Caste has cast its spell on the Indian psyche once again. Or maybe, it was always there and continues to fix societal rules and conversations.
Be it the mention of the word ‘Dalit woman’ while speaking of the recent gang-rape and death in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras or a marriage between a ‘Dalit MLA’ from Tamil Nadu and a ‘Brahmin woman’ from the same village, it is evident that we just cannot get over our caste identities.
A. Prabhu, an AIADMK MLA from Kallakurichi (Tamil Nadu), married a woman named Soundarya, 16 years younger to him, on Monday (October 5) and the media as well as social media got flooded with vituperative comments against the couple based on caste, age, colour, and education.
A. Prabhu happens to be a Dalit, who hails from a town called Thiyagadurgam in Kallakurichi district. His bride, S Soundarya, is a Brahmin, who hails from the same town. Unable to accept the marriage, the groom’s father, Swaminathan, tried to immolate himself, but was stopped just in time.
While a section of the society welcomed the inter-caste marriage, some others were critical of the tie-up.
The PMK, which has a considerable Vanniyar vote bank in the area, always plays its political game on the grounds of caste. The party’s founder has allegedly made remarks in the past that Dalit boys are luring Hindu girls into marriage “by wearing T-shirts, jeans and coolers”.
Even though PMK is in an alliance with AIADMK in the state, the usual accusations its leaders throw at Dalits were also hurled at Prabhu. Actually, Prabhu got a little more, mainly because the groom is a ruling party politician. So, he was accused of “threatening the girl’s family” — a script from any masala Tamil film.
It is interesting to note that it was CN Annadurai, on whose name the AIADMK has been founded, made inter-caste marriages legal in the state in 1967.
This wedlock, though, is being criticised for other reasons beyond politics. First, for the age difference between the bride and the groom. While the groom, Prabhu, is 35 years old, the bride, Soundarya, is just 19.
Secondly, the father of the girl, Swaminathan, has accused Prabhu of luring his daughter when she was a minor. Prabhu issued a video message to refute the charges. He said, “We were in love only for the past four months.” The third criticism is that by marrying a 19-year-old, who is pursuing her studies, Prabhu, himself a B.Tech graduate, has put an end to the girl’s education.
All these charges show how Tamil society is still intellectually, emotionally, culturally backward when it comes to marriages. There are certain questions that need to be asked. Is there a rule that allows or disallows a girl to fall in love at a particular age?
The girl’s father, Swaminathan, said Prabhu has been close to his family for many years as a friend and he treated him like his son. Based on the trust factor, some feel Prabhu had to bear the brunt of society’s perceptions and judgement more than Soundarya did.
Furthermore, a case of compelling the girl to marry him against her wishes was made. However, photographs of the couple together show there was not a grain of truth in the allegation since the bride was seen “smiling and calm”.
Speculations rose that the groom, for all his influence as a politician, could have married the girl without her consent, in a more secretive way using his political power. Prabhu, however, married the woman in front of his family and relatives.
The final issue to address with regard to this marriage — the presumption that all men stop their wives from taking up education after marriage. A number of soap operas relayed on television channels show wives being supported by their husbands to continue their education and become an IAS or IPS officer. While such operas show husbands being supportive of women to pursue their dream, why does society expect the same from all wives? Why can’t we let women decide what they want?
Kali Poongundran, deputy president of Dravidar Kazhagam, which regularly organises inter-caste marriages, said, “Inter-caste marriages and self-respect marriages are happening across the state for many years. It became a topic of discussion since a ruling party MLA has married a girl from the Brahmin community.
“The Hindu scriptures call these kinds of marriages pratiloma jati where a man from the ‘lower class’ marries a woman from a ‘dominant caste’. If a man from the ‘dominant caste’ marries a woman from the ‘lower class’, it is called anuloma jati.
“While a Dalit man or a Brahmin man marries a woman from the Brahmin or Dalit community respectively, it is welcomed and celebrated. But if a girl from the Dalit community or Brahmin community marries a boy from the Brahmin community or Dalit community respectively, it is criticised, because ours is a patriarchal society. So, women are not given such freedom,” he asserted.
“But women today are aware. No Brahmin girl is tonsuring her head now if she lost her husband like they did in the past,” he added.
Menawhile, writer and activist Prof Saraswathi said only those with vested interests oppose such marriages. “Had the groom come from a dominant caste, the marriage would not have got such media attention.
“Also, the couple did not have any grievances about their age difference. Others have no right to make it an issue. Furthermore, the girl can continue with her education if the groom will allow her. Why should we be prejudiced? If they live happily without any qualms, all this noise will subdue automatically,” Prof Saraswathi said.
“Inter-caste marriages would continue to see opposition until the patriarchical mindset changes,” Saraswathi added.
Speaking to The Federal, Prabhu said he will let his wife continue with her education. “I did my B.Tech in Civil from SRM University. I know the value of education. So I will allow her to continue her studies. With regard to age difference, both of us are fine with it,” he said.