Sakshi Misra case: Inter-caste marriage important, but deeper problem is belief in scriptures promoting hierarchical order

  • Social media and mainstream media are presently full of discussions about a video posted by Sakshi Misra.

  • If we go by Ambedkar's viewpoint on caste, it is futile to merely criticise Sakshi's father, as the real problem is more deep-rooted.

  • Ambedkar, while stressing on the importance of inter-caste marriages, had also envisioned a rejection of the caste system along with it.

Social media and mainstream media are presently full of discussions about a video posted by Sakshi Misra, daughter of BJP's Bithari Chainpur MLA Rajesh Mishra, asking for protection from her father and his henchmen, who are allegedly opposing her marriage to a Dalit.

Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Aazad has urged women like Misra to reach out to the organisation for protection. Indeed, such marriages assume much significance in today's society.

BR Ambedkar, in his book Annihilation of Caste, had spoken about the importance of inter-marriage, remarking, “I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling — the feeling of being aliens — created by caste will not vanish. Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real remedy for breaking caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the solvent of caste.”

In sharp contrast, responding to the Sakshi Misra case, Acharya Pramod, a well-known "spiritual guru", said in a tweet, "You have the right to fall in love, marry for love, and even run away from home. But Sakshi, who has given you the right to put a blot on the family which raised you?" It is inconceivable as to how marrying a Dalit man can lead to a "blot" on a family. Even more distressingly, several people who commented on the tweet agreed with the "spiritual guru."

 Sakshi Misra case: Inter-caste marriage important, but deeper problem is belief in scriptures promoting hierarchical order

File image of Sakshi Misra and her husband Ajitesh. News18 Hindi

With respect to this controversy, some people have criticised Sakshi, while others have criticised her father. However, if we go by Ambedkar's viewpoint on caste, it is futile to merely criticise Sakshi's father, as the real problem is more deep-rooted.

It is not for the first time that there has been enthusiastic support for inter-caste marriage as a means to end the evils of caste. Ram Vilas Paswan, a Dalit politician who is married to a Brahmin, had once remarked that inter-caste marriage is the biggest weapon to end societal divisions. To promote "social equity", the central government offers an amount of Rs 2.5 lakh for inter-caste marriages. (Incidentally, it must be pointed out that only around 10 percent of the applicants get the amount, and there is very low awareness about the scheme.) Last year, it was also reported that the Maharashtra government is planning to enact a law to promote inter-caste marriages.

However, these statements and government policies are rooted in a naïve belief that legislative measures can eradicate caste. On the other hand, Ambedkar had pointed out that caste"is a mental state, therefore it cannot be eradicated through constitutional measures alone”.

Do inter-caste marriages take place in the same spirit that Ambedkar envisioned? The caste system is maintained through endogamy, and thus inter-caste marriages can play a role in breaking the caste system. But such marriages do not necessarily lead to the rejection of the caste system. For instance, the upper caste person in the couple may not stop believing in Hindu shastras, and may not reject the caste system as a whole. Thus, it is a mistaken belief that inter-caste marriages are some sort of final solution.

Ambedkar, while stressing on the importance of inter-caste marriages, had also envisioned a rejection of the caste system along with it. But such a society has not become a reality. Many of those who enter into inter-caste marriages face social boycott and violence, as social and religious norms do not accept such marriages.

It would be inadequate to merely quote Ambedkar's emphasis on inter-caste marriages, while ignoring his other warnings and apprehensions.

Ambedkar further argues in Annihilation of Caste

“You (Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal, in the context of the essay) are right in holding that caste will cease to be an operative force only when inter-dining and inter-marriage have become matters of common course. You have located the source of the disease. But is your prescription the right prescription for the disease? Ask yourselves this question: why is it that a large majority of Hindus do not inter-dine and do not inter-marry? Why is it that your cause is not popular?

There can be only one answer to this question, and it is that inter-dining and inter-marriage are repugnant to the beliefs and dogmas which the Hindus regard as sacred. Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from commingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a state of the mind. The destruction of caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional change.

Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man's inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognised that the Hindus observe caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observe caste because they are deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing caste. In my view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this notion of caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy you must grapple with is not the people who observe caste, but the shastras which teach them this religion of caste. 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.

How do you expect to succeed, if you allow the shastras to continue to mould the beliefs and opinions of the people? Not to question the authority of the shastras—to permit the people to believe in their sanctity and their sanctions, and then to blame the people and to criticise them for their acts as being irrational and inhuman—is an incongruous way of carrying on social reform. 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 in 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. You also seem to be erring in the same way as the reformers working in the cause of removing untouchability. 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.

It is no use seeking refuge in quibbles. It is no use telling people that the shastras do not say what they are believed to say, if they are grammatically read or logically interpreted. What matters is how the shastras have been understood by the people. You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of caste. Will you show that courage?”

Ambedkar further wrote, “The wall built around caste is impregnable, and the material of which it is built contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of Brahmins who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland, and you will get an idea why I think that the breaking up of caste among the Hindus is well-nigh impossible. At any rate, it would take ages before a breach is made., But whether the doing of the deed takes time or whether it can be done quickly, you must not forget that if you wish to bring about a breach in the system, then you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must destroy the religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis. Nothing else will avail. This is my considered view of the matter.”

In short, Ambedkar argued in favour of inter-caste marriages, but said that it should come from within, and it could happen only when we "cleanse our minds."

Ambedkar understood better than anyone else that till the time the root cause is not cured, people will continue to go back to religious books, and caste would continue to survive. If one is serious about eradicating caste, one must destroy the institution completely, rather than merely use a band-aid.

However, it must then be asked as to why several people focus only on inter-caste marriages as a way to end the caste system. The answer is that challenging religious books is fraught with dangers in a society that is deeply religious, and is not willing to heed criticism of it. Therefore, such "reformers" take an escapist path.

In this context, some would point out that Ambedkar himself had married a Brahmin. Indeed, that was his personal choice, which should not be questioned. Similarly, Sakshi Misra too has the right to choose her life partner. However, the point is that inter-caste marriages by themselves cannot end the institution of caste, which is what Dalits are fighting for. Promoting inter-caste marriages is a good idea, but the fight must not end there.

Ambedkar, in another speech delivered at the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference on 31 May 1936, asserted, “Castes cannot be abolished by inter-caste dinners or stray instances of inter-caste marriages. Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of the mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism, we observe untouchability, because we are asked to do it by the Hindu religion in which we live. A bitter thing can be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be made Amrit (nectar).”

Indeed, Hindu scriptures such as Manusmriti, Shatpatha Brahmana, Mahabharata, and Apastamba Dharmasutra all speak about ways to control women. In fact, the whole caste system rests on control over women’s bodies.

As recently as 2014, the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland found that just 5 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste. This indicates that socio-economic changes over the past century have not led to much loosening of social norms. Marriage, in particular, carries social and religious significance, and most people continue to adhere to the caste system in this respect. This will continue to take place unless there are radical social changes.

It would be inadequate to merely promote inter-caste marriage, while most people continue to believe in the sanctity of the shastras. We must go a step further, and end the sanctity of scriptures that promote the caste system. Destroying the institution of caste is primarily in the hands of the so-called upper castes, particularly Brahmins, who continue to be dominant in society. They must awaken their conscience and take action. The final nail in the coffin of the caste system is not inter-caste marriages but the setting of "dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras", as advised by Ambedkar. Will upper castes show this courage?

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2019 23:01:27 IST