By Ishita Jha
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Inter- caste marriage. A cultural taboo, a monster. Unthinkable, devastating, a breach in the proud cultural norms of our great country and of course an ignominy for the family name.
In conversation with lots of people I have heard many remarks over the years that I have never been able to wrap my head around. When such opinions about so grave an issue are tossed so flippantly about by people who have no idea what their decisions are based on, it tends to accumulate in one’s mind like mine over the time and sometime or the other it needs to be replied to. Mostly when encountered with such views, replies are never perfect or composed, the precise words that could convey what one thinks always somehow falls below the mark. This is thus my attempt to answer in a way all the perspectives I have encountered over the years by different people. Those people in front of whom either I could not overcome my overwhelming emotional response fast enough to respond composedly or just sat gaping in disbelief unable to process the words.
I would like to start with the thing that irritates me most when such conflicting situations arise. What I never was never able to digest was the amount of comfort or rather nonchalance that people feel when they reject the idea of marrying a person of another caste or religion. When you talk to people like these you will feel a certain chill in your spine as you observe that their eyes are blank as if the shutters have been shut. Shutting out all reason, rationality and argument. All they can thus do is shake their hands and confidently declare as if guided by some divine absolute rule that inter caste marriage is sinful. Upon attempting to even discuss about the issue at hand it they will shrug and ignore because they simply have no rational explanation to offer and they are still frustratingly comfortable about it. This, always made me convulse because I was left helpless with my arms in the air surrendering not to their logic of their belief but at the comfort they experience in not knowing the logic. No matter from whichever angle one attempts to approach one is always shot down. This placating sense of absolute certainty that is based on nothing but the flimsy fact that this is what their culture says astounds me and leading me to think about the possibility of what else one might delude oneself into thinking that their culture supports. The comfort that the habit of people to fall back on tradition provides is scary not only because of the danger that it poses about the fact that you never know what this amorphous tradition might tell them to do next but also that this falling back makes them just retreat or worse stand unperturbed in face of rationality which fails at its attempt to show explicitly how hollow everything they believe in is.
Another most common reply that people tend to throw at you on arguing is that even if they attempt to do something how will the society let them live ? How will the society look at them? They tremble at the prospect and reject the concept of inter caste marriage because they are afraid that the society will taunt them, frown upon them and expel them. Where and how do I even begin to reply to this outrageous statement, I do not know. Because even before I gather the plethora of angry arguments my mind is brimming with they start breaking down at the mere thought of the oh-so-dear society that will not let them live with honour. Honour, the keyword in the all the marriage “business”. This honour and respect is what it all boils down to. Most people don’t really care about their culture or tradition. They will offer the rigid statements saying the same though, that this is what has been taught. This is what their “rich” culture is commanding to do them, to follow their previous generations. But when they stop dead at further questioning, you will know those words are just an armour. They don’t really believe, they are just afraid of the society. Held by the opinions of the society, they are fearful that this society will not approve. It’s not they who reject the idea of inter caste marriage, it is their fear at being shamed for choosing their child’s happiness before what an unknown body of society apparently thinks that rejects it.
Now who or what is this society that they are so scared of? A collective mass of masked faces chanting tradition. The moment that you, as parents, give the argument that the society will not honour them you contradict what you have spent your entire lifetime assuring your kid that they are the ones most important to you. Why tell them that their family loves them unconditionally until they decide to choose on their own who they want to marry? Why claim, since childhood, that their happiness is the most important when later you have to force them to yield to this unknown society just so that they can be a part of this imaginary conglomeration. That grand conglomeration whose acceptance is limited to an elite circle of obedient and blind people. That abstract concept of conglomeration whose acceptance is more important than anything. That very conglomeration whose approval you so desperately seek and teach your child to depend on. Why profess your unconditional love to your children when one day you have to tell them that the same love is limited due to this vague concept of a society they live in and want so dreadfully to be a part of. Why encourage them to stand up just so that one day they can be told to yield to society? Why give them years of education to sacrifice their thought system at the altar of culture and tradition? Just so people can maintain the imaginary “status” in the society they want their children to marry within their caste. Just to receive the approving looks of random people on marrying their child in the same caste and be able to swell with hollow pride. Not only is the honourable status imaginary, the society itself is. Even if the status is not imaginary, what is the status based on? It is based on the fact that you were so afraid of not being accepted by the society that you sacrificed your child. If the society is not imaginary, then what is it? Just a bunch of people that you imagine to be judging you for making marriage about love and happiness. So for this status and this society, that is based on everything despicable you force your child to give up their principles and love? Has your status and honour become more important in life than integrity of your kid? ’
And by teaching your children to be dependent on what society tells you what kind of a human being are you really raising? If this is the kind of child you wanted whose principles and actions were to be defined by a mass of people, then why gave them years of education dedicated to develop that very mind that has to abandon its thought process because of tradition? If parents are so desperate to be accepted by society, if they are so fearful of society’s opinions then how do they expect to raise a strong human who does things because they are right and is not dependent on what people say? Consider cases where perhaps children are traumatised by comments on their appearance, they are abused, or assaulted. What will you tell them then? How will you tell them to rise above what people think or to rise above what they think about what others think? If your kid after facing traumas is unable to meet people’s eyes how will you tell them that they don’t matter? How will you teach your children to be independent, strong and to fight for themselves when you tell them to marry for society? Principle wise then , if something happens to them that supposedly “stains” their “honour” how will you convince them to ignore it when you forced them to believe it, to bow to it. Do you see how this single act of bowing to society means? It is not just a single act, it is an act that accept at its very foundation the act of yielding to tradition, culture and society which if even one time accepted makes it an act you affirmed and accepted. Then how do you deny it in other cases I mentioned above or in even more worst cases which I didn’t mention? Are you not then just raising them to be desperate and meek victims? Victims, dependent on others for a sense of honour, running behind people for approval of their happiness just to be accepted, unable to ever have a mind of one’s own. This honour and respect of society that you so horribly depend on, can you now bear to see your children to depend on them?
