At a time when many parts of India are increasingly divided over issues of faith and caste, the Kerala government is taking a step towards inclusivity. A new project by the Department of Social Justice wants to create “safe homes” for couples who marry outside their caste or religion.
For generations of Indians, the ancient code of social stratification known as the caste system has defined how people earn a living and whom they marry. Even as Indian courts have pushed for inter-caste and inter-faith marriages to kill the brutal caste system that has led to not just marginalisation and prejudices but also many horrific ‘honour killings’, the conservative belief of marrying within your community continues to restrict couples who fall in love outside their caste or religion. So, the idea of a safe home is to offer a secure space for inter-caste and inter-faith couples being threatened by their families so they can hide out and move forward with their lives.
Along with voluntary organisations, the Department of Social Justice is working to open such homes in all districts of the state. The Department will also be handing out Rs 30,000 ($407) to help couples in the general caste category find their feet, while those in Scheduled Caste categories will be given Rs 75,000 ($1,017). They have also acknowledged the need to accommodate inter-faith couples who do not have any official reservations to provide safety and backing to them.
‘Honour killings’, most often, the murder of a woman or girl by male family members who justify the action by claiming that the girl has brought dishonour on the family, are a big issue in India. A 2018 Amnesty International report found that more than 200 hate crimes including ‘honour killings’ related to caste took place in India. This move comes after the Supreme Court issued a directive to all states in 2018 to set up safe spaces for couples being intimidated or threatened by their families. However, Kerala sped up this process after the horrific honour killing of a 23-year old Dalit Christian man suspected to be done by relatives of his upper-caste wife in the Kottayam district of Kerala in 2018.
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