For Kalaiarasan, a Dalit youth and Jhansi Rani, a girl from an upper caste community, getting married wasn’t a rosy tale. After facing opposition from their families, the couple eloped in 2014 to get married and start life anew in Tiruvarur.
But soon the couple was faced with financial difficulties as Kalaiarasan’s income from driving autorickshaw wasn’t enough to fend for both of them. So, when he heard about the Centre’s Dr Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages, he didn’t lose time to apply for it through Dr Ambedkar Foundation in New Delhi, which is responsible for the scheme.
Under the scheme, inter-caste couples are given a financial assistance of ₹2.5 lakh. Applicants are required to send their applications for availing benefits under the scheme within one year of the marriage.
Even though Kalaiarasan had complied with the guidelines, it came as a shock when he was told through a letter that he was ineligible to avail the assistance. The letter said the couple was not eligible for the assistance as their marriage was not registered under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Kalaiarasan couldn’t apply again as the letter came when the deadline of one year had elapsed. Devastated, he approached the district administration, but was turned away without any assurance.
Kalaiarasan’s isn’t an isolated case where beneficiaries of the scheme have been denied financial assistance under one pretext or the other. There are many other inter-caste couples from Tamil Nadu who have met with the same kind of fate.
Hearing a plea of one such couple on June 22, Justice GR Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of Madras High Court ruled that even though the scheme requires a couple to register their marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, applications of those who have registered their marriage under Tamil Nadu Registration of Marriages Act cannot be rejected by the managing body of the scheme. The PIL was filed by the couple last year.
However, activists say there are many lapses in registering the marriages in the state which leads to the misuse of funds allocated for the state.
“Most of the times inter-caste marriages are registered under The Special Marriage Act 1954. The details are usually limited to the names of the couples and the time and venue of the marriage. Many non-Hindu couples use the certificate to claim their marriage as an inter-caste one and avail cash incentives and employment opportunities under the Tamil Nadu government’s welfare schemes. But under the Hindu Marriage Act, couples can get the eligibility certificate for the financial assistance only after submitting their community certificate” says Alagesan, founding president, Inter-caste Couples Association of India.
In the 34 years of its existence, the association has helped hundreds of inter-caste couples to avail financial assistance under the Tamil Nadu government’s Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Ninaivu Intercaste Scheme, through which a sum of ₹50,000 is given to couples. The association has helped three inter-caste couples avail the financial assistance under Dr Ambedkar’s scheme, which was introduced in 2013.
“We urge the couples to register their marriages under Hindu Marriage Act too, even though they have registered their marriages under the Special Marriage Act or under the compulsory Tamil Nadu Registration of Marriage Act. But many do not listen to us and later it becomes a roadblock while they apply for assistance,” adds Alagesan.
Stating that rejecting application of inter-caste couples only because they haven’t registered their marriage under Hindu Marriage Act was “absolutely wrong”, Viduthalai Rajendran of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, says officials are interpreting the rules according to their own convenience.
“Ambedkar encouraged inter-caste marriages so that endogamy sees an end. Since, caste system exists only in the Hindu religion, the marriage solemnized between a Dalit and a non-dalit alone can be considered as an ‘inter-caste’ marriage. It’s not important that the marriage should be registered only under the Hindu Marriage Act. The marriage becomes valid even if it has been registered under any other marriage acts. Even the Hindu Marriage Act accepts self-respect marriages. So, Dr Ambedkar Foundation cannot reject the applications and it should give the cash incentive” he said.
The incentive should be distributed according to the population percentage of scheduled caste in a state. Tamil Nadu has 7.17 percentage of schedule caste people and therefore 36 couples need to be given the amount. But in the last six years, since the introduction of the scheme, only a handful of couple from the state have been disbursed the amount, despite many applying for it, say activists.
Coimbatore based advocate Sivakumar, who takes up cases involving inter-caste marriages is of the view that the state government should take up the responsibility to ensure that the inter-caste couples got their due.
“The Foundation should also consider marriages registered under other marriage acts. It should only confirm if either of the couples is a Dalit. It is irrelevant to consider their religion” he added.