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How My Friend Was Forced To Marry Within Her Caste During The Pandemic

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Love.

It’s a feeling as well as a means to socialise with the people we sometimes end up with. It’s a necessity without which life is banal. Indeed, it’s the most beautiful thing that can ever happen to mankind. But unfortunately, the culture of desi parenting, commercial movies, social anxieties, misogyny, classism and casteism are misguiding the way we are supposed to love.

She had been in a relationship with someone from the Bahujan community for almost four years, something her parents found out about during the early phase of the lockdown. Representational image.

Last year, a friend was compelled to marry a man from her caste. She had been in a relationship with someone from the Bahujan community for almost four years, something her parents found out about during the early phase of the lockdown.

Around the same time, she also lost her job and became a ‘liability’. As she was trying to make it up by conducting tuition classes at home, her parents decided to marry her off and her dreams went up in smoke.

As a friend, I tried convincing her parents, but they paid no heed and instead mocked me when I spoke in favour of inter-caste marriages. When nothing worked, I pleaded with her to flee with the man she loved. But she too was helpless.

She told me she was afraid that her parents and relatives would resort to ‘honour killing’ if she went against them. When I reached out to the man she loved, he told me that his family had already received a ‘threat’.

Even in today’s time and age, it is unfortunate that my friend’s family and many others continue to follow the system of anuloma, a Hindu traditional concept according to which one should marry within their own caste, as opposed to pratiloma which means marrying outside one’s caste. As per the 2011 census report, only 5.8 % of marriages in India were inter-caste. And then people say casteism is only a thing of past. They don’t know that even today that a Bahujan is killed for sitting on a chair, wearing a shoegrowing a moustacheriding a horse, proposing a Brahmin girl and whatnot.

If you were to analyse the National Crime Records Bureau data from 2019, you’d easily conclude that India is unsafe for Bahujan and tribal women. Compared to 2018, there has been a 7.3% increase in caste-based crimes against women from Bahujan communities. In a paper published by the UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute in 2019, economist Deepankar Basu said that since 2014, there has been a 300% increase in hate crimes against minorities (including Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, Christians).

There’s Something Wrong in the Way We Love

The land of Kama Sutra has clearly forgotten the art of loving. Is it because our secular nation is on a mission to establish a Hindu rashtra? Or are we being socialised to transcend hate over love and call it the ‘new’ brotherhood? There’s something inherently wrong in the way we perceive love in today’s time, isn’t it?

Love, today, has become consumerist in nature, which often manifests into materialism, compulsion and normalisation of marital rape. As a result, the concept of love has been misconstrued as an economic transaction, a formality or a sexual contract, if I may say so, wherein the man is entitled to hold the dominant position.

But is that what love is all about?

Somewhere, parenting patterns influence our understanding of love. Prejudices on caste, class, religion and gender impact how we choose our partners. Isn’t it strange that pissing in public is normal but kissing in public is almost a crime? The ‘Kiss of Love’ protest tells a lot about the society and our general understanding of public display of love, and relationships.

Even in today’s time and age, it is unfortunate that my friend’s family and many others continue to follow the system of anuloma, a Hindu traditional concept according to which one should marry within their own caste. Representational image.

To add to the woes, the recent ‘love jihad’ law has been legislated so that individuals don’t dare to marry outside their socio-religious boundaries. For a nation like India, social osmosis is very important. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian constitution, emphasised on exogamy (marrying outside your caste, community or clan). At a time when we should be discouraging endogamy and overruling homophobia, here we are, still asking each other: “Who should we marry?”

Such new laws will undoubtedly do more harm than good in the long run. Never ever, in any period of social history, has a parochial mindset helped any community grow.

If we factor in, often unconsciously, hundreds of things before getting into a relationship, the feeling, however genuine it may be, cannot be called radical love. Heterogeneous nations like India really need to make space and encourage radical love, a love that knows no boundaries, to flourish. But the state, on the other hand, seems more interested in sowing seeds of hate.

Buddha’s teaching of Mettabhavana – the idea that cultivation of kindness and loving is the way to heal our mental health – is perhaps what we need to survive in today’s ‘new’ India. The principle of his message also teaches us that one can love others, when there’s no self-hate. People around us crave for love because their cognition is/are inured and designed with afflictions, infatuation, hate and ignorance. With such a state of mind, loving – and that too unconditionally – is genuinely impossible.

In journalist Ravish Kumar’s book Free Voice, there is a chapter called ‘How We Love’, where he  succinctly and very boldly says:

“Not everyone is in love. Nor does everyone have the courage to love. In our country, most people only love in their imagination. I wouldn’t know how it is in other places, but in India, to love is to battle with innumerable strictures imposed by society and religion. Love is a forbidden subject even within the four walls of our homes.”

As it is known, charity begins at home and a lot of homework needs to be done. Kumar continues:

“Our politics too cannot imagine a love that smashes the barriers of caste and religion. There are some Muslim leaders whose wives are Hindu. There are some Hindu leaders who are married to Muslim women. These were love marriages, but such couples do not display their love in public. They fear their voters’ displeasure. But is society really like that? Yes, it is, but it is in exactly such a society that possibilities emerge for revolutionary love. People bring down the walls of caste and religion. Sometimes they do so and stay alive.”

Expressing discrepancy, he adds:

“Our cities have no space for love. For us, parks are places where marigolds and bougainvillea bloom. Where a few elderly, retired people come to jog. There may be a pair or two of lovers; they will be stared at. Love needs a suitable space, just for love. Lovers in our cities get tired standing behind pillars in supermalls for hours on end. They court danger daring to love inside a car with the windows and windshield curtained with bedsheets and towels. They hold hands in the dark in a cinema and hastily let go when the lights come on. Lovers have never really told anyone of their plight.”

The article was first published in LiveWire.

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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