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To C-A-S-T-E aspersions or not?

When it comes to finding a life partner, how important is caste as a criteria? Is it based on your preferences, or your family’s? I can’t help but wonder that in an era where mixed race marriages are becoming more 'visible' within the Asian community, why caste is still at the forefront for some people?

Recently, a close friend of mine split up with her boyfriend of eight months. Their break-up was not to do with compatibility but caste. Whilst her parents agreed (incidentally she was from a higher caste), his parents did not. They asked him to choose – her or them. I asked her if she knew why his parents were so hung up about caste. In his parents' mind, a girl outside of their caste could not fit in with the family. This surprised me somewhat as they were both Gujarati. Language definitely would not have been a barrier, they cook and eat similar types of food, they are all Hindus and pray in the same house of God. I struggled to console her as I was not quite sure how in this situation she would not fit in. Truth be told nor was she. In the end we just sat there confused, in silence.

Later on, I decided to call upon my knowledgeable friend Google. Ironically, there were no universally accepted theories as to how the caste system came into existence. Being a Hindu myself, I was drawn to explore one of the religious hypotheses. To summarise, according to the Rigveda (an ancient sacred Hindu text), Purusha described as a large primeval man with thousands of heads & feet, destroyed himself to create the world and human society. Varnas (castes) were split into four classes depending on what part of Purusha’s body they were from. The Brahmins were created from his mouth; Kshatriyas from his arms; Vaishya from his thighs and Shudra’s from his feet. Putting this into context of society, the higher up the body you come from, the more superior your caste and your professional background. What was surprising is that whilst Hindu scriptures endorse the caste system, none of them endorse caste-based discrimination. Considering this theory, the way I see it is that given a choice every human being would choose to be born able bodied – wanting every part of their body to be present and working as nature intended. If we adore and value all the functions of our body, why would we want to discriminate against others who are ‘made’ from lower parts? These parts of our body are just as important to us and quite honestly we would be lost without them.

Coming back to the present day, it then begs the question ‘when it comes to finding a life partner, why do some people still discriminate against others from different castes?’ Effectively, it is racism within the Asian community. So is this discrimination based on arrogance, or simply ignorance? Perhaps there’s fear of diluting cultural legacies? But if for example you’re already from the same cultural & religious background to start with i.e. two Guajarati’s from different castes, how much dilution do you actually risk taking place? And is it not worth the price of your child’s happiness? Maybe it’s the cultural values and beliefs that were instilled into parents born in the homeland. Whilst things have progressed back home, being cut off from day-to-day life parents have not been able to witness and evolve with these changes. Consequently, these beliefs are being passed down and imposed on the next generation despite being outmoded in today’s world.

Admittedly, 20 years ago it was difficult to challenge the social barriers and marry outside of your caste. The minority that did were usually ostracised by their family and the wider community. But the world is a different place now. For the modern British Asian today, education and equal opportunities are hard fought cornerstones of the society we live in. You can earn and lead a successful life rather than one dictated by your caste’s social status. And this is certainly encouraged; not frowned upon. So why then revert back to and impose the caste system when it comes to finding a life partner? Surely that’s contradictory? As second and third-generation Asians, should we be living in the past to meet the expectations of our parents, whose beliefs are based upon ideals that no longer relate to the real world? Or do we have a moral obligation to break the cycle of caste-based discrimination and ensure that the next generation do not miss out on the opportunities that we may have in the past? After all, isn’t that what our forefathers have been pushing for throughout the decades - a better future for the next generation?



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Comments

I'm Sikh and it's core to my belief and religion that discrimination based upon CASTE is unacceptable and if you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem.


I enjoyed the article it is an interesting topic. It does make you wonder that in a world where there is already so much discrimination based on gender, religion etc why do we as Hindus discriminate amongst ourselves on caste? I love and respect my family but I often question why as modern young Asians are we putting so much weight into our families (& extended families) viewís when it comes to finding a partner, when the reality is that they have so little to do with our day-to-day living? If your perfect partner makes you feel good, there's mutual respect, you have great conversations and well-balanced East/West cultures, why are we letting other people dictate to us that they are simply not good enough due to caste. Ask yourself how many people you know that have married outside of their caste been rejected by their family and ACCEPTED back all within the first year of marriage. I am not saying to defy your parents but for the sake of their pride are you really going to let your perfect partner walk away? It doesn't mean you love or respect your family any less. More over maybe you should be asking yourself; why aren't they showing ME the love & respect I show them? Finding our perfect partner is hard enough why are we choosing to complicate it further?
Hey Alpa, That is an awesome article. Definitely so many girls/guys are too scared to go against their parentís wishes, but what they donít realise is that they are losing a opportunity to meet the perfect partner, especially from being brought up with so many mixed cultures, to discriminate against our own is adding to the problem of racism. I think the modern Asians needs to start standing up for what they believe and understand that they are the ones who have to live with that person, not their parents. We are all still Hindu at the end of the day.
A very interesting article Alpa, I couldn't agree with you more as to why Caste is such a hindrance. Frankly, back in the day I believed that culturally and socially, caste systems were there to help partners and families marry in a common social status. Having lived overseas for so long, it surprises me still today that the young and old generation is still stuck on caste. Having dealt with the challenges of finding the 'right' partner, I say caste has little significance in the fit to find the right match. Maybe background, upbringing and common beliefs is a better foundation than caste alone. My advice - evaluate the society for what it is today and don't assume caste means equality, like I used to...
Good morning, interesting article. One which will cause debate and discussion. But I think we will have to wait for the next generation for change...

 

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