Time we change our mindset over inter-caste marriage

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Time we change our mindset over inter-caste marriage

Saturday, 10 June 2017 | MANAS JENA

Men and women have the right to marry and start a family. It is a human right under Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UNO on December 10, 1948 and India is a signatory to the historic international convention.

The Constitution of India under Article 21 guarantees Right to life with dignity and also protection of life and personal liberty. Men and women at right age are free to decide about their marriage. Marriage in India is regulated under laws and a valid marriage must be registered under provision of law such as Special Marriage Act 1954 for all religious groups  and specific law for different religious groups such as The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 for Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist and separate marriage Acts for Muslim, Christians and Parsees.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 restricts that a bride in India cannot legally marry before the age of 18 years and a bridegroom before the age of 21 years. However, legally there has been no such restriction for marriage based on caste and religion. But still there have been issues of honor killing, suicide by young couples, social tension and violence in case of inter caste and inter religion marriage in the plea of social customs and religious traditions that do not allow young boys and girls to get married by their own choice.

In case of marriage, it is understood that caste and religion are major barriers to individual freedom and dignity, especially in India and South Asia. There have been reports of organized killing of thousands of young boys and girls. And, due to lack of social support and mental humiliation, many of them forced to go for suicide. Out of several cases, very few cases are being reported in media and come to the notice of public, but it is fact that many cases are not reported; so it is difficult to assess the volume of cases happening in different parts of the country which may reach to few thousands. The young couples committing suicide constitute a major share of total suicide in the country. Many of the cases show that it is not failure of love; rather it is lack of support of family and society which forces them to commit suicide. It is a fact that boys and girls are harassed, abused, mentally and physically tortured and brutally killed by their own family and community members for the sake of family pride and caste honour in society because caste is so deeply rooted that it enjoys supremacy over human relation and human life.

Caste and patriarchy are inter-related and both the systems contradict freedom to get marry in own choice. Caste system restricts freedom of choice in choosing a life partner and it forces to limit the choice within the caste. Though honor killing is a national problem, so far there is no specific law against this inhuman crime. The States of Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand have reported hundreds of cases of honor killing. The horrible case of Gita Tanla (17) of Patanagarh in Bolangir district, who was brutally killed by her father, was much discussed in media last year. The most recent news from Karnataka revealed that an Indian Muslim family burns Bagu Begam, a pregnant daughter, alive for marrying a man of a lower caste. It is reported that during last five years the State of Tamil Nadu had 185 cases of honor killing by powerful caste panchayats, though inter caste marriages were publicly encouraged by Periyar EV Ramsamy and CN Anadurai. Recently, the CPI(M) in Tamil Nadu State committee has launched a campaign in demand of specific law to control honor killing. It is said that mostly Dalit men and caste Hindu women have been killed in more numbers for inter caste marriage. It is fact that Dalit Hindu, Dalit Muslim and Dalit Christians are also victims of caste-based discrimination within their own religious fraternity.

The inter caste social mobility is not possible without a social relationship but it has been difficult in India to marry outside the caste and particularly when it comes to the so-called low caste, they face all the abuse and social, mental and physical humiliation. India is a country of caste diversity within Hindu religion. The census reports identify the existence of more than 6,000 castes and communities, within the Verna and outside, being divided under broader category of OBC, and SCs, STs and socially advanced category.

Caste conflicts have been influencing our governance, democratic polity and democratic ethos with complexities of superiority and inferiority over each other backed by religious notions of Verna or a hierarchical structure. Progressive social movements in India always have advocated for individual freedom, especially freedom of choice, to choose own life partner. The radical atheism speaks of individual freedom and human dignity and rational values that respect dignity of human being.

Jyotiba Phule and Sabitribai Phule were the pioneers in promoting education among women and Sudras and Ati-sudras also promoted inter caste satyasodhak marriage through oath ceremony in the State of Maharashtra as part of their social reform movement in the nineties. During the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi was advocating for inter caste marriage and he was personally committed to this to socially unify the caste ridden Hindu society. As a solution to annihilation of caste in India, Dr BR Ambedkar in his famous book ‘Annihilation of Caste’ in 1936 suggested for promotion of inter caste marriage and later, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment promoted inter caste marriage among caste Hindus and Scheduled Castes by rewarding such couple with cash prize of Rs 50,000. Many State Governments, including Odisha, have added extra support to raise the prize money along with other facilities.

In 2016-2017, as per the Odisha Government sources, 969 couples received some Rs 4.78 crore.  At all India level, the about 15,000 were rewarded. The number of inter caste marriage couple has been increasing day by day. It is found that many newspapers matrimonial page and matrimonial websites have placed a column under caste/religion no bar. It shows a denouncement of caste as criteria of marriage. It is also found that inter caste marriage discourage dowry, destroy caste identity, and helps in bringing harmony and friendship among different castes. Though inter caste marriage has been increasing but no official statistics is available on this.

However, the increasing education facilities and caste and gender diversity in workplaces due to affirmative action along with migration has been contributing to the growth of inter caste married couple but in spite of change in socio-political and economic condition in the country, an opinion survey shows still a majority of people in India are against such marriage. It is officially reported that untouchability and caste-based discrimination still are prevalent in our social life in spite of laws such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015, and a number of anti-discriminatory programme such as inter caste marriage promotion.

The NCRB  reports that in 2014, a total 47,000 cases of atrocities were committed all over the country, that include rape, murder, house burning, molestation, robbery, and social boycott against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. A total of 1, 27,341 cases of crimes committed against SCs were for trial in the country during 2014.


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