The news of a famous wedding has been hogging all the limelight in the media throughout this week. The excitement over Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli’s wedding to actress Anushka Sharma has been putting even the drama surrounding Harry Windsor’s Royal Wedding to shame. However, Virushka (their moniker, which wins my vote for the worst couple name. As a friend pointed out to me, why anyone would go with Virushka and not Korma is beyond me) is not the significant development in wedding related news to occur this week. The real story, which flew largely under the radar, was about Sankar and Kausalya, a Tamilian inter-caste couple that fell victim to a brutal murder.
As the media sent foreign correspondents to Italy to cover the celebrity wedding on December 11 and social media overflowed with celebrations, I feel that there is no need to recap this incident. The average news reader might’ve failed to come across the news emerging on December 12. On this day, the Tirupur Court awarded the death penalty to Kausalya’s father and five others for killing Sankar. Sankar, a 22-year-old Dalit, was hacked to death in March 2016. Kausalya’s family, who belonged to the dominant Thevar community, had opposed their inter-caste marriage.
Of course, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma are also an inter-caste couple. But neither of them face the danger of being hacked for this perceived trespass. In fact, going by the reactions on social media, millions would gladly trade places with them.
Kausalya, after seeing her husband murdered by her own family, is now targeted on social media. As The News Minute reported, a Thevar dedicated Facebook group has simultaneously been glorifying Kausalya’s family and presenting them as the real victims. Threats continue to come Kausalya’s way.
The difference between the two couples is obvious. Both Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli belong to prominent upper castes. Sharma is a Brahmin, while Kohli is a Khatri. In Kausalya and Sankar ‘s case, one belonged to the dominant community while the other was a Dalit. It seems there are acceptable inter-caste marriages and unacceptable ones. The Hadiya case demonstrates how deeply entrenched the opposition is to inter-religious marriages.
The idea of acceptable inter-caste marriage and unacceptable ones shows a minor realignment among the upper castes. As endogamy is the basis of a strict caste system, neither of the aforementioned marriages would be acceptable. In a bid to maintain the status quo, the upper castes have consolidated and deem marriage among themselves as acceptable. Many a times does one come across matrimonial advertisements that proclaim, “Bride wanted. OBC/SC/ST please excuse”. If the family is more “progressive”, then the advertisement goes “Hindu-bride wanted. SC/ST please excuse.”
While the hierarchy among the upper castes has been diluted, if not completely eliminated, their prejudice towards Dalits and tribals has not. A marriage between a Brahmin and a Khatri doesn’t shake up the caste system. Like Medieval European royal families marrying among themselves to maintain their status, this is a necessary development for the upper castes to hold on to their privileges. It does not reflect a “progressive” attitude and simply is a consolidation of the status quo. A marriage between a Dalit and a Thevar (or any other upper caste, for that matter) is still seen as a taboo. Hence the violent reaction.
Apart from the Court’s deliverance of justice, Kausalya’s family will receive deserved flak for their actions. But neither the use of death penalty as a deterrent nor the criticism answer the root of the problem. In Annihilation of Caste, Dr B R Ambedkar proposes inter-caste marriage to be the only solution to destroy the institution of caste. He also felt criticising people for not celebrating inter-caste marriages is futile. To quote him extensively,
“Criticising and ridiculing people for not inter-dining or inter-marrying or occasionally holding inter-caste dinners and celebrating inter-caste marriages, is a futile method of achieving the desired end. The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras … Reformers working for the removal of untouchability including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seem to realize that the acts of the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated upon their minds by the Shastras and that people will not change their conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the Shastras on which their conduct is founded. No wonder that such efforts have not produced any results … To agitate for and to organise inter-caste dinners and inter-caste marriages is like forced feeding brought about by artificial means. Make every man and woman free from the thraldom of the Shastras , cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.”