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Symbolism of Inter Caste Marriages

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  • Published
    16th Feb, 2022


Surrounding the anti-caste movement, a topic remains hotly contested. It is about inter-caste marriages as a way towards the annihilation of caste. Activists, thinkers and leaders are divided over this.

Dr Ambedkar’s famous quote from Annihilation of Caste, wherein he stated that inter-caste marriages were “the real remedy for breaking caste”, is often cited. Ambedkar thought “fusion of blood” would create the feeling of kith and kin.


  • The concept of caste system and religious discrimination are like a bane on the path of India's progress.
  • For centuries Indian society especially Hindu society has been divided on the basis of caste system and religion.
  • The problem of caste system was so deep rooted that it took years for the Indians to come out of that idea.
  • Even today also India is struggling to come out of this social menace.
  • And when we talk about Indian marriages, which are inter-caste and interreligious, it seems like a taboo to most of the people.

The brief aims to analyse the extent and pattern of inter-caste marriages in India.


Understanding the Caste system in India

  • Caste has for long been viewed as a distinctive feature of the Indian society.
  • Dating back more than 3,000 years, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories –
    • Brahmins
    • Kshatriyas
    • Vaishyas
    • Shudras

  • It is not merely an institution that characterizes the structure of social stratification in India. ‘Caste’ has often been seen to represent the core of India.
  • It has been viewed both as an institution as well as an ideology.
  • Institutionally, ‘caste’ provided a framework for arranging and organizing social groups in terms of their statuses and positions in the social and economic system.
  • It fixed individuals into the structure of social hierarchy on the basis of their birth.
  • As an ideology, caste was a system of values and ideas that legitimized and reinforced the existing structure of social inequality.
  • It also provided a worldview around which a typical Hindu organized his/her life.

Features of caste system

  • Segmental division of society: Castes were groups with well-developed life-styles of their own. The membership of the groups was determined by birth and not by choice. The status of a person depended not on the amount of wealth he possessed but on the rank that his caste enjoyed in the Hindu society.
  • Hierarchy: There was definite scheme of social precedence amongst castes. Each group was given a specific status in the overall framework of hierarchy.
  • Restrictions on feeding and social intercourse: There were minute rules as to what sort of food or drink could be accepted by a person and from what caste.
  • Civil and religious disabilities and privileges of different sections: Segregation of individual castes or groups of castes in the village was the most obvious mark of civil privileges and disabilities. Certain sacraments could not be performed by any caste other than the Brahmins. Similarly, shudras and other lower castes were not allowed to read or learn the sacred scriptures.
  • Lack of unrestricted choice of occupation: Generally each caste considered a particular occupation as its legitimate calling. To abandon the hereditary occupation in was not considered right.
  • Restrictions on marriage: Caste groups observed strict endogamy. Members of a caste group married only within their castes.

Diminishing relevance of caste in understanding the multi- cultural Indian society

  • Due to various factors such as modern education, industrialization, urbanization, Indian Constitution Indian multi-cultural society has started giving less consideration to the ‘caste’.
  • Growing dissociation between caste and hereditary occupation: No longer one can deduce a person’s caste by looking at his occupation. A person who is working in a salon may not be a barber.
  • All castes have given importance in the socio-political field: There is improvement in the socio-economic conditions of lower caste people. They are protected by the different policies of the government. They get equal power with other caste categories in expressing their decision in nation building.
  • Change in the caste identity: People are no more identified according to their caste identity or ascriptive status; rather they are identified according to achieved status. Educational qualification, occupational position, income etc. are the bases of identification of the individual.
  • Now Indian society is more tolerant of inter-caste marriage: The number of inter-caste marriages is increasing day by day, particularly among the urbanized and educated group of each caste.

Status of Inter caste marriages:

  • The Indian Human Development Survey reported that 95% of Indians still find partners within their sub castes.
  • Many a time second or third-generation educated Dalits who have managed to access quality education, and landed respectable elite jobs, find the prospects of marriage outside caste available to them.

What then happens to their inter-caste marriages?

  • Their union is unlike any other marriage. It is a political act — an achievement of love over caste.
  • The Dalit person marrying outside caste, say to an upper caste, finds himself or herself duelling between the struggle of their community, and the culture of their spouses and in-laws.
  • The children of mixed-caste parents also grow up amidst profound misunderstanding of their complicated backgrounds.
  • They are brought up in a caste-neutral or a-caste environment, which essentially means being subjected to the dominant caste parent’s identity.
  • The closest they come to caste is while availing caste reservations or visiting their Dalit family.
  • The notion of inter-caste marriage has become a passport for those who have lived the life of oppressing Dalits directly or by virtue of their participation in anti-Dalit prejudices, to now suddenly assume the position of misrepresenting Dalits.

Government Scheme

The 'Dr Ambedkar scheme for social Integration through inter caste marriage' was started in 2013 to encourage inter-caste marriages:

  • It offers Rs 2.5 lakh if one of the partners is a Dalit.
  • One of the requirements is a recommendation from a sitting MLA / MP and government officer concerned.
  • The scheme wants to appreciate and promote the “socially bold step” of the couple.
  • When countries worldwide are now integrating rapidly across color, racial, ethnic boundaries, the Indian government has to offer incentives for couples to marry outside rigid boundaries.


Coming back to Ambedkar’s speech quoted above, he further suggested that to break the caste system, it was pertinent to destroy religious notions, the sanctity of the Shastras on which caste was founded and not occasionally bring about “inter-caste dinner and inter-caste marriages, which were futile methods of achieving their ends”.

What Ambedkar is arguing is not against inter-caste marriage, but he is inviting us to go deeper, beyond social sanctions. He wants us to be participants in movements that would upend and eventually change mindsets.


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