Unmarriageability: the unspoken stigma behind dishonour killings

As part of preparing a fact-finding report, NGO Evidence met the parents of the dishonour killing victim, Hariharan.

By A.B.Karl Marx Siddharthar

Unmarriageability  noun

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1.       (in India in the present) the practice of not marrying outside one’s caste

2.       refers to the caste-based endogamous practice

3.       a form of discrimination widely considered as a custom within the Hindu society

Unmarriageables  noun

 often Unmarriageable

1.      (in India in the present) a member of a Hindu social class (or caste) commonly referred as Dalits that was considered by other classes to be the lowest

Last year, the Honourable Madras High Court acquitted the main accused in the gruesome murder of Shankar – the ‘unmarriageable’ boy who married an upper caste girl. Now, Hariharan, a non-Dalit boy from Karur, Tamil Nadu was murdered in a similar fashion for crossing the caste boundaries and loving a non-Dalit girl. The only difference is that Shankar was murdered after his marriage by the goons employed by his wife’s parents, while Hariharan was murdered by the parents and the relatives of the girl whom he loved. Though Dalits are usually construed as ‘Unmarriageables,’ this gruesome murder brings out the stigma of Unmarriageability existing across the castes, all throughout its hierarchy. The dishonour killing of Hariharan is not going to shackle the common (casteist) man but the Unmarriageables and the civil society will knock the doors of the court in this case too. The NGOs fighting against the dishonour killings, though feeble and pathetically left alone among the Human Rights pressure groups, have stepped in this time too to seek justice in the court halls. Struggling to find right legal expertise in the criminal law, the hurdles and challenges for them are going to be the same as it existed in the dishonour killing case of Shankar.

The murderers of Hariharan should be convicted. But is that enough? Does the road to justice end with that? Enacting the long pending legislation, Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011, that seeks to declare Khap Panchayats unlawful can be cited here. But still, is the road to Justice so narrow and short only to accommodate the Bill? What is the heart and soul of the Goblin called Caste? Why there is no discussion about the stigma of Unmarriageability that leads to these dishonour killings? Why is our response to caste murders always reactionary? Why does no one talk about this stigma that is the source? These are some preliminary questions I want to raise?

The Dalit movement which has become more or less like a condolence movement during the acute occurrences of dishonour killings and caste atrocities is required to organize itself better in order to secure and safeguard the social, educational and political platforms for the Unmarriageables. In this regard, I put forward my argument that the issues of Unmarriageability could be the ideal bedrock to organize the Unmarriageables and remove from their movement the negative fallouts of being segmentary and decentralized. It is unity and unity alone that can render the Unmarriageables with hope, strength and determination. And this unity should not be a mere outcome of community belonging but must be founded upon the indignation to reclaim the sacrosanct of human personality. Such a foundation alone would make the Unmarriageables more organized, persistent and determined in realizing their demands. It also would change the present pattern of Dalit activism from being reactive to proactive.

I do hope and believe that the issues of Unmarriageability could effectively serve as the uniting rallying point among the segmented and decentralized Dalit groups. It potentially could infuse solidarity within the Dalit movement as a whole to move towards a definite and concurring action plan. Also, Unmarriageability being a social stigma could whistle-blow and counter the varied aspects of the problem of caste. Let me jot down the reasoning. Firstly, it places before the Unmarriageables who in majority remain as Hindus to whistle-blow this unacceptable practice of Unmarriageability. Secondly, the stigma of Unmarriageability holds the young generation claiming themselves to be liberated from the clutches of caste accountable to the caste-dictated decisions to which they readily abide while choosing their life partner. To them and a certain section of Unmarriageables too who were made to believe that caste is fast disappearing, Unmarriageability is the social parameter that indicates the intactness with which caste is surviving. Thirdly, the concern to expose and fight Unmarriageability would effortlessly unite the numerous Dalit groups that differ among themselves on the religious, social and political agendas and outlooks. Because Unmarriageability, in one way or the other, becomes the justification by itself in supporting the causes that each Dalit group believe in and is working for. This being the most important functionality of exposing Unmarriageability as a stigma, it is the fourth reason to which I seek to gather your attention now: Unmarriageability would sow the seeds for annihilation of caste.

Unless casteless and classless society is created, there will be no progress in India. It is one strong statement Dr.Ambedkar made and always believed in. Undoubtedly, he has become the uniting symbol of the Unmarriageables. But there can also be no denial in holding that the Unmarriageables are not yet united in scheming a unanimous and definite action plan to annihilate caste. In this context, I propose that exposing Unmarriageability is both a social and political pre-requisite to expose the freedom with which caste operates and in the long run such exposure would positively lay down the political path to annihilate caste. Unmarriageability as a stigma alone has the driving force to stream the Dalit activism towards annihilation of caste. This stigma is the bottom-most rock on which the caste structure is founded and by crushing it those above it are to be shaken for sure.

When I say that Unmarriageability would propel the Dalit activism towards annihilation of caste, the rationale involved here is more an outcome of the prohibition imposed on the inter-caste marriages than about any specific intention to promote such marriages. The fight is because of the prohibition and not about promotion, though both, in the end, happen to be inevitably overlapping. If destroying endogamy is the foremost condition to annihilate caste, then exposing the stigma of Unmarriageability is naturally the first step towards it. And forget not, the attempt to purge Unmarriageability is no less a small endeavour as it would eventually make the caste sacrilege. The attempt is only a cry to reclaim the sacrosanct of human personality.

I have no hesitation to conclude that realizing the stigma of Unmarriageability and fighting against it would sow the seeds of unity among the Unmarriageables. A fight against this stigma would create the required ambience and space among the Dalit groups that have become segmentary and decentralized, to concur in their action plan and function as a common front. Each might have their own reasons to fight Unmarriageability but the fight would pave the way for their unity. By borrowing Dr.Ambedkar’s words for inspiration, I can only say that by marching upon the road that questions Unmarriageability, if Unmarriageables walk long enough, must necessarily lead them to Unity. Also, to take up the issue of Unmarriageability is rather a strategy to expose the caste prejudice dominant in this nation. By highlighting Unmarriageability, the Unmarriageables are not just confronting the casteist forces but the caste system itself. It is not purely an effort concerned to handcuff the Indian public or the young generation from practising their caste dharma but a social justice reasoning that tries to secure the destiny of the Unmarriageables.

A.B.Karl Marx Siddharthar is the author of ‘UNCASTE’ subtitled as ‘Understanding Unmarriageability: The Way Forward To Annihilate Caste’. The book is available worldwide. The author can be reached here [email protected].