This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
Caste-ing Couch….it still exists!
She had mehendi on her hands. But no joy in her eyes. It was the first time we were meeting. It was none of my business, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “ Newly married?” She jumped out of her skin, like someone had just tripped her. “No…… I mean…. yes! But how did you guess?” Well… the mehendi? “That was applied during Diwali…” she fibbed. And nearly burst into tears. Okay. So, there was a story happening here. And not a happy one. I waited for her to compose herself. She didn’t require much prompting after that point. Here’s her seven year old saga, pretty much like she narrated it. For reasons of protecting her privacy and identity, I have switched a few details. But those are irrelevant…not important. Her life is!
She is a Mumbai girl all the way – a smart, educated, self- made professional, who lives with her nuclear family and works ten hours a day. He is also a Mumbai guy – like her, a smart, educated, self made professional. He also lives with his nuclear family and works the same long hours as she does. They have been dating for seven years. Both families expressed certain reservations about their relationship. Her mother was more concerned about their well being, if they were to stay with the boy’s family . His father had precisely one issue : caste! That’s it. CASTE!! The boy’s family falls into the OBC category. The girl is a Brahmin. Her folks have no problem with that aspect . His do. Especially his father (retired professional with a college degree). In fact, he feels so strongly about it, he has frequently threatened the girl and tried to force his son to break off with her. Clearly, his threats didn’t work. A few weeks ago, these two wonderful young people, did what any couple in love would – they got married. Not in a temple. Not ‘privately’. But in court. With all the documentation in place.
Then why the secrecy?
Here comes a typical Mumbai crisis : they have no place to stay other than their respective family homes. They have saved enough to rent a modest place and hope to move in soon. Till such time, they have to pretend to be single and continue like nothing has changed in their lives. She put on a brave smile and shrugged, “ I know we’ll find a small place eventually…. till then, we have to keep it quiet.” I was alarmed when I heard her story. More so, because she genuinely believes once they announce their marriage, all will be well. If only! In my head, I am thinking – what if her father-in-law sees red? What if he decides to teach them both a lesson? What if… what if….
I kept quiet.
But not for too long. Without wanting to scare her, I asked a few basic questions. Given that she and her family had been threatened by her husband’s father earlier, had she taken the precaution of going to the nearest police station and informing the cops? No, she hadn’t. Most people don’t. BIG mistake. She has already taken a huge step by getting married to the man she loves. Great. The next step is equally critical… crucial. There are enough horror stories out there revolving around vengeful fathers and murderous community members ready to take law into their own hands and ‘punish’ those who refuse to play by their rules. There was not a minute to lose, I warned her. She had to seek police intervention . The young girl bit her lip, as her eyes filled with tears. “ My parents were willing to do anything…. everything…. even pay an unreasonable dowry. But that man refused to listen. He just kept issuing threats.”
I fear for the young couple. Their love for and commitment to one another are rock solid. Seven years of consistency and faith count for something. But what does one do with narrow mindedness on this scale? Too many couples are losing their lives in the name of ‘following traditions’. What sort of a culture is this that accepts / condones/ overlooks these crimes?
Caste! Our country’s single biggest curse. We are obliged to fight it with all our collective might. Or…. stay doomed.