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SSA Blogathon – You Can Fall for Chains of Silver, You Can Fall for Chains of Gold

There’s a siege underway in a town in India. In a neighbourhood there is a ring of bored police in khaki uniforms in the shade. The streets are empty. They are there to keep the peace. But what they mainly do is keep people in.

What’s this all in aid of?

Kids fell in love. They grew up. They ran away to get married. And for that they must hide. The mob bays for their deaths with riots, threats of death and rape.

Meena and Surya live in a police shelter under a constant guard for love. They are marked for death by both their “communities” for love.

They aren’t special to look at. A 21 year old bride and her 22 year old husband aren’t special anywhere else in the world and no one would have noticed them elsewhere. Even their elopement would have been more puzzling than ire raising. Except… Surya is a Dalit. An untouchable. The very bottom of the Hindu caste pyramid. The spiritually unclean. He grew up in a one room house while his father worked at the poverty line to feed his kids and get them educated. Meena may as well have come from Mars. Less than 200 metres away is her two storey house. She’s from a higher caste. They grew up together behind walls and modernisation helped pull down those walls. They are high school sweethearts who stayed together through university and got jobs that helped him break through those walls by making them independent and giving them the ability to remain “free”.

In a modern India the young men and women have to fight for the right to love who they chose against ancient and pointless rules. The silence of the neighbourhood is a reminder of the deep dark old India hiding under the shiny veneer of the emerging superpower.

When Meena’s family found out men from their caste pulled Surya’s family out of their house and demanded that they “give Meena back”. They said that they had no idea where she was and their own son was missing. That night men from Meena’s caste entered the Dalit ghetto and threatened to rape, pillage, loot and murder the dalit women unless Meena returned. Hundreds fled.

The next night 400 men from Meena’s upper caste formed a mob. The police were simply brushed aside, the men were armed with pistols and knives. They disabled the electricity, looted shops, homes, destroyed water tanks and assaulted people. The women and children having fled were “safe”. The women hid in darkened houses. In a scene reminiscent of the end of MASH, they stuffed cloth into the mouths of their babies so that they wouldn’t cry out to keep them safe because they would be killed.

Another woman hid in a cupboard, another ran the day before. One broke a hole into a tower drying cowdung and hid there covered in straw.

Their homes were robbed. Their life savings ruined.

All for love.

Now it was their turn.

The suffering inflicted needed someone to blame. The dalits blame Surya for marrying Meena and bringing this pain on them. Surya’s father plans to move away from the town that has been his home for generations. He knows it’s a matter of time before he is attacked and even killed. He recalls the beatings his son took. He advised Surya to not see that girl and to stay behind “the wall”. But love is blind after all to silly things like walls and beatings. Surya endured all that to be with Meena.

Surya used his education in commerce to work in the city. One day he vanished. Along with Meena. By the time their families realised they were married in a simple civil ceremony and had requested police protection. Honour Killings are known to occur and they feared for their lives. Soon, delegations arrived to talk them into a divorce. Meena stood her ground even when Surya began to bend. It finally took the threat of suicide for them to back off but it struck a note with Surya’s father. Her determination didn’t win him over but it won his indifference and that’s as good as one can hope.

But he fears what will happen to his son. That one day someone will kill him. That police protection cannot last forever. The politicians certainly have no interest in standing up for what’s right. The mayor and village committee nearly brokered a “truce” between the Dalits and the others. But a few “hot heads” ruined the deal. Why? Dalits would drop criminal charges and demands for compensation. The upper caste would end the siege and threats. The criminal charges were rape, assault and battery, destruction of property, livelihood, homes, business and robbery. Those that wanted to accept it were scared of more “attacks”, those that didn’t were those who believe that accepting such a deal would just be accepting the status quo. That Dalits don’t get justice.

The politicians? Well they say that “the old generation understands, but the youth? They are educated and they know there is a law that two adults can marry but they  don’t understand that reality and the village law is different”.

Meena and Surya will never come home. They will never be safe there. Because of love.

