In 2016, a regional film called Sairat (Marathi) became a national sensation: It was a coming-of-age story of two college kids from different castes, falling in love, getting married and, in one quick moment, getting killed because of the girl’s opposing family. And while the film got rave reviews for the searing portrayal of caste-based violence in India, the truth in the country has been reported to be way more brutal. Intercaste marriages remain a big taboo in the country, and honour killing is the most problematic outcome of it.
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau data from 2016, some 77 murder cases had “honour killing” as the motive”. In fact, a survey by Social Attitudes Research for India has observed that the majority of people are anti-intercaste and interreligious marital unions.
Which is why, on June 18, when the Madras High Court stated that acceptance of marriage between two persons of different castes is the only way to uproot the caste system in India, it reaffirmed a nation-wide struggle to fix the social evil. The statement came after a petition landed in the court earlier this month by a couple from different castes who wanted protection against threats from their opposing family.
It was while hearing the case that Justice N Anand Venkatesh observed that intercaste marriage is the only solution to “root out the evil of caste system”. He said, “These are days where the younger generation is slowly moving out of the ill-effects of caste system and that is the reason for a lot of intercaste marriages that are happening in the society. These changes must be accepted by the elders and this change is infact good for the society in rooting out the caste system.”
The judges also ordered the police—who had failed to act on the complaint—to take stern action against those who threaten people for entering into intercaste marriages. The police was also told to give protection if the threat persists for the newly-married couple.
Intercaste marriages in India, according to a 2011 survey, only account for 5.8 percent, and the statistic is reported to be unchanged for 40 years. In fact, reports have also suggested that the level of education also affects caste marriages, with the level of education of the groom’s mother being an important factor there. But with the Madras HC endorsement of intercaste unions adding to similar stances taken by prominent judicial bodies in the past, it becomes an important message that the rigid Indian caste system is not just about the social ostracisation, but also a serious impingement of individual fundamental rights.
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