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.