And I resurrect an old argument here. Whether a man loves a woman, or a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman…. a person loves another person. Anyone who tries to destroy the happiness of these people does so not out of love, not out of tawdry and fragile honour, but out of hate.

Be it the anti-gay movement in the USA, or the casteism of India. The story of Meena and Surya is not unique nor is it the last and only such story. There are people who I know who are expecting a child who got married in the same way. There are young men and women who have to make the decision of whether they face this kind of hate for love. The chains of silver and gold don’t mix in India.

I would rather fall for pretty strangers and the promises that they hold.

I am blogging as part of the Secular Student Alliance’s blogathon. I am trying to aim for a blog post every so often unlike the shambolic haphazard events of Tuesday. In addition? I am accepting “requests”.

If you wish to donate to the Secular Student Alliance then the link is here. And yes, you can suggest forfeits.

Comments

  1. MadHatter says

    I work with a couple of Indian men who are clearly from well-off families. They contend that the caste system doesn’t mean anything anymore. How common is it to believe that? Is it more heavily enforced in the villages than in the cities? Is it enforced in the cities at all? When they said that it struck me very much like educated whites saying racism wasn’t an issue in the US. But I couldn’t say anything as I know so little about it.

  2. CaitieCat says

    OT: I love this song, in two different versions, the Knopfler/Dire Straits and the Indigo Girls’ queered cover. Very nice. Think I’ll go put some music on.

  3. says

    @MadHatter #1

    Depends on the person, and their caste origins as well as rural/urban.

    Often, the worst of the caste violence isn’t between the upper castes and lower castes, but between one caste and another that’s just one step lower. So it’s possible for someone from the top few rungs to never actually see it, if they live in a relatively modern environment in the city. At worst, an inter-caste marriage would end up no worse than a marrying the “wrong” person would in a western country. I’ve seen the best case too, where the marriage is not just accepted, but accepted wholeheartedly.

    But it’s always just below the surface.

    This is the case Avi’s talking about. Rural, probably agrarian, Haryana. The girl is a Ror, which is a dominant landlord community, and they fell in love at college. Where the environment is far more liberal (though still fairly conservative compared to the west).

    Personally, I think it’s going to take some time for this environment to break down completely. But the change is definitely under way. In this situation, the “best” strategy may be for such couples to just leave their parents and live in another city for a few years. Eventually, after enough time has passed, parents often reconcile. Unfortunately, other busy-bodies in the community won’t. Their interest in something like this is to preserve “status”. Often, they’ll be the poorer members of the higher classes, looking to make themselves a bit more important (and incidentally loot, pillage, rape and murder – notice the 70000 rupees missing from one house? It’s very lucrative, caste violence…). Politicians of the particularly sleazy kind will egg them on – great for votes! But if they’re out of sight for a while, often they’re out of the thugs’ mind until the parents get lonely enough to want to see their son/daughter again.

    In the meantime, their example slowly makes youth in both communities start to think…

    The process is real slow, and it needs more than just legal intervention. Economic growth will help – who’d risk violence and arrest for a paltry 70000 rupees if they can make that amount in their daily lives? Better police response would really help, but I don’t think a few dozen cops can do much against a mob. Most of all, we should find some way of undermining the Khaps and other caste-based assemblies that actually incite these kinds of crimes.

  4. Sercee says

    This story is heart rending. I wish so hard that they could take such a gift and bask in it, not that they would be forced to endure so much suffering and risk for something that everyone supposedly strives for and names as a worthwhile cause. So many movies about love, so many romantic stories, every culture has them, and yet the “Romeo and Juliet” version seems to thrive and destroy so many people. It doesn’t have to be that way – and even though so many don’t approve of this couple’s relationship, they would have a much easier and happier life if they just let it go instead of going out in mobs to destroy everything around them. It won’t ruing their way of life if their child is happy in a different way than they’d prefer. Plus, torching and raping seems much more work than tilling the field, playing with the kids, or watching a Rom-Com…

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