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Boy meets girl. Something clicks and they fall in love. Parents oppose and the lovers either die or live together with or without their parents’ approval. Parents oppose because the two are of different status, caste or religion.
This theme has been done to death in books, TV programmes and movies, yet hasn’t lost its life. Such stories, real and fictional, not only appeal to young people but the older ones too who probably secretly reminisce about the crushes and half-fulfilled romance of their college years.
The theme may sound trite. It’s an impossible thing. Older people would say crush and lust can’t be celebrated as love which requires much selflessness and genuine affection and caring. Marriage cannot happen without reflection and practical thinking on such mundane things like career prospects. Long-term planning may be required. Physical and mental compatibility has to be evaluated, some would say.
Marrying within one’s social circle can bring some certainty regarding the above. In a society in which arranged marriages are still the norm, caste can guarantee that the man and the woman come from the same social circles, thereby reducing one set of frictions that may crop up. Similarity in religious belief, cultural practices and traditions can help a man bond with a woman.
Marriage cannot happen without reflection and practical thinking on such mundane things like career prospects. Long-term planning may be required. Physical and mental compatibility has to be evaluated.
For parents, caste ensures that arranged marriage is not a total leap into the dark. It brings a certain predictability to the institution of marriage. It also speaks to the base instinct of high and low. Caste conditions us to consider at least a few, if not many, as lower than us. If caste, with its concept of high and low, can hinder even rudimentary social mixing, how could it not affect something so deep and intimate as marriage?
It is a sign of where we are as a society that idealistic activists who support intercaste marriages are so vociferous about allowing young women below 21 to marry. In nearly all the tragic cases of honour killing, the woman was under 21 years. Love in college or even school is typical of these intercaste marriages that the parents opposed and tried to end through murder. In the Udumalaipettai Shankar – Kausalya case, Kausalya was 19 when she got married to Shankar from the Dalit community. In Usilampatti in 2014, Vimala Devi was 19 when she married Dilip Kumar. She was murdered by her family.
Anti-caste activists say parents who oppose intercaste young love typically try to get the marriages annulled by saying the girl is a minor. Then they try to press charges under POCSO and get the police to arrest the boy for rape.
Love at that age does not weigh caste differences much. Boy meets girl. Something clicks and love blossoms. Looks, appearance, demeanour, attitude, character and prospects play a greater role in youthful attraction that older people call infatuation and lust.
Campaigners against intercaste marriages such as PMK’s Ramadoss base their argument on this. They even see a conspiracy by Dalit boys to lure upper caste women by dressing well, looking good and having fancy bikes and cell phones.
In nearly all the tragic cases of honour killing, the woman was under 21 years. Love in college or even school is typical of these intercaste marriages that the parents opposed and tried to end through murder.
It may well be that young upper caste women are not so naïve and unrealistic. They see prospects in the Dalit boy that they don’t see in young men of their own caste. Given the Constitutionally mandated help and support available, many Dalit men do understand that if they do well in studies they will get a chance to lead a decent life. Even if prejudice prevails, there is a helping hand, somewhere. This makes them more focused on careers and livelihoods, as well as brings some sobriety and maturity in them.
The upper caste man, on the contrary, is high on his caste status. With a less-than-distinguished academic record, he faces a darker future, yet his high born status won’t make him humble and realistic. Caste status can add to the toxic male ego whereas the Dalit man, raised as the lowest in the caste structure, may not aspire to be the aggressive alpha male ruling over women. For a young woman, this would be a good reason to choose him as her life partner.
The case against marrying within caste or extended family is well established. It would be in the long-term interest of society that marriages transcend caste. Social disharmony levels will reduce. For greater genetic mixing and for the sake of a healthy population, intercaste marriages are necessary.
Perhaps, as our society advances and careers diversify, mature marriage choices will naturally give weightage to other factors. Then our anti-caste activists may not need to give so much importance on legal sanctity to marriages based on young love.
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