Marriage is one of the most prominent social institutions, especially in a developing country like India where it is seen as a marker of upward mobility, either in terms of social status (caste mobility – in case of a woman) or economic capability (accumulation of dowry by a man).
The inevitability of marriage in India is indicated by the number of girls getting married before the legal age. One of the most prominent reasons for this is the prevalence of arranged marriages, where the parents or the family members of the prospective bride and groom arrange for a match from their respective communities. This leads to endogamy in weddings and perpetuates the institution of caste.
With the growing globalization in India following the LPG reforms in 1991, the new generation of Indians started getting exposed to western ideals of progressiveness, romantic love as well as consensual marriages. The concept of inter-caste marriages started getting into popular notions and the governments across states proposed schemes incentivizing such marriages albeit these policies never got into mainstream political programs due to the risk of cutting adversely across the caste arithmetic in elections.
Love marriages became the new buzzword and soon stories of love marriages were equated with the struggle of annihilating caste. Whether this holds scrutiny is a question on which the jury is still out.
Focusing on the group of privileged, higher educated Indians who occupy corporate spaces, government offices and universities of higher learning, it is noticeable that most love marriages originate in workplaces or in colleges. Universities and workplaces (both governmental and corporate) abound with higher percentages of Upper Castes in contrast with the grossly under-represented ‘Bahujans’ (SCs, STs, OBCs) who even though make up 85% of the population do not find proportional representation in places of power.
As a result, whatever love marriages occur, do take place either within the same caste or at best, between castes that are adjacent to the perceived caste hierarchy. According to a 2019 report on the caste composition among 89 Union Secretaries, only 3 members belonged to the STs, 1 belonged to the SCs and none to the OBCs.
Since the ‘choices’ in love marriages are inherently limited to the people in and around us, in a social setting or having certain similarities, the gross under-representation of SCs, STs, OBCs in educational and work sectors has also prevented the inter-caste marriages among the highest and lowest members of the caste locus, largely touted as a factor to annihilate caste.
It is also common knowledge that notions of romantic love or relationships sprout in places where the individuals share certain interests, socially, ideologically or culturally. This mingling on the basis of similar social or cultural choices come as a dampener to the majority of ‘Bahujan’ students who belong to humble backgrounds with little or no scope for being well-versed in the millennial lingo of movies, Netflix series and international pop culture.
An insightful article by the ThePrint that reported about the potential struggles of a Dalit girl at the DU, who topped the boards in Punjab, is a case in point.
An invisible glass ceiling and an ever-present danger of cordoning off of places of elitism to the marginalized sections contributes towards an absence of any real caste mobility in love marriages.
Romanticizing the struggles faced by the couples in a love marriage is another reason why we fail to address the actual problems of casteism and its implications. In areas where inter-caste marriages and the notion of love has failed to make a dent, honour killings are common.
Like almost every other social phenomenon, honour killings too are gendered events. The patriarchal notion that honour resides in the woman of the family and her marriage out of caste leads to defiling of notions of purity and pollution has led to the curtailment of women rights disproportionally.
Honour killings are an example of intersectional oppression where gendered events are further exacerbated by one’s position in the social hierarchy. In a bid to maintain caste endogamy, inter-caste marriages are violently stopped, sometimes leading to murder. Women from marginalized communities are worst affected by this, both in terms of direct impact (murder of self or partners) and indirect consequences (accessing institutions of justice).
To sum it up, love should be the reason for any marriage and it shouldn’t be viewed through lenses of caste, class or religion. However, a thorough analysis of the structures of the institution and its composition is necessary, to ensure not only the inclusiveness in love marriages but also a greater diversity in spaces such as education and workplaces.
As a result, it will be possible on the part of both government and private parties to take corrective measures that are progressive as well as intersectional, ensuring that benefits reach the most marginalized of genders in the most marginalized of communities.