Arora and Kanojia are an inter-caste couple who had to fight for their families’ acceptance. Photo: Courtesy of Jagisha Arora
Jagisha Arora describes her marriage with Prashant Kanojia as perhaps “the quickest” in the history of Indian marriages. Both 29-year-old journalists, they first started chatting in the reply section of a common friend’s photo on Facebook. “He immediately sent me a friend request,” Arora said, smiling. “Before I knew it, we were chatting for hours on end.”
After just three dates, Kanojia proposed to her for marriage. For Arora, it seemed the most natural thing to do. She loved how comfortable she felt with him. “He was entirely free of judgements. Always smiling and always cheerful.” However, she had not anticipated the kind of opposition her upper-caste family would mount at the prospect of their inter-caste marriage. “My parents simply told me to leave the house, and they would keep sending threatening messages. When Prashant and I reached the police station to seek protection, there was already a complaint by my parents, saying they are not responsible for my safety anymore.”
Arora comes from the Khatri community, which is considered a dominant caste in India. Kanojia is Dalit, a community considered outside the caste system. Dalits have been historically deemed as “untouchables,” and have faced centuries of a form of apartheid on the basis of their surnames and caste occupations. Inter-caste marriages are still controversial in India.Three years on, Arora’s parents have begrudgingly accepted the marriage but her extended family still rejects this “impure union” between an upper-caste woman and a lower-caste man. Even though Arora has no regrets about the marriage, she misses her cousins and the time they spent together as children.
However, more than anything, she is grateful for the education she got in unlearning casteism through her marriage. “The first book my husband asked me to read shortly after our marriage was Annihilation of Caste by Dr B.R. Ambedkar,” she said. “The book opened my eyes to just how deep casteism runs in our society.”Arora said that much like most upper-caste Indians, she was ignorant about the contributions of Dr Ambedkar. “Most of us negatively see him as the person who got reservations (reserving seats for certain sections in society including government institutions, jobs, and legislative positions) for lower caste people. We don’t know that he was actually the chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution. His book analyses how even patriarchy is upheld by casteism in Indian society.”
Arora gradually realised the casteism that she was unwittingly holding onto all the while. “Being born in an upper-caste household, you are conditioned. Whenever I would do something wrong, my brother would ask me to stop behaving like our maid and I would get deeply offended at the comparison. Similarly, in a Punjabi upper-caste household, words such as kanjar (nomads) or chamar (traditionally untouchables who were into leather making) are casually used as abuses. I realised only later that these were actual castes that continue to be exploited in India.”
For Arora, her intercaste marriage was a life-changing moment in more ways than one. She said that if it wasn’t for her marriage, she would have continued to live in her bubble all her life. “I was ignorant but I was ready to learn. Many upper-caste people refuse to learn and actively choose ignorance.”She recounted how, when she was a child, the children of sweepers and house help were given water in plastic cups that were to be discarded immediately. “I didn’t make much of it then, but only now do I realise that casteism manifests itself in these subtle ways even in our cities.”These days, whenever they post a picture together, the trolling is more vicious than ever. Being a part of her husband’s world now, she can see how deeply casteist people can be. “Only a few days back, [my husband] received a comment that said he bagged an upper-caste woman like me through reservation,” Arora said. “We’re in this together now and are prepared to fight anything. My eyes have not only opened to the realities of my caste privilege, but I’ve also found a supportive partner who has helped me educate myself. And I’m only too grateful to have him by my side.”This article is written in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For similar articles, check out www.LoveForAll.infoFollow Arman Khan on Instagram.