Also how this honour that you are able to swell with on marrying your child to a person of the same caste and religion does not get hindered later on when the child you so comfortably married off happens to end up with a person who turns out to be horrible? This guy that she was supposed to understand fully in one or two meetings may turn out to be a rapist or a convoluted sadist. And your child might not even tell you about it because she was perhaps brought up in a similar violent atmosphere and thinks that this is the way of life or is afraid to destroy that honour you prize so much. Are you still honourable then? Surprisingly yes. This great honour and respect that the following of institution of marriage according to rules gets you, how does it survive and not suffocate you in a country like ours where almost every man is a ruthless patriarch inflicting emotional and physical trauma on his whole family. This honour, is it aware of how your daughter is? How your grandchildren are suffering perhaps from psychological disorders? Is it aware of the fact that the guy despite being from the same glorious caste beats her? So this hollow honour that same caste marriages and relations that you so gladly receive, how does it not kill you with its tightening noose? Either you think that it’s okay because this is how a patriarchal society is supposed to work or you are still afraid of the society. I am not saying that same caste marriages cause this or all such marriages are doomed to be a fail. There are cruel people present irrespective of caste, and that is my point. Why pretend same-caste marriage will make you and your child happy when there is no basis for that? Honour should be about marrying your girl or boy safely to a good person who will not hurt them. Then it will not be hollow.
Although this article was intended as a reply to opinions about inter caste marriage. I am urged by the last paragraph to elaborate about a relevant tangent that is about marriage itself. Marriage, as a requisite for leading a happy life. I have noticed in casual conversations with people, that marriage and children do not come with an “if” before them, they follow after a “when”. So much ingrained the idea of an elaborate marriage has become in our society that there is no space left for people who would rather not marry. What about these people? Those people who do not imagine their love stories ending with marriage, kids and a house with chimney. Those people who would rather have a court marriage than hold a meaningless ceremony. Those atheists who do not believe in the rituals? Those people who just don’t want to marry? Their fate is just as terrible. In my case, worse. Every step of mine has been because of what I believe in. My opinions, principles, fundamentals, these are the things that I hold dear and stand true to. I have an inherent resistance against the urge to senselessly conform, whether that conformity requires yielding to norms about sexuality, education, marriage, gender roles and so on. I have never been attracted to idealistic notions about marriage and quixotic romantic notions, so not being able to marry the love of my life is not my point of contention. My resistance to the institution and its rules is not only due to my disgust at the way it’s practised and strictly according to its rules. My resistance is against the forces that tell me to bend to the normal need for one to marry at some point in life because it apparently makes one happy. My resistance is against the forces that wants to stifle everything I have, my atheistic beliefs that couldn’t tolerate the religiously guided ceremony, my principle that hates the way marriages are conducted these days, my fundamentals that despises the shattering of one’s integrity. These things if stifled, I wouldn’t be able to face myself. To be able to get up every morning knowing that I gave up on myself because my family couldn’t stand it, seems like a hard thing to do. When I think about it, the “self” doesn’t exist anymore. Sometimes I can’t even speak afterwards. Because I feel robbed, robbed of things that constituted me and had to be given up to make myself marry. Integrity to be compromised because the people who were supposed to love you couldn’t see how it would slowly make you vanish, they were not capable enough to understand your beliefs. The imagining of such a situation suppresses me, even thinking about the day that would require me to conform to the way of Indian life, makes me think why then if eventually to be maimed am I pursuing my dreams? Why indulge myself with the cruel illusion of freedom and integrity if eventually to be contrived to give them up? But if then not indulge myself in this illusion, what do I live for then? For my impending marriage? Sure, why not. If it gives me honour and blessings.Ishita is a student of English Literature at Ramjas college of Delhi University. She has an inherent urge to argue and an opinion about everything and anything. She is interested in literature, politics and philosophy and would love to dedicate her whole life to academic research. Usually she can be found in a tranquil corner absorbed in her books. Not only wanting to spend her career pondering over literary theories she wishes to bring about a change in people’s mentality about various cultural and social issues that have become rigid. Very passionate about issues of gender and caste discrimination she is ruthless when encounters outlooks entrenched with ossified traditions. She has interned with Teach for India and works in Enactus Ramjas which helps her to impact lives emotionally and financially. Loves travelling, heated discussions, integrity and opinions backed by research. Can be contacted at Ishitajha07@gmail.com.