What does marriage signify? For me, it signifies a formal union of two individuals through which they gain societal acceptance. The union should form only with the consent of two adult individuals who make a wise and informed decision. Apart from this, there should be no other criterion for marriage, since the ultimate purpose of a marriage is the happiness of the two individuals and establishing a family. There is a famous phrase in our local area, ‘’Jab miya bibi raazi to kya karega kaazi?’’ (If husband and wife agree with each other, Priest can do nothing). Thus, marriage cannot be based on caste-based choices, it should be based on the preference of the individual, irrespective of caste. Opposing inter-caste marriage is against modern democratic and liberal ethics.
All human beings are equal and should not be discriminated against. Indian marriages, that is to say traditional arranged marriages, see a particular trajectory. The families of the intended couple meet and take the decisions regarding the impending marriage of their children. The girl and the boy are expected to see each other for the first time on the wedding day. Initially this was a tradition among upper caste families, but later all other castes fell in line. Then gradually the time came when after the families had met, the boy would see the girl (not the other way around) and he would decide. These days though, arranged marriages are performed once the boy and the girl and take a joint decision about marriage.
Even in ‘modern’ India, inter-caste and love marriages continue to constitute ‘unethical’ marriages, wherein an individual decides to marry by choice. Inter-caste marriages also result in honour killings, instances of which we find daily in newspapers, and in movies like NH10. Recently, a couple was set on fire for inter-caste marriage. This shows the mindset of the society we live in. It is still believed that love marriages violate values – when two individuals go against the societal norm of the arranged marriage, defying their families. If a boy or a girl chooses a partner according to their family’s wishes, then they are considered ideal, on the other hand, if they go against their family’s wishes, they are declared almost criminal by the family itself, violating the family values (the so-called ETHICS). This has become a stereotype of inter-caste marriages across the nation. What inter-caste marriage actually violate, according to me, is the morality, which is specific to a particular society, and requires acquiescence from others. But ethics are universal and do not require such acquiescence. Inter-caste marriage, which is one of the main social issues in India, is a degradation of caste and a form of casteism.
In India, many the politicians and film stars don’t mind entering into an inter-caste marriage. These marriages are also common among upper classes (also upper castes, as it turns out) in India, i.e a Brahmin girl marrying a Kshatriya or a Vaishya boy (or vice versa). This does not create that much of a hullabaloo, although a Brahmin girl or boy marrying a lower caste girl or boy will result in intense opposition. Similarly, when a lower caste boy marries a lower caste girl, they face opposition. Yet, interestingly, when a lower caste boy is married to an upper caste girl, people tend to appreciate that the boy tied the knot with an upper caste girl. Here, the problem arises from the girl’s side wherein the family and society in general target the girl for marrying into a lower caste. It’s seen as a matter of pride when a lower caste individual marries an upper caste boy or girl.
Now, even within a caste there are divisions, some castes pose themselves as superior to others e.g. the Pasi, the Chamar is considered superior to the Balmiki. The Pasis, Chamars and Dhobis cannot shake hands with the Balmiki (locally known as Bhangi). Curiously enough, almost everyone tends to pretend they don’t believe in caste, but when it comes to marrying their children, they will search for a groom within their caste. Scheduled castes in India followed Dr. Ambedkar, but they followed him blindly, they never read about his ideas, who always fought for the eradication of the caste system. He made three recommendations to eliminate the caste system, i.e. Brahmins must denounce the Shastras, inter-dining between castes, and inter-caste marriages.
The SARI survey suggested that people from different backgrounds said that they oppose their children or other close family members from getting into an inter-caste or inter-faith marriage. Many supported laws prohibiting such marriages. But, a point to note is that some of the most notable opposition comes from people from a better educational background. In many cases, young couples that have gone for such a marriage have been cut off from a share in the family inheritance or punished through various unlawful means, including being killed, as in the recent case of a couple that was set on fire and leading to the death of the pregnant lady. To ‘protect’ the honour of the family, these families buckle under societal pressure and go down the inhuman path.
Inter-faith marriages have always been practiced in India, and can be traced from the watershed moment of Jodha Bai and Akbar the Great. After independence, it got statutory status under Special Marriage Act, 1954. The Indian Constitution gives us Right to Equality, Right to Freedom and Personal Liberty, Right to Life, fundamental rights which protect inter-caste marriages. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste and religion.
According to the reports by India Human Development Survey (IHDS), at present only 5% marriage are of inter-caste/religion nature – which suggests there is an urgent need of promoting such marriages through incentives like those provided in Maharashtra, in terms of money. In Lata Singh v State of UP 2004, Supreme Court declared that anybody can marry whosoever they want and the police should provide protection to them.
Promoting inter-caste marriage is the most ethical thing to do as it would dilute the poison of casteism that has gripped the Indian society for centuries. Such marriages should be encouraged – because they help in narrowing religious and caste-based biases, and reducing cultural differences. These marriages promote economic equality as diffusing caste/community lines will open new avenues and opportunities for all castes. Always remember, preserving your values is not unethical, but imposing them on others is. Inter-caste and inter-religious marriages would help to reduce the differences between castes and religions, promote harmony, and tolerance would increase. Next generation might almost be free from hatred. Different castes and religions coming together, brings various cultures together as well. It will promote harmony among people and reduce cases of communal riots, lynching, exploitation based on caste and religion. Most importantly, this would reduce human loss.