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” !