Last week, as the Bollywood release 2 States celebrated a cross-cultural romance, a bride was burnt to death in Mandya, just an hour's drive from Bangalore, because she hailed from a different caste.
The police arrested her father-in-law Billaiah for the crime. His explanation was he had killed Shilpa because her caste could pose an obstacle to the marriage of his daughter.
And such cases are not rare. Many families get violent to "resolve" issues raised by caste, religion, region and language.
But for city couples, the problems are more subtle. Violence triggered by caste differences often goes unreported.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Kamal Pant says in the past year that he has held office here, he has come across only two couples who sought protection against family.
City Express got some first-hand stories about how caste works in relationships.
Sreedevi Bringi says sometimes even well-intentioned parental interference can wreck a relationship. "My Central College classmate was forced by her academic-activist parents to marry a Dalit. He moved abroad with her for his job," she recalls.
After some spats, she wanted to leave him, but was coaxed by her parents to stay back. He killed her later, saying the arguments just wouldn't end.
Sonia (name changed), broke up with her boyfriend because he was from a different caste. "Dating someone from another caste is okay. But when it comes to marriage, things are different. I had to end my relationship because the odds were too many."
Sometimes love finds a way. Ambika, a 'loud Punjabi girl' from an Air Force background, met Arun, a Bangalorean Tamil, and as it happens in the movies, their love story began with a fight. Within a month, they were in love.
Ambika's father had no objections. Her mother, who had always been her best friend, disapproved clearly. The parents took Ambika back to her hometown of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. She wasn't allowed to receive Arun's calls or letters. Finally, after two years, both parties agreed and the marriage is going strong.
Rohini and Priyesh Shah's story began when a Gujarati boy and a Tulu Brahmin girl met, married and started an event management company. But to get to this stage was a challenge.
The girl's parents were a little easier to convince than the boy's. Priyesh's father was totally against it. Astrologers were consulted and the girl turned out to be a 'manglik.' She was even made to marry a tree first.
At one point, Rohini had decided to call off the idea. Priyesh took up the responsibility of convincing the parents and after six difficult months, they agreed. A smaller question: Was it going to be a Gujarati wedding or a South-Indian one?
Yogeshvari, a Punjabi, and Tejas Doshi, a Gujarati, met at a spiritual guru's ashram. After three years of courtship, trouble began to brew. Her parents didn't want her to marry out of her caste. His parents tried to discourage her. Finally, their spiritual teacher intervened. And love triumphed.
Not all stories end so well. In Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate, an entire show was dedicated to how caste divides can destroy couples in love. The show had featured Love Commandos, a voluntary group that helps couples unite in the face of parental disapproval. The organisation today runs "shelters" all across India to help couples on the run.
Ibrahim, a Bangalorean pharmacist, was in a relationship with Catherine, a nurse who worked in the hospital attached to the pharmacy. When he expressed his wish to marry her to his parents, he was met with shock, anger and opposition.
Unable to handle the pressure, Ibrahim suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised. As he was recovering, his "well-wishers" managed to convince him that the girl had used 'black magic' to win him over.
In a few days, he called Catherine and broke off the relationship, and even made her sign a document saying she would never disturb him ever again. Ibrahim is now married to a woman of his community and has a child, while Catherine, who lost her parents at a young age, is struggling to make ends meet.
As Kamal Pant says, “In the two cases we got, we directed them to the local police station and gave them the inspectors’ numbers, and we haven’t heard from them since.”
He attributes the low numbers of caste-related crime against couples to urban culture and the anonymity that a big city like Bangalore provides.
“We do hear of honour killings in rural areas, yes, but not in Bangalore. Why, in areas like Tilak Nagar and Tannery Road, we hear of inter-religious marriages. It’s not necessarily because they are liberal but more because society is more porous there,” he adds.
When it comes to complaints between married couples, Pant says, they aren’t exclusive to couples from different socio-cultural-religious backgrounds. “Our police stations are filled with them, whether it’s across castes or religions, whether they are love marriages or arranged marriages,” he says.
Siddalingaiah, founder of Dalit Sangharsha Samiti and former Karnataka MLC who has been striving to introduce five per cent school and job reservations for children from inter-caste marriages, feels such marriages require thought and planning.
“Ideally, the couple should wait till both the bride and the groom are financially independent. At least one of them should have a steady income,” says the Dalit poet, who is married to a Brahmin, a former student.
His reasoning: family support may not be forthcoming.
He says both in Bangalore as well as in other places, inter-caste and inter-religion marriages are on the rise, as are the problems that come with them, honour killings topping the list.
“That’s a wrong term for it—the act is a reflection of an beast-like attitude. It started up in the North and has spread in Karnataka as well. It’s mostly the brides who are killed, sometimes the couple,” he says.
However, he’s hopeful of change. “Kids these days don’t care about caste and religion, and with time, perhaps, parents too will be able to see from their perspective,” he says.
Officials in the police department support such marriages, and NGOs step in, too.
“Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has attended several events in support of the cause, and the current advocate-general Ravivarma Kumar was the chairman of the Backward Classes Commission,” he continues. The scriptures have nothing against people from different castes and religions tying the knot, he explains. “On the contrary, there are so many examples of such matches,” he says. “Veda Vyasa is the child of such a couple — Parashara, a brahmin and Matsyagandha from the fishermen community.”
(With inputs from Chetana Divya Vasudev, Indumathy Sukanya, Shyama Krishna Kumar and Natasha Doshi)