The politics of “mixed” marriages

Newspapers in Tamil Nadu have been reporting on  a story that is almost like what we see on the movie  screen- an upper caste girl runs away , gets married to a Dalit boy  resulting in caste feuds ,comes back home declaring the marriage as over, caste leaders make public statements and finally the boy takes his own life! And of course the moral of the story being - such marriages don’t or can’t survive!

But the question is whether this was a marriage that was allowed to survive in the first place? I would say that it did not even  have time to find its feet before the caste forces came into play to break it up. The issue here was not about  the people who got married but their caste affiliation and the power politics between their two castes.  And if you have tracked such cases you might notice that if the girl belongs to an upper caste and the boy to a lower one the repercussions are more  terrible than if they were vice versa! 

I have often wondered why. The reason as I see it is to do with the status of women. A woman in our society is expected to integrate into her husband’s family accepting his culture. So in a caste hierarchy where there are perceptions of  ‘inferior’  vs “ superior”  a woman from a caste that considers itself superior integrating into what they perceive as “inferior” can only result in violent opposition from her people.  Those of you who are familiar with the concept of “Anuloma”( marriage of a man with a woman from a lower caste)  and “Pratiloma”( marriage of a woman to a man of a lower caste)  in the Hindu system of marriages might understand this issue better.  While Anuloma was apparently allowed by sacred texts, Pratiloma was frowned upon!  

Now, let me come to the question of “integration” into another culture.  Even people who are “tolerant” to mixed marriages encourage this “integration” in the name of easy adjustment and return of homogenous balance into the family identity. So, in inter religious marriages we often have one partner ( usually the woman ) converting  and in inter caste marriages the woman accepting the customs of her husband.  Most inlaws and husbands insist on it !

I find that rather strange when the husbands  insist on it  because when you marry someone from another religion, caste etc you are supposedly transcending these barriers. So why impose a new identity on someone just so that you can present a homogenous face as a family to the world? When you marry outside your endogamous group you  need to have the courage to admit to it  and live with the difference.  But few people do it and often women themselves embrace the new identity to get easy acceptance from the inlaws.

But my question is, whether accepting a new culture or religion is going to make your in laws accept you that easily? 

When I was getting married, my mother in law wanted me to convert to Christianity. But both me and my husband were against it. It was very difficult convincing my MIL  but I managed it in the end when I asked her if it would not be an insult to her religion that I embrace it just so that I could marry her son? One should believe in something when they follow it. It seemed to convince her. We spent fifteen years together in the same house ( she lived downstairs and we lived upstairs) and  I think,  over these years, despite our various differences, she related more to me than to her other daughter in law who belongs to the same community. I think I earned this acceptance and closeness through my  relationship with her and not through my religious affinity!  
A marriage like any relationship calls for a lot of adjustment between the couple. When you belong to different cultures this is more difficult – eating habits have to be accepted, lifestyles have to come together and sometimes even value systems have to co exist.  It needs to happen even in arranged marriages but in these mixed marriages the challenges are more because there are many external  variables that  may be impacting on the relationship.

While people speak so much about inter caste, inter religious differences in marriages, few speak about  the class differences. I think it is often class that is the most important influencing factor. Imagine a situation where two people from the same caste but from different socio economic classes get married? Lets say a man from a poor family in a  village gets married to a girl of the same caste from a wealthy family raised in a  town? I think there would be  pretty serious  differences here too! He  would probably be more conservative, more careful about spending money and have a different decision making style. The same would be the case even if it were vice versa. A girl from a village would have lesser confidence, might be very suspicious of her husband’s interactions with others etc.  However we do not acknowledge these differences and if they show up the entire family comes together trying to patch it up! 

So it is difficult to actually blame the caste, religion differences as the cause for a problematic marriage or use forced cultural integration as a safety net to keep such relationships intact. Integration in mixed marriages does occur –slowly! I have seen my husband pick up the Tam Brahm lingo when he speaks to my parents. His fondness for rasam saadam  is also a post marriage phenomenon. I on the other hand, seem to have unconsciously picked up some of his culture- some expressions  in Malayalam, a love for coconut milk being things that I can immediately think of. 

The problem in our country is that when marriages are arranged by families the couple are forced to keep it going no matter what may be the differences but when the marriages are “self arranged” then the smallest difference is sought to be turned into something very big and every one has a hand in breaking the relationship. 

