On September 14, P Pranay Kumar and his wife Amrutha Varshini were coming out of a hospital when an unidentified man attacked him with a machete. What was later called honour killing as the he had married an “upper caste” woman, a social media campaign by Amrutha has led to social outrage in Telangana. In the following article, Akshay Kumar, published in the human rights site, indiaresists.com, dissects the incident in the context of what he calls “the Great Indian love tragedies”:
What is the reason that love stories get “love” on the Indian box offices, while bullets in reality? In the context of Pranay’s brutal murder, this article explains how this is not about the love in the first place!
Love tragedies have always been great part of the traditions of story-telling world. Not an exception, India goes a step ahead with Bollywood, where love stories are always the center plot of almost every movie plot. Judging on cinema, we can say that Indians are crazy fans of romantic love stories, but then we come across cases like that of Pranay-Amrutha every now and then. Answer lies in gender and caste.
Indian society and the offscreen romance
Caste and patriarchy are the two aspects of the Indian society, which could be blamed for every kind of social inequality. These two institutions have been shamelessly preserved by the Indian people across the religious identities in India, irregarrdless of the fact it finds its origins in the hindu literature & mythology, beliefs, practice, which is just one of many Indian religions.
Had Perumal Pranay had been an upper caste person, and Amrutha Varshini a Dalit, things would have been surely different.
Cutting big explanation short, various philosophies in Hinduism, like Purush-Prakriti, Brahma-Maya, Beej-Kshetra Nyaya (Kindly refer to the internet) establish the superiority of Masculinity over feminity. Then there is the institution of caste, legitimized majorly in Manu Smriti (Patriarchy legitimized here as well). In Hindu-Indian society, Patriarchy is not simply subordination of the women to the men, rather, subordination of the feminity to masculinity, which goes beyond genders.
There have been restrictions on Dalits from engaging in certain “masculine acts” like keeping a moustache, taking out a Baraat procession for wedding, or riding a horse. Similarly, there are restrictions on women when they undergo periodic bleeding, no matter which caste they belong. As also depicted in the movie Padman, there are restrictions on entering a worship place, or kitchen or from touching other people, just as there are for the Dalits.
This all is based upon the idea of “Purity & Pollution”. Adding sexuality and gender gives the finishing touch, where queer persons find their place respectively. Long Caste and patriarchy are thus interwoven; patriarchy establishes a hierarchy in genders, while castes do so for the communities. If we take Indian society is taken for a ladder, a Cisgender-Heterosexual-Savarna Man stands at the top and a Transgender-Homosexual-Dalit Woman stands at the bottom.
Marriage and Caste
In marital relationships, first, one must marry heterosexually, in one’s own caste. “Mainstream” families are patriarchal and patrilocal. Since men’s perspective is the only perspective, inter-caste marriages are okay, if you are bringing in a lower caste woman in a higher caste patriarchal household. It is a strict no-no, to “give away” a woman (in kanyadaan/nikaah/anything) from a higher caste to a man of lower caste. It appeals to the masculinity of the upper caste men, if so happens, and they respond accordingly.
Marriage stands as the most effective tool to preserve the twin institution of Caste-Patriarchy. Love makes people see beyond their caste-kin loyalties, which are essential to preserve caste and prevent them from identifying as a member of a class. Caste is the key that keeps away the class struggle, by creating “artificial hierarchy” where most of the people find themselves in a better position than many others, and remain content.
Between two persons earning same meager amount of income, one belonging to an upper caste will have something that sets him apart, & in a better position than the other, so they fail in forming solidarity. Existence of caste is thus a political necessity of the ruling class as well.
The religious leaders never fail to demonize the filial love and exclusively promote conjugal love. Rape-convict Asaram Bapu’s initiative “Matri-Pitri Poojan Divas”, meaning Mother-Father worship day, to be observed exactly on 14th February, the Valentines Day (despite the fact that hindu festivals are observed not according to the Gregorian calendar) is a class room example.
The extremist organizations terrorizing the streets of India with their violent vigilantism, specifically on the Valentines Day serves the same purpose. These leaders are thus right when they say that the western culture, which does not looks at sex as “just a necessary baby-making process” unlike the Indian religious philosophies (Hindu-Jain), is a threat to the Indian culture. Sex in modern moralities, is an exclusive characteristic of filial love, which the guardians of the twin institutions of caste-patriarchy must control.
Some might give example of “Radha-Krishna” to contradict this, but it must be taken into consideration that the Bhakti movement which popularized worship of these deities was a reformative movement in hinduism, which came in fairly later period. While the human requirements for the deities (their idols) are acknowledged in the temples, like need of bathing, clothing, feeding and even excursions, their sexualities are not. The love between the deities is “exclusive-ised”, and filial love between humans, on the basis of the physical expression of it (sex), is demonized.
Since deities are not humans, their love doesn’t threats the institution of caste. Not every love is threatens it, that’s why, not all lovers all killed. It is only patriarchy when it comes to violence in consequence of the inter-religion marriages.
Popular Cinema and Caste
“Sairat” movie, where lower caste boy elopes with a higher caste girl and both of them gets killed consequently, is directed by a Dalit person, brings out the factor very accurately. Its remake “Dhadak”, directed by a savarna person, failed to address caste appropriately, for the obvious reason of director’s non-Dalit identity. Another reason might be the fact that Bollywood has been lately focusing only upon the urban dwelling “mainstream” audience, who find themselves unable to see caste because they only thing that gets their attention is their mobile screens. To suit to what they believe in, “Dhadak” plot hints at the class, and makes a love tragedy out of it. Hope this article makes through the mobile screens of the millennials, and breaks the bubble of “Casteless Urban Spaces”.
Recently, caste has made great ugly reappearances in the university campuses as well. Not that it was non-existent before and did not claim lives, it is only now, students’ movements have effectively talking about it, post Rohith Vemula incidence.
Like every other peoples, Indians are indeed fans of love stories, even greater than others. It is just the caste-patriarchy that holds strong. It only takes love in the hearts of people, to make them look beyond these loyalties. When some of them do, there are always people who feel offended, and react in violent ways. Stories goes around as how there used to pin drop silence in the theater halls, as the movie “Sairat” ends violently and people undergo a shock. We are experiencing same shock as the caste-patriarchy spills blood of our beloved citizens.
There is silence and its not helping. Rather, the media has successfully painted it to be “love tragedy”, which could be cashed later as a movie plot. Young people are the most precious resources that we could ever have. Every loss of young life, weighs down heavily on India’s future, and we shall pay the price of our silence.