Growing up, almost every Indian girl has witnessed people asking her what she wants as her wedding gift and who she is going to marry. It was no different in my case. Always wanting to get married, I used to imagine myself in the most beautiful saree ever taking ‘pheras’ around the fire. But along with this fairy-tale dream, came the harsh realities of my social standing – my caste and its affiliations.
I am a Dalit, a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University and serve as a Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Delhi. And I married Raj Singh a lawyer, NUJS graduate and an entrepreneur.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar host some of the most colourful marriages of the country but also have a tinge of red from the blood of their Dalit daughters who are often “showed their place in society” by the sons of Thakurs, the dominant caste of the region. The Shastras mention marriage as one of the most important duties of man – to take care of his wife and children is said to be his greatest Dharma. But what this narrative ditch the mention of the nitty and gritty that get hidden behind all the shimmering sarees, lustrous lehengas, and glittering gold of the pomp. There have been numerous mentions of the infamous rituals and restrictions of the Indian marriage system. Be it the caste conundrum, repetitive dowry discourse, mysterious kidnappings of Dalit women, or the superstitions around Vivaah Panchami – the list of problematic practices prevalent in the desi society goes on.
My Story Of An Inter Caste Marriage
It was not an easy decision to marry someone from a Thakur community, every day reading about the caste-based violence used to stir up my soul. But you know there is a guy who comes and sways you with his charm and demeanours. I met my husband Raj, a Thakur from Allahabad in a webinar organised on reverse migration. He had asked a question to the speaker which drew my attention towards him. His question showed that was aware of what it meant to have cultural hegemony in our stratified social system. It is one thing to be born into an upper-caste family, but to be aware of the attributes of your own caste, to have caste-consciousness is something else altogether. That is what caught my eye. As Bourdieu talks about social and cultural capital, which Upper castes Hindus have in this country but to have a privilege and to acknowledge that privilege are two very different convolutes. Raj was aware of social standing and what it entails to be an upper-caste man in India.
Ours was a first and one-of-a-kind wedding held in Patna that saw two women pandits, specially called from Maharashtra, solemnise the marriage and pronounce the couple man and wife. Something that might seem like a way to trendy was a huge step towards disassembling the notions surrounding the power dynamics. The gesture ensured the cultural empowerment of women all across, an issue very close to my heart.
Getting priestesses on board was not the only factor that made this wedding the first of its kind. It was also an inter caste marriage between a Dalit woman from Bihar and a Thakur man from Uttar Pradesh. A predator-prey relationship that lasted for many decades was brought to a sudden halt in this part of the state. It was also a dowry-free marriage which encouraged the hundreds of people gathered there to follow the same. The problem of dowry is just one of the many deep-rooted problems which come with being a part of the patriarchal family system in our country. Dowry deaths are still a leading cause of death after marriage among women.
Inter Caste Marriage: Ours was a first and one-of-a-kind wedding held in Patna that saw two women pandits
Another interesting aspect of the ceremony that is concentrated mostly in Bihar was the commencement of the same on Vivaah Panchami. The superstition around this day goes back to the marriage of Sita and Ram. It is believed that whoever gets married on Vivaah Panchami will have to face the hurdles in their married life like Maa Sita. Viewing it from the perspective of sociology, Sita can be considered as one of the earliest feminist icons in Hindu mythology. People seldom consider her acts of rebellion against her husband’s will as heroic, but she definitely taught us that it is unnecessary for a woman to prove her purity in order to gain respect. Getting married on Vivaah Panchami was a message loud and clear claiming that it is about time we stop villainizing women’s voices about their own integrity. Contrary to the popular belief that Bihar lags behind in progressiveness, this incident from last week was an eye-opener.
This “modern marriage” has truly broken the barriers of everyday discrimination and dilemma revolving around the rituals of marriage and set an example to shed any reservations against the practices involved in this holy institution in real life and not only on social media.
Co-authored by Dr Aditi Narayani and Debarati Mitra. The views expressed are the author’s own.