Where there is no caste bar
(Outlook :20 Aug. 2012)
(Outlook :20 Aug. 2012)
Bhimrao Ambedkar treated inter-caste marriage as a solvent of caste hierarchy. In 1948, at age 56, he married Dr Sharda Kabir, a Saraswat Brahmin. The New York Times described the union as being more significant than the wedding of a royal to a commoner. Most marriages still fall within the strictures of societal rules, but there are couples who have defied the boundaries of the caste taboo and followed in Ambedkar’s footsteps. While the caste factor is incidental for some, all of them do believe that inter-caste unions can chip away at stereotypes.
Geddam Jhansi was as nervous as any other bride the day she took the plunge with Subramaniam Amancharla in 1989. The wedding rituals were short and crisp as the couple exchanged garlands in the presence of 30 relatives and friends. But there was nobody from the groom’s side. Jhansi remembers how Subramaniam, a Brahmin, sent a photo of their marriage and a note by post to his family, revealing that he was now married to a Dalit (Mala) woman. His family did come around in the end, but the early going was difficult. Jhansi’s marriage to Subramaniam was arranged by her uncle, who was a social reformer and a proponent of Telugu culture. Jhansi was simply following the advice of her elders. “But I trusted them and, sure enough, everything has turned out right. We were following Ambedkar’s ideology and hoping for the best,” she says. Jhansi now runs an organisation that fights for the rights of Dalit women. Subramaniam is a law professor in Guntur. Their son, Jabali (the name taken from a character who fights Lord Rama in the Ramayana), 23, a techie with TCS, uses the surname Amancharla, but cites his ‘other caste’ identity in his documents. When a child, his parents refused to identify him as either a Brahmin or a Dalit—much to the anger of school authorities.
It was never going to be smooth sailing for Kranti Bhavana, an upper-caste Kayasth, and Sudeep Kumar, an SC belonging to the Dhobi caste, in caste-riven Bihar. They met while studying for their MBBS at Patna Medical College and were together at AIIMS. Though they were a couple for nearly a decade before marrying in 2007, parental and societal opposition cropped up. “Even my father, a sociology professor, whom I always perceived as being above caste or creed, asked me to give it more thought. My mother and grandmother were completely against the union though they accepted that Sudeep was bright and a good human being,” recalls Kranti, who teaches in the neurosurgery department at Lucknow’s Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences. Fortunately, Kranti’s brothers stood by her. “My brothers respected Sudeep and supported our relationship,” she says.
“Though both families knew about us, accepting it wasn’t easy. This is not what one’d expect in the 21st century,” says Sudeep, who works at a private medical college in Lucknow. “In Bihar, both in school and in college, everyone I met would first ask me about my caste. It was so humiliating.” Kranti adds, “Despite his academic excellence, he never received the same recognition that I did for a similar performance in academics.”
When G. Vivek, a Mala, fell in love with and married Saroja, a Brahmin, in an Arya Samaj temple in 1990, their families, though friends, were taken aback. But they have stuck together. “There is no upper caste or lower caste at home. My wife is the boss,” laughs 54-year-old Vivek. The Telangana MP recalls people in his community worrying he might alienate himself, but Saroja won them over. Her father is a vastu practitioner from an orthodox Brahmin family. “My only condition was in terms of diet. I continue to be a vegetarian and he’s a non-vegetarian. Our four children are totally non-vegetarian,” she says.
“It’s a pity that even 65 years after Independence such marriages are few and far between,” says G.P. Chandraiah, assistant professor at Allahabad’s G.B. Pant Social Science Institute. “If inter-caste couples continue with their rituals, then they are not a model for others. They need to connect to the larger causes of empowerment and liberation.” Mallepalli Lakshmaiah, who runs the Centre for Dalit Studies in Hyderabad, says that, when it comes to inter-caste marriages, society tends to magnify quibbles that are part of all marriages. “Inter-caste unions are a step forward and necessary but the ideology of people matters. Do they give importance to caste or not is the most important question,” says Lakshmaiah. In some marriages, like that of Ghadiyarm Srivatsava and Jwalasree, this is indeed the case. Srivatsava who married his wife, then Magdalena (a Dalit Christian), in 1990 says he is now alien to Brahminism. Srivatsava’s father was a Sahitya Akademi award winner and he grew up in an orthodox household. He met his wife when he was 36 and she was 22. “My father’s only objection was that she was too young. I would have fallen in love with her anyway. Caste is purely incidental.” Srivatsava sees caste as more of a political issue than a social one. “The institution of caste survives in India because of political motives.” Agrees Peeyush Misra, a 27-year-old lawyer, a Brahmin who fell in love with Neetu Rawat, a chamar girl when he was studying in Lucknow university. “You must have the courage to take the initiative. Be ready to defy social barriers and there is nothing to stop a union like ours,” he says. Some of his relatives did raise eyebrows, but his father was all for leaving the children to decide their paths in life. And have there been any upheavals in their personal lives because of caste? “We have been married for two years now and consider ourselves the happiest couple on earth,” say Peeyush and Neetu in chorus.
By Madhavi Tata with Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
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