It is sad that Divya and Ilavarasan had to break up the way they did. We know little about how much of it was forced and how much of it was a break up in the natural course of things. It is quite possible that Divya was frightened by the consequences of her decision and decided to back out. It is also possible that she was threatened out of the marriage. There is no point debating about it now.  Any  marriage needs enabling conditions to take root and sustain itself. 

The issue here is not a love marriage gone wrong but larger caste –power politics. The idea of equating a woman to a community’s “honor” and hence its violation when she gets married to a rival group. Unless these mindsets change, we will continue to have violence surrounding these marriages and increasing number of youngsters killing themselves or being murdered in the name of “honor” !


  1. I think, nowadays, this happens in a poor society and/or in villages. Does not happen in cities and middle/upper income society. I could be wrong.

  2. I thought the opposition to inter caste marriages was very much pronounced in Northern parts of our country and khap panchayats having a big say.It is sad that such a phenomenon is prevalent even here.As you rightly concluded an enabling or atleast an un hostile atmosphere is needed for such love marriages to succeed..
    You have analysed the problem very well.

  3. @ SG upper income society in rural areas are still intolerant to such unions. In the cities too the tolerance levels vary but there is no violence between the communities. The couple are usually cut off from families that do not approve of such relationships. However there are more serious repercussions in inter religious marriages where the man is a Muslim.

    @ KP north or south, intolerance is universal. There are equally violent people in both regions. There is an analysis now that says that with Dalits getting educated and employed the power dominance of the upper caste in the region where this happened is being challenged. This is more of a reaction to that.

  4. In Mahabaratha there was only one dishonourable conduct and infamy - an act against woman-"the disrobing of Draupadhi".While in Ramayana , Mans’ psychology is amply dissected and laid threadbare in the act of Rama , who is suspicious about his wife's chastity, and have her cleanse in fire and later unable to still get rid of his miserable thoughts and suspicions banish her cruelly to the wild.
    These are, especially the Ramayana episode, an ample statement of the prevailing sociological prejudices we see now and what brought about, let me call it- the elimination of this youth in Dharmapuri. A misplaced linking of women’s so called honour to the honour of the clan , caste or tribe. An egregious notion.
    As you said , it is the few like you and your spouse ( fortunately I and my spouse too) who have had the courage to stand up to the conventions and miserable ones at that , to defy the oft stated statement that interreligious or inter caste wedlock’s bring misery and are short-lived. In my case though there were feelers from my wife’s parents, if I would convert to Christianity, there was no such thoughts in my family. And we and our children have nothing silly to worry about.
    It is two minds that have to understand and be entwined and in social living though other people also come to play, one must have the courage to stand up and be firm. In this sad case in Dharmapuri, the silly girl seemed to have lost her bearings and retracted.

  5. I am from Kerala married to a guy from Kashmir...that is a lot of integration now :D :D... actually for both sides...I have been really blessed to be in a family like that where my husband and the rest of the family has not only welcomed me with my culture into their family but they behave with so much more mature when I am reluctant to follow something they believe in....wish the whole world was like this..

  6. Anil, as persons who have been through such relationships we probably understand the issue better. But I think it was probably very hard to deal with opposition in a village situation with the caste wars going on. Often our courage to deal with something is dependent on how dependent we are on social systems for our survival.

  7. My parents are integrated, indian and trinidadian... I honestly.. prefer this type of marriage... it spices life up a not more no? You learn about each other's religion, culture, way of life, always learning something new rather than marrying your exact duplicate.

  8. @ Suku and Emmy I agree with both of you- diversity is what spices up life. We are lucky that we enjoy it. But there are people for whom diversity is very threatening. They do not have the tolerance to deal with something difference.

  9. Yes the caste wars....! That was precisely why I mentioned that the whole social matter in India is rotten.It is skewed against women.
    What happened in Dhramapuri is in simple terms , failure of the State , the government of the day.

  10. "closeness through my relationship with her and not through my religious affinity" How true?Are religious choices doesn't effect in mixed marriages .It's the equation between two people which matches

  11. Yes, Anil the state government seems to have failed to live up to their values. The Dravidian parties in the 1960s encouraged 'self respect' marriages transcending caste.But they have not been able to sort this issue - actually they have messed it up!

    @ Ankita welcome to this space. Glad you agree with my views!

  12. A very nicely written post Meera. There are differences in every relation but they may not necessarily be because of the Caste/ Community/ Religion the partners belong to.

    I hope the society rises above the discrimination led by the society-built differences and I hope the generations to come can be harbingers of change.

    I read in a wedding card, 'Jinhe Khuda ne milayaa hai, Unhe zamaana juda na kare."


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