’ bestowed upon a few! Perhaps what made our simple love story so extraordinary for others was the fact that despite hailing from different communities, our families accepted each other wholeheartedly.
While we can never effusively express our gratitude to both our families for showering us with so much love and affection, I feel equally appalled for those couples whose families take offense to their love for someone from the other caste. In India, inter-caste marriages can still elicit hostile reactions like humiliating, boycotting and/or disowning the couple. Though there has been a change in the mindsets, a large section of Indian society stigmatise the person who ‘falls in love’ (with an intra/inter-caste person) and is often labeled a rebel. In the instances of severity, many innocent couples have been brutally killed in the name of family honor. Their tragic ends are expediently justified in the name of setting a threatening example for other couples. Is loving someone and wanting to spend the rest of their life with that person too debauched a crime?
I certainly want to believe that every parent and family wants their child’s happiness but often their assumptions about that ‘happiness’ are flawed. Even though their son/daughter may be self-sufficient, the family conveniently considers them naive to make a decision for themselves. Under the garb of their child’s ‘immaturity’, the parents often hide their narrow-mindedness where they condense the entire identity of their child’s love interest to their particular caste or community.
I don’t mean to say that marrying in your own caste or community is wrong, so is nothing wrong with marrying someone from the other caste. The myths against inter-caste marriages need to be debunked that plague the collective mindset of society which in turn forbid inter-caste love and marriages! I strongly feel that this issue should be taken up very seriously in India as we have already witnessed thousands of love stories being tragically trodden upon by traditional mentalities and outdated convictions. Below are some common myths regarding inter-caste marriages that prevail in our society. Please read them to know how reality is stark opposite to what so many people conveniently assume.
Reality – For a successful marriage, a life partner should be chosen on aspects like shared life goals; common interests and passion; and emotional, intellectual and even physical compatibility. Just by matching their kundalis, or getting them married to a person of similar demographics won’t guarantee marital bliss.
Reality – They are adding an extra colour to the rainbow of your family. Thank your child for gifting you ample of opportunities to explore and learn about another caste and culture. Just try to step out of your comfort zone by mingling with other kinds of people and discover a whole new world of traditions, rituals and culture. Accept not only the girl/boy but their entire family wholeheartedly and then see the magic!
Reality – The mature couple often respects their individual differences and cultural diversities. They would most likely follow both cultures, thus maintaining the rituals and traditions of both the families. The new age couple will be delighted to learn and accept rituals from both the ends. They would happily welcome different perspectives and interpretations of festivals, rituals, and even other life events. In fact, it has been noted that children whose parents belong to different culture and caste are more inclusive and friendly.
Reality – While the parents’ concern for their daughter is genuine, their excessive worry is irrational. Considering that she won’t be able to adjust in an inter-caste family and that she will always be alienated is a clear product of your socially flawed mindset. Establishing a bond of love and warmth with her husband and in-laws has nothing to do with her caste or socialisation in a particular community. It is about the good family culture and values that she has inherited during her upbringing as well as the values and morals of the husband and his family. It is all about the attitudes and personalities, and nothing about caste or community.
Reality: The prospective bride or groom are evaluated on the basis of the prototypical notions about their community and caste. However, with evolving times, there has been a great shift in the lifestyle, customs, food habits and, most importantly, the mindsets of people of all the castes and communities, thus refuting the typical ideas about them. Rather than making presumptions about the person and his/ her family on the basis of existing notions about their caste/community, personal interactions are a far sensible way to know them better.
Reality – The gossip mills will run even if your child marries someone of your caste. Stop getting influenced by your relatives, neighbours, and society. Stop worrying about people who will not think about you twice. Go ahead and fetch happiness for your child! In fact, you will be setting an extraordinary example by opening your family’s doors for other community to enter. Let more and more people seek inspiration from you. Someone has to make the first move so why not you?
My husband is the first one in his family to ‘do love marriage’ that too with a girl from a different community. We consider ourselves fortunate because, my in-laws, especially my father in-law, showed immense support and trust in my husband’s decision. They have always been so encouraging and proud of my achievements. My home saw a similar scenario. My mother was quite comfortable with my decision to marry a Marwari boy. After meeting my husband, she found him to be quite befitting for me in terms of his personality, profession and life goals. There were no family restrictions, no objections, no wars to be fought and certainly no emotional blackmails with filmy dialogues like “log kya kahenge (what will people say)” or “tumne humari izzat mitti mein mila di (you have tainted the family name)”. It was an enchanting journey of our love being culminated into a lifelong bond of marriage.
I really hope that our story motivates all those who are still in a flux about an inter-caste marriage. A nuptial alliance is not about two people but also about their families. If the intentions are genuine and mindset is liberal and inclusive, an everlasting bond of love and respect can be beautifully designed among the families. It is high time to bridge the barriers of caste, community, religion etc. with love, affection, and respect for each other. Long Live Love!
This article was first published here, on the author’s personal blog.