Friday, August 20, 2010

Dangerously modern....

We should not feel uncomfortable to believe that the system of casts is still deeply rooted in India. When I decided to settle down in life, I wanted to marry a girl who belonged to a caste other than that of mine. But it was not possible without falling in love. And I was not in love. So the idea of an inter-caste arranged marriage occurred to me. It had occurred to me for the first time when I was reading a play written by Shyam Manohar, whose observations on contemporary Indian society have been incisive for many years. A character from the play questions our modernity referring to the fact that inter-caste arranged marriages are still a taboo in our society. If a marriage is inter-caste, the obvious implication is that it is either a love marriage or a love-cum-arranged marriage, but it is never a purely arranged marriage.

I told my parents to ‘arrange’ a girl who should be an ‘outsider’. My parents supported me for this ‘noble’ cause. They also credulously believed in my argument that mine would be a path-breaking effort to abolish our deep rooted system of castes. But they had no idea of how to ‘arrange’ an ‘outsider’ for their son. When my mother approached her acquaintances that belonged to the castes different from ours and asked them whether they could suggest prospective brides from their families, most of them simply ignored this ‘unwarranted’ proposal. We then approached various marriage bureaus. Most of them said that they had no such category.

My thought of an arranged inter-caste marriage would appal the protagonists of my community. A few of them even bluntly asked whether I was suffering from some ‘problem’ and indirectly threatened us that my family would be ostracised from the community. An elderly uncle argued that inter-caste arranged marriages would create a male-female imbalance in our community as our daughters would remain unmarried, which would further give rise to more female foeticides endangering the already declining female to male ratio in our community. To drive home the point, he explained his point with figures. He took the latest female to male ratio which is 922: 1000 and it is less than the 1961 ratio, which is 936:1000. I appreciated his concern for declining female to male ratio; however, I brought to his notice the flaw in his logic that the overall census can not be used to justify to the point about our particular community. And I suddenly said to him, ‘That is why caste-based census is essential to know the exact male-female ratio in our community.’ My uncle did not speak anything for a while. He looked at me. I looked at him. We were lost in thoughts. Looking was thinking.

Most of us believe that we are modern, as we accept inter-caste marriages. But inter-caste marriages are simply love marriages, not arranged. Therefore, most of us are half modern. Most love marriages are inter-caste as if love can take place only between those from different castes. Those who are not aware of ‘love’ and ‘arranged’ marriages may think that the concept of ‘love marriages’ is an antithesis to that of ‘arranged marriages’ as if in arranges marriages no love exists. But this is not true. ‘Love marriages’ is just a misnomer to ‘inter-caste marriages’. ‘Love marriage’ is the only way to happen inter-caste marriages. That is why if a marriage is inter-caste, it is unambiguously inferred that it is a love marriage.

Indians are modern only to the extent of accepting inter-caste love marriages. Indians are orthodox as inter-caste arranged marriages are still rare. Those so-called secular intellectuals who condemn rising honour killings in India never utter a word against our equally or probably more dangerous half modern and half traditional way of life. Half knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance. Then being half modern and half traditional is not less dangerous than being brutally orthodox, if not more. We have no moral right to castigate the ‘khap panchayats’ that openly justify honour killings. We are equally dangerous.

- Shirish


  1. Shirish, the inter caste marriages did exist in earlier days as much as i know. But i guess people are again shifting to old beliefs. I have seen many young ones looking for a 'patrika' or horoscope matches. One of the reasons why people feel that arranged inter-caste marriages won't work is perhaps the different cultures across the different castes. May be a force like love might keep the bonds from breaking.

  2. Yes,people are shifiting to old beleifs. They have started finding some scientific basis to justfy their old traditions like horoscope matches.

    Thanks for your comment, Kedar.