Choice, they say, is an entitlement given to every individual, but this does not hold exactly if we talk about marriages in India. People have started to become vocal about their rights and choices but the lens of caste, class, gender, and religion are still deeply engraved within people and society. Young Indians are, so many times, pushed to get married, in the name of ‘settling down’ or finding a ‘right match’, which must be ‘right’ according to their parents and the society.
Individuals surely don’t have the choice in which community they take birth in but can they choose their life partner. Technically and legally- yes. But according to society? That’s questionable!
We, as a nation, constantly call ourselves a democratic, secular country, but why do we as a society and as individuals forget the core value of living in a secular democracy? The Forty Second Amendment, the Preamble to the Constitution asserted India as a secular nation. Does that hold true after so many years of independence? On the surface yes, but in-ground reality, no. Caste, class, gender, and religion are basic factors in match-making.
Is the preference of the individual respected and accepted by society if we talk about gender or inter-faith or caste marriages? Most often not, sometimes by society, sometimes by means of laws. We as a country still do not have rights for same-sex marriage. And, we are all aware of the ‘Love Jihad’ ordinances in so many states.
I agree that people have preferences, but does the preference reflect our classism and casteism? Yes, it does!
We can back this up by looking at most of the matrimonial sites. We also encounter caste-based sites for marriage.
In India, caste still forms the basis of arranged marriages, political affiliations, social standing, academic networks and professional networks.
Consequences of breaking the norm can be life-threatening. Community-based marriage systems remain prevalent despite rapid urbanisation and the proliferation of smaller families. They are surprisingly more prevalent among rich urban Indians than the rest of the country.
People being criticised for marrying their partners of different class and caste is nothing new. In the name of honour of the family, some people in society go to the extent of killing the couple or the partner. Most ‘honour killings‘ reported in our newspapers are caste killings or killings in the name of caste.
The issue of ‘honour’ involves not just dominant caste families but also others. The construct of ‘honour’ is meant to control women and curb their liberty, especially with respect to the right of choosing their life partners.
In 2018, Pranay Perumalla, a young Dalit was killed for marrying the daughter of a man who belonged to the Vaishya community. While Pranay was killed, Amrutha, the wife was trolled on social media by Vaishyas for being an ‘unfaithful daughter’.
In the same year of 2018, Gaddi Kumar, of Yadav community, was found dead in Shankarapatnam of Karimnagar district. It is said that he had been in love with a Goud girl. The girl went on to reveal that her relatives had killed him. Sandeep, a Dalit man, was attacked for marrying Madhavi, an upper-caste woman, by Madhavi’s father, Manohara Chary near Gokul Theatre in Hyderabad.
Dr B R Ambedkar was the first person to rise against caste oppression and for the liberation of women in India. His way of thinking about the caste and gender problems through marital relations in a family is a unique idea of observation of society. He advocated in favour of inter-caste marriages to annihilate the caste-based patriarchal system.
If we collect data nationwide, we will find plenty of people dying of ‘honour killings’. These days, parents match the financial status of the bride and groom before agreeing to marriage. But when it comes to marrying Dalits, women are deserted, and men murdered.
The Supreme Court in a judgement held that “If two adults get married by consent, whatever be their caste, religion or gotra, no one can interfere in such a marriage, neither the relatives nor panchayats.”
No family will survive unless we respect the individual’s freedoms. Love, failed or successful, erases the man-made gap between castes and religions, gives hope to society. India lacks a special law against honour killings.
Atrocities against inter-caste couples are not just under-reported, but also go unregistered. There is no clear data about its prevalence. In order to find a solution for such killings, it is necessary to analyse it from the very core.
The very root of such an attitude towards marriage in the same ‘gotra’ lies in the fact that incest is considered as a taboo in our culture. The society goes further and boycotts the family which aggravates the situation to such an extent that the males in the family don’t seem to mind killing the couple in order to restore their prestige in the society.
The Indian legislation seems to have finally awoken to this problem after it has come into the limelight and people are speaking up against such cruelty. Finally, after the killings, according to the home minister P Chidambaram, the UPA led central government proposed to amend the Indian Penal Code and make Honour Killing a ‘distinct offence’; although how that will make any difference to the present condition still needs to be scrutinized as honour killing amounts to murder which is punishable under law.
Till the time people at the grass-root level are not influenced to despise such killings, the murderers and to consider it as an aggravated offence, no legislation can help improve matters.
When water doesn’t get a path to flow, it seeps through the cracks. This applies to humans as well. Till the time we don’t believe in the matter from the core of ourselves, we can find lacunas in the law and a way past it. People must be educated as to the scientific logic behind the concept of ‘gotra’ and its irrelevance to marriage in the 21st century.
The system of gotra could be considered of importance in the early ages as it was meant to prevent marriage between people with the common lineage and to prevent inbreeding depression. But in the current scenario, when the lineages have diversified, the system of gotra is highly futile to be even considered at the time of marriage.
“Even a simple threat by a family member to the couple against the marriage should be considered as a potential danger to their lives, and the couple should be given police protection. We need a separate law to hold people accountable and to have a clearer idea about the extent of the problem,” says Sangwan, a social activist.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!