Breaking caste: Love stories in Black Letters

by Rupesh Kumar

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Inter-caste marriage and its ramifications in a caste society are at once personal and political for me. As a Dalit man married to a Nair woman, that too in a Hindu style wedding, I am faced with a number of complex issues, including questions about my political stands, from dalits as well as non-dalits. I was/am prepared to tackle each one of them. And as a film maker, exploring the topic of inter-caste marriages was a fascinating and compelling choice for me. 

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Earlier, I had been following the relationship travails of a friend, a dalit. Over discussions, I pitched to him my interest in making a film that portrays the underlying caste politics of love stories such as his own. He was a victim of intra and inter caste marriage tensions in which, the social and political agencies of Kerala interfered and killed his marriage. Understandably, my friend was hesitant to share this painful part of his life on camera: had he agreed, my video documentary “Love stories in Black Letters” would have had different dimensions to it.

Then I decided to look at this topic from a different angle; our team made a journey to 'Thudi', an NGO in Vayanad, the tribal students there had composed a love song and we wanted to hear it. We were also actively researching the political aspects of intercaste marriages as effective interventions to dismantle the caste system with special reference to Kerala. 

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The documentary is fifty minutes long and was shaped around interviews of various dalit political thinkers of Kerala. Mr. Arun, a research scholar in University of Hyderabad, Mr. Ravi, a Professor,  Ms. Simi, a research scholar in University of Hyderabad, Mr. Shyam Krishnan, a student and Documentary Asst. director, Mr.Jayasurya, a research scholar in Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, Mr. Hanu.G.Das, a research scholar in University of Hyderabad and Mr. Abhilash and Ms Ajmol, both students, were interviewed for this documentary.

One of the criticisms we received was: 'Why so many interviews? Where are the visuals?' We replied, our effort was to have a spectrum of young Dalit intellectuals on the screen, to document what they had to say, we needed the audience to hear from them directly. This was an intellectual, emotional and political exercise that needed no visual enhancements or distractions.

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During the interview with Mr. Arun , the research scholar from University of Hyderabad, he had the following to say: 'Inter-caste marriages in Kerala in every spectrum is still a myth; throughout history, even if there were some movements like ‘sahodara prasthanam” led by Ayyappan, which supported inter-caste marriages, Sahodaran Ayyappan did not himself lead by example for he claimed that in personal life, there are ‘some’ problems. But when we consider the history of Ambedkar, his second marriage with a Brahmin woman at later stages of his life was not a political decision. She was his physician taking care of his health ailments like diabetes and other physical disabilities: this relationship turned personal and they married. His relationship with his first wife Ramabai, a dalit woman finds a poignant place in his book “Riddles of Hinduism” and in its preface he writes: 'this book is dedicated to Ramabai, who was there with me when there were no friends for me'.

Arun and Simi are life partners; in the documentary, they analyzed when marriage becomes a social and economic tool for social convergence and when an inter-caste marriage of a Dalit is questioned. The ultimate question is: who is questioning you? If it is an elite or an upper caste questioning your relationship, it can be disregarded for before they question you, they should break their caste walls. And if the question arises from a dalit woman, it is a very significant question, for dalit educated males marrying into another community only means the dalit woman is being again and again sidelined.

No political agency, including the communists/leftists, of Kerala throughout history have ever implemented inter-caste marriage as a tool of social transformation, progression or convergence. Inter-caste marriage has never been theorized by communists in their political studies or practiced by their leaders or by the so called leftist/ communist societies in Kerala themselves. And this stagnancy of Kerala society has resulted in the stagnancy in the movement of inter-caste marriages in Kerala. And this denial by different political agencies including Communists is their denial/ignorance of the existence of caste system in the social strata, and their inability to address this social issue is the root cause of this stagnancy.

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Mr. Ravi, the dalit professor from Kozhikode pointed out in the documentary that the educated dalit youths in different parts of Kerala experimented with inter-caste marriages and most of them were successful and were not supported by the Hindu Brahmanic society of Kerala, but were fueled by their own energy of education, economy and social status. But he raised a significant question: whether these inter-caste marriages could uphold their anti Hindu characteristics throughout their life after these marriages? Even if they had broken some preconceived notions of marriages and caste through Hinduism, they could not sustain their anti-casteist life and customs throughout their life. These people could not break the barriers of religion, especially the walls of casteist Hinduism at every stage of their lives. They think that their responsibility is over simply by being in an inter-caste marriage. And their offspring were brought up in the same old Hindu fashion which nullified all the political characteristics of their inter-caste marriage.

The Kerala campus scenario and experiences also shows no difference. Mr. Jayasurya, the researcher from Mahatma Gandhi University, commented that the campus is the place where racism plays a great role. Every romantic relation with the growth of the classes in colleges is filtered with more and more caste criteria. Even in the jokes of campus, there is race, color and caste. In the student political atmosphere, caste plays a great role in its power structure. Mr. Arun, one of the interviewees in this documentary has already written an article, published in Madhyamam weekly in Malayalam, in which he addressed the role of caste in the campus politics of Kerala.

In the leftists student’s organizations like SFI, caste is a deciding factor in leadership and in campus relationships, student teacher interactions, friendships etc., and that means these student political organizations never confronted the issues of caste in the campus in Kerala. And these students who come out of the Kerala campus atmosphere are against inter-caste marriage in its political anti-casteist manner. These student institutions and the government never put inter-caste marriage as a debate in their curriculum. This is because the power structure that keeps the campus alive is powered by the same unexamined but implicit ordering of the caste system. As the entire system is against inter-caste marriages, campuses also reflect the same prejudices. This can be interpreted quite easily while viewing cinema especially bollywood, kollywood, and tollywood, which always ‘kills’ all inter-caste relations/love relations.

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And the established media will often present some sugar coated anti-political love stories from different communities and glorify them, but never let them be analyzed in an anti-caste perspective with a powerful transformational potential for a regressive society.

The most revealing insight that we gained from producing this documentary was while we interviewed Mr. Hanu G Das, another researcher in Hyderabad University. He said, that inter-caste marriages have to happen, but before that, there should be inter-caste marriages within Dalit communities itself. For, there are a lot of different castes fighting each other in Dalit communities. And the caste system has its worst effect within dalit communities: among dalit communities of Kerala there are untouchablities and discrimination within themselves. We should first overcome this discrimination within ourselves, then we should think of breaking barriers across other castes. Being a Paraya man from southern Kerala he married a Pulaya girl from Northern Kerala. They are now fighting with their political realities and living together. This knowledge of caste discrimination within the community was shocking for me.

The documentary 'Love stories in Black Letters' was selected in the Humanity Explored film festival of culturueunplugged.com and is still being screened in that online festival. We also looked forward to its entry in one or two short film, documentary film festivals in Kerala, but got denial and we think that that is the significance of this documentary.

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You can watch the documentary 'Love stories in Black Letters' here http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/5315/Love-Stories-in Black-Letters  

 

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar

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