Thursday, April 01, 2010

The die is caste

Last week, a court in Haryana gave the death penalty to 5 members of a family and sentenced the panchayat to life in prison. This indeed was a landmark judgment of sorts as it was the first (if I remember rightly) where honour killing was condemned where the local panchayat and the family members were involved. I'd have been happier if the panchayat were also given the death penalty as in every other walk of life, we also hold the head who gave the orders equally guilty of the crime - be it a Dawood or a Hafiz Saeed or a Raj Thackeray.

The larger point in question here is the role caste still plays in 21st century India. Critics of this blog and closeted supporters of the caste system will point out that this case happened in a rural, backward village in Haryana (OK, when we say rural village in Haryana it's a given that it's going to be backward) and we can't equate the mindset of the people living there who continue to live in a feudalistic society, with the mindsets of those living in urban India. Well, if you're willing to buy that crap, I've got a dog that lays eggs that you might be interested in buying.

Caste is prevalent in almost every section of society and isn't exclusive only to the rural societies. Ask most of your friends and colleagues around you about marriages that happen to their relatives, and if it's arranged, then caste and horoscopes are matched and only if a 'perfect match' is found, will the parents on both sides agree to get down into discussing the nitty gritties of the marriage. I know of people here at work who actually shudder (you can see them shake) when asked if they would marry someone of a different caste, so when that kind of a mindset is prevalent even amongst the urban, English educated in our society, why is it that we only assume that the problem lies with the uneducated or the undereducated folks in the countryside? Is this an inherent hypocrisy that we've accepted as 'natural' for those living in the cities and driving cars and watching English news channels and claiming to be part of the great Indian middle class?

Now I'm not saying that just because you would want to get married to someone from the same caste makes you like the panchayat who ordered the death of the couple, but ask yourself whether the initial point of origin of the problem is the same or not in both cases. The way people choose to deal with the issue of couples marrying out of caste may vary - in some cases (very rare, but I'll go on to call them the model citizens) parents and family have absolutely no problem and the couple are allowed to be live their lives happily, but even in most urban households (usually orthodox ones), either the boy or the girl or both are threatened (physically, emotionally, or both) and/or there is outright opposition because the other person is from a different caste, and finally the orthodox rural folks who believe in the system of family honour trumping all individual rights and opt for 'taking out' the vermin from their midst. I also know of people who sugar coat the 'caste-based marriages should be the norm' argument saying that it's the only way they can ensure that there would be no conflicts after the marriage because of different traditions and practices owing to their different backgrounds. What a silly excuse that is - almost like saying that I have a bad habit and you have a bad habit, and I can't let you continue with your bad habit because, well, it's bad!

Why am I calling these 'bad habits' is probably the most obvious thing going around in your head. Simple - if whatever conflict arises from traditions because of a difference in caste (or religion), conflicts that are bad enough for people to change/choose different persons to make their spouse, means there's a problem in the thinking of one (or both) of the parties involved. So my point is, do you really want to marry someone who is of such a mentality, where he/she cannot accept someone else because that person was born to parents who belong to a different caste, a birth where they really had no say in? And if you do agree that the weird superstitions, beliefs, and practices that religion and caste bring along (I'm not talking about cultural traditions here, only the unproven beliefs and practices), then why is caste such a big deal to you? Think hard and objectively, and you may realise that deep down, it probably is ingrained into you just by the way you were brought up. And if that is true, why do you send your kids to schools where it is taught that religion and caste shouldn't matter and shouldn't be used to differentiate between folks? You might as well send your kid(s) to a madrassa or some such religious/caste-based seminary and at least save yourself from being called a hypocrite.


Jil Jil Ramamani said...

Ok, let me play the Devil's advocate.

Keeping aside all evils that caste-ism propagates, what's wrong with caste based marriages?

When you look for someone to marry, you check for compatibility at various levels - lifestyle, thought process,etc. Inevitably, to a large extent, people of a caste share certain practices and beliefs. People brought up in similar lifestyles would adjust quite well to each other.

Just because compatibility comes under the garb of caste, would you reject it?

Karthik Shetty said...

I think you've kinda given the answer to the question yourself. While the genuine reasons for a caste-based marriage may be plenty, the reason people are opposed to inter-caste marriages is because they think the person from the other caste is inferior to them, and wouldn't want to have their family line have impure blood in it.

Also, to say that belonging to the same caste can assure you of same/similar thought processes is not a very smart thing to say. Siblings itself have varying thought processes, so how can you expect people belonging to some imaginary division to think alike and be compatible?

And if someone's lifestyle is going to be governed by hocus-pocus and all that, then I guess it's best if they go in for a caste-based wedding, to spare people like me the trouble of finding out the hard way that they're kooks! :)
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