It is said that love makes the world go round. While the phrase is sweet-sounding for lovers of all hues across the globe, love of inter-caste couples in India makes the world stuck in the mire of torture often ending up in murder most foul. After seventy two years of political freedom, being ranked the world's sixth-largest economy by GDP, the third-largest by purchasing power parity and aspiring for the title of the world's fastest-growing economy, India is still trapped under the claws of caste discrimination.
While caste-based differences are not absent from other countries and religions, the gory episodes of the so called ‘honour killing’ where inter-caste couples are burnt alive or hacked to death in broad daylight often by their own parents is a diabolic distinction unique only to India. ‘Honour killing’ is India’s crying shame where women are not considered as human beings with lives and choices of their own. India’s honour killings are the cruel wages of love between two lovers of different castes. These gory deaths are commonplace across the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The blind reason behind honour killings is the idea that a family’s honour is tied to a woman’s chastity.
India still remains a country where parents let caste hold sway over the life and happiness of their children and ready to kill them if they choose their partners outside their own caste. As the French philosopher and thinker, Simone Weil rightly said, “Liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense consists in the ability to choose.” When the ability to choose is crushed in the name of caste-honour, at the expense of the very life of a human being, the collective conscience of a nation should stir to a mighty revolt.
Instances of inter-caste couples being targeted by angry family members who disapprove of their relationships have been frequently grabbing headlines. 19-year-old Kausalya and Sankar, 25-year-old Nandhish and Swathi, 27-year-old Harish and Meenakshi, 24 year old Kevin Joseph and Neenu Chacko, an upper caste-Amrutha and a dalit Pranay et al are few names of the many inter-caste love birds across India who paid for their love with their very lives last year.
The current year too has been a mute witness to the brute killings of inter-caste lovers in various states of India. Right from January this year newspapers have been screaming of “honour” killings across India: the mutilated remains of a 16-year old girl from Gaya in Bihar for her love for a boy of another caste, the murder of a woman over inter-caste affair in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar, a Maharashtra man stabbed to death in broad daylight for marrying his classmate of another caste, a class 10 boy abducted and lynched by the girl’s family in Jharkhand, a UP family that set ablaze the boyfriend of their daughter in Dalhai village.
One of the latest cases of caste-horror that shook India was the death on May 1 of two months pregnant Rukmini Ransingh, who had sustained 70% burns in the hands of her own father and uncles and finally passed away while undergoing treatment in Pune’s Sassoon General Hospital while her husband Mangesh Ransingh, a mason, was treated for 50% burns at the same hospital. The gruesome murder at a village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra was over the couple’s inter-caste marriage against the wishes of the woman’s parents.
Dalit-women are the worst victims of male assault in caste-ridden India. When it comes to the safety of dalit-women, the police and vote-bank politics seem to work hand in gloves to draw political mileage. This criminal irresponsibility recently was exhibited in the horrendous gang-rape of a dalit-woman in Rajasthan’s Alwar on April 29 where the police allegedly kept her waiting until the polls got over.
The one condemnable commonality in all cases of caste hatred is the police apathy to the victims and registering an FIR in time. The government needs to do more in sensitizing the police and legal officers about the criminality of honour killings and their sacred duty in protecting the life and respecting women as fellow human beings vested with dignity and fundamental rights. Only a government truly sensitive to the agonies and aspirations of the weaker section, dalits in particular, can create social equality in India. Together with that, a total transformation in the traditional mindset of Indians is crucial to achieve social justice, human equality, women’s safety and a caste-free India.
In the current run up of the Lok Sabha election where caste politics being desperately played by the various political parties even to the extent of stitching up a rainbow-representation of castes right up to the constituency level tells of the caste-power in India in deciding who will govern us and how well.
Caste has been the Achilles' heel of the Indian society that renders a huge chunk of its population vulnerable to inhuman discrimination from birth to death. Rooted in religion down the centuries and utilized by vote bank politics, caste runs its writ on the very existence, profession, marriage, food, dress, social interactions, nay the whole range of human rights of the Indians.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi were two of the most prominent personalities who protested against the untouchability in India. While Ambedkar was born in a low Mahar caste family, Gandhiji was born in one of the upper castes families. Despite his upper caste background Gandhiji boldly violated the caste rules: While in his first ashram at Phoenix, he was instrumental in orchestrating the marriage of Henri Polak, a Jew with a Millie Graham Downs, a Scottish Christian. On his return to India from South Africa he brought with him an untouchable boy Naiker and adopted an untouchable girl Lakshmi as his daughter. He later married off Lakshmi to a Brahmin boy in 1933. He not only allowed his son Ramdas to marry someone from different sub-caste, but also allowed his son Devadas to marry a girl who was from another Varna altogether. He also allowed the solemnizing of the wedding of a Brahmin A.G. Tendulkar and an untouchable woman Indumati at Sevagram Ashram on 19 August, 1945. In all this bold steps he had this to say: “If Varnashrama goes to the dogs in the removal of untouchability, I shall not shed a tear.”
Such righteous courage is the need of the hour.
(Published on 13th May 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 20)