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?