Marriage between two people is a wonderful union but when it is an inter-caste marriage, it can become a problem for both the couple and families.
"I love my parents a lot and can't even think of losing them because of my own happiness"
Inter-caste marriage is where two people from different castes seek union as a married couple.
It is usually a result of the couple meeting and dating outside of family circles.
Caste, is a traditional and cultural entity, which has stemmed from primarily Hinduism but has prevailed across most backgrounds from South Asia.
Often compared to class in the west, it is associated with a working profession or background that you belong to from a family heritage perspective.
Common practice when it comes to marriage is that ‘you marry your own kind’ and therefore, within your own caste.
It is very common for higher castes to object to a marriage to a lower caste.
Therefore, as much as modern and western values endorse the freedom to choose who you want to marry, marrying out of caste can still be a huge issue for those with South Asian roots.
It is likely that the percentage of inter-caste marriages in the UK is very low compared to caste matched marriages, and in India, it is definitely no different.
According to the India Human Development Survey, done in India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, only 5% of Indians have embraced intercaste marriage.
The IHDS survey, the largest of its kind, covered over 42000 households in both rural and urban India.
It revealed that over 11% of the respondents had inter-caste marriages in Gujarat and Bihar but only under 1% overall had intercaste marriages.
So, why is inter-caste marriage such a problem?
How often have you seen or read the dilemma of young people in a relationship of different caste but do not know how to tell the family?
Where family pride is connected with caste, the news is not welcomed and the family will work on dissuading the young person to marry and force him/her to break it off.
There are many cases, where families have disowned their son or daughter and do not even attend the wedding, if they marry out of caste.
The family network becomes fragmented and loyalties are split.
The couple are often left on their own or with very little support to wed and live their future life.
Couples frequently elope to marry and rarely return to family.
For an inter-caste couple who have met, dated, fell in love and want to be together, things can become a huge challenge if one of them is not strong enough.
If that person is too meek to stand up to the parents or fears losing them, the relationship may not even make it to marriage.
Anita who was in this situation admitted:
“I love my parents a lot and can’t even think of losing them because of my own happiness. I want them with me whole of my life and that too happily.”
Therefore, not being able to marry the real love of her life.
Ravi, who met the brothers of his higher caste girlfriend, whom he dated since school for over five years, found himself breaking the relationship:
“Her brothers told me that if the marriage took place, her father who was very ill would not be able to take it and I could have a loss on my hands I could never replace. So, I agreed never to see her again.”
Due to the historical way caste represents a profession or work, those from a lower caste are deemed to be from a poorer background.
This reflects wealth and lifestyle differences. So, accepting a person from a lower caste by a higher caste person is not seen as South Asian society’s norm.
It can be difficult for a lower caste partner to be free from such prejudice. Especially, if she is a woman.
Despite an inter-caste marriage couple being happy, the lower caste person in the marriage will always be seen as ‘lower’ by relatives, friends and family who believe in the caste system.
Sandy who married her higher caste lover says:
“I would always feel distance from his relatives when we visited family functions. I remember one aunty saying do they do this custom in your caste? Which really made me sad.”
A woman would even be accused of ‘bettering’ herself by marrying into a higher social and economic caste.
Not to mention the gossip amongst the locals about the family allowing such a union to proceed.
Honour killings are definitely not unknown to the UK with the problem of forced marriages but caste too is a product of honour killings, especially in India.
A paper written by Satnam Singh Deol, Honour Killings in India: A Study of the Punjab State, highlights the issue of honour killings related to the non acceptance of intercaste marriage in India.
“Experts divulge the intolerance of Indian upper castes to inter-caste matrimonial/pre-marital relationship of females as the prime causes of honour killings.”
It’s reported that over 1000 honour killings take place in India due to inter-caste relationship and marriage problems. Where both women and men are killed.
If an inter-caste marriage does get accepted, problems can start post the marriage.
This is where, the bride especially, if she is from a different caste, will be treated somewhat with prejudice albeit it discreet or indirect.
She may be criticised for her appearance, dress sense, her lack of domestic skills and her cultural differences including religion in some cases.
For example, by the aunites, grandmother and mother of the boy.
Meena who married out of caste says:
“It didn’t matter how hard I tried, there was always something wrong with anything I did to help. I was the daughter-in-law who was looked down upon due to my caste.”
With the lower caste groom, differences have a lot to do with pride, where he may be criticised for his profession, his mannerism, wealth or inability to look after the ‘daughter’ of the higher caste family.
Also, children of the couple may be subject to questions of which caste they belong or not.
With all this being said, there are intercaste marriages which are readily accepted and popular – in the world of Bollywood and the politics of India.
As highlighted by Mohd Zubair Kales an Associate Professor in India, who encourages intercaste marriage in Indian society:
“In order to break the perils of caste-system, it has becomes incumbent that there should be inter-caste marriages.”
He describes many marriages in Bollywood:
Another popular inter-caste marriage is that of Shahrukh Khan (caste: Pathan/Hyderabadi) and Gauri Khan (caste: Moyhal Brahmin).
The caste system is still part of South Asian people’s lives irrespective where they are living, be it India, Pakistan, UK, Canada, USA or other parts of the world.
The older generation does not want to accept change simply due to inertia. They cannot imagine communities without caste as they have not experienced such society.
And those that still vehemently believe in it, will not stop for the sake of a more liberal society.
With organisations like Caste Watch in the UK and many other anti-caste campaigns, their work to erode it will not just happen overnight.
As generations get more educated and more open to accepting people for who they rather than what they are, things can progressively change.
But for now, inter-caste marriage will still be stigmatised and challenged, and those that do marry into a different caste, will still be seen as a minority compared to the majority.
Names of contributors have been changed for anonymity.
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