The Obsession with Intra-Caste Marriage in India

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Every Indian, irrespective of his or her religion might have experienced to some extent the impact of the caste system. At one level, one can try to claim that the caste system has become redundant and adherence to such a system is almost invisible. I, however, do not agree.

Yes, in contemporary times, explicit adherence to norms and rituals that emanate from the caste system is not ubiquitous. Owing to our modern consciousness of equality, human rights and other such issues as well as progressive legislation, the previously tough grip that the caste system had over Indian Hindus has substantially loosened .

Most educated and urban Indian Hindus would reject the caste system as a regressive practice or way of thinking. But this does not mean that, in the urban landscape, the influence of the caste system is absent or has substantially diminished. Similarly, explicit manifestations of the caste system are also decreasing in the rural areas of India. But the caste system still substantially influences rural lives.

I would claim that nobody can deny the influence of the caste system on the psyche of most Indians to date. And the influence is significant. In fact, you could say that a tacit agreement exists in the minds of most people in India regarding the caste system, especially amongst those who have benefitted from such an arrangement. Those who have been on the receiving end have been trying for a long time to address the injustices and cruelties that stem from such a system of social organization.

My understanding emerges from my everyday experiences in India. One of the most significant indicators of the massive influence of the caste system in Indian can be found in the sphere of marriage. Inter-caste marriage is almost always not readily welcomed in India. But I am not saying that inter-caste marriages do not take place in India. What I am saying is that the preference is usually “intra-caste marriage”.

In urban areas and especially in the metropolitan cities, there are many inter-caste marriages.

However, I would like to mention that, whenever anyone gets to know about such inter-caste marriages, they become curious to know the story behind such a marriage or will applaud the couple for their resolve. Thus, in my opinion, such marriages do not simply account for the decline of the influence of the caste system.

But they do point towards the colossal impact of such dogmatic systems on the basic psyche of all Indian Hindus. Many Indians might disapprove of the caste system but somehow, somewhere, their thinking pattern is pervaded by the caste system. And this is so because caste is both a notion and a state of mind.

Since the caste system is a hierarchical system, the norms that flow from it demand that those of a higher caste should not marry someone from the lower castes. Interestingly, there are many sub-castes also amongst the castes and such sub-caste division is also hierarchical in nature. Brahmin is considered the highest caste amongst Hindus. Thus Brahmins are expected to marry amongst themselves and not in any other caste like the Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. However, a Brahmin has to marry not only a Brahmin but a Brahmin from his own sub-caste. The same pattern or practice is the norm for other castes as well.

Restrictions as regards to inter-caste marriages are in fact quite complex. And the gender dynamics also come into play. I would confess that, irrespective of the fact that I am an Indian, my knowledge regarding the various factors that dictate the restrictions for inter-caste marriage is quite limited. The intensity with which such norms are followed varies from state to state in India.

In one state, people might be quite liberal and progressive in their approach towards inter-caste marriage. Whereas in some states, people might go to the extent of “honor killing” when it comes to inter-caste marriages.

However, I would say that the influence of the caste system on marriage is quite significant in almost all states of India. However, it is difficult to comprehend if Indians are really aware of the gripping influence of caste system on their psyche.

At times, I believe that the influence of the caste system is declining, as many people around me are nowadays opting to marry a person of their choice regardless of caste considerations. At one point in time, a person from the Brahmin caste marrying someone from the Shudra caste was a transgression and such people were regarded as no less than a sinner by their society. But in my social circle, such marriages have become very common and normal.

However, I cannot overlook the struggle of such couples in convincing their families. At times, such couples are also disowned by their families. And this again points towards the grip and influence of the caste system that two adults have to struggle with to such an extent just to marry because of such an anachronistic social system.

Moreover, my optimism also gets punctured by the occasional news of honor killings from some rural areas of particular states in India. It is a shame that till now some people are so archaic in their thinking that they can kill a couple for marrying outside of their castes.

Many inter-caste marriage couples from such areas have had to seek the help of the police and government to ensure their safety from possible acts by their kin and village people. In fact, you can read many stories in newspapers about couples whose entire families were also made outcasts because they married someone from a lower caste.

According to B. R. Ambedkar, the genius behind framing the Indian Constitution, “The real remedy for breaking caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the solvent of caste”.

I completely agree with B. R. Ambedkar. I believe that only when inter-caste marriage becomes commonplace in India; only when people stop being curious about such inter-caste marriages; only when marriage is a matter of personal choice rather than an observance of caste norms, can one claim that the influence of the caste system is finally diminishing in India.

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