Let us call her Divya. Because that is her name.
And this is not a story that merits a ‘name changed to protect identity’ clause. Divya lived in a small town and was studying to be a nurse. And had the same dreams for her life like any other 21-year-old – a good job, a decent man to marry and a comfortable life. Her parents, ofcourse, supported her in her dreams. But Divya made one mistake which no girl in her situation could hope to get away with. She fell in love – with a boy from a lower caste. Illavarasan was 19. He was an undergraduate student specialising in computer science. He wanted to be a police officer and had also applied for a job in the police department. He was a bright and confident young man with dreams for his life. The kind of young man any self-respecting girl would have liked to get married to. But Illavarasan was a Dalit. One of the millions whom the Varna System labelled the lowest of the lower castes.
The two knew that they would not be allowed to get married, not a traditional marriage. They did what most young people do at their age. They eloped and got married. Illavarasan took his bride to Chennai and the two of them began a new life. Films and love stories and books and hearsay had taught them that ‘parents would be angry for a while and then come around.’ Popular wisdom said: ‘Wait for a while for things to settle down and all will be well.’ They believed it. After all, this is the 21st century and we live in what pretends to be a forward-looking democratic country.
For a while, the story followed the prescribed script. Divya’s parents lodged a complaint that that their daughter had been kidnapped. Divya appeared before the police and said that she had left on her own and was happy with her husband. The police tried to reconcile both the families and everyone thought the matter had come to a close.
This was not to be. Unable to deal with the fact that his daughter had chosen a man from a lower caste, Divya’s father committed suicide. The relatively ‘upper caste’ community, to which Divya belonged, went on a rampage and set 300 Dalit huts on fire. One woman died in the melee. This naturally left a huge scar on youngsters. They had, afterall, just fallen in love. And what could be so wrong about being in love?
The marriage went on for another seven months, when one day Divya disappeared from the house. She was found with her mother and she said that though she was happy with her husband and in-laws, she was unable to live with the guilt of her father’s death and the mayhem that was caused in the name of her marriage. The poor girl, however, added that if her mother accepted her husband, she would like to return to him. Illavarasan, on the other hand, said that he would complete his education and take up his job – he had got selected to the police force and get his wife back. Again, it looked that this story could possibly have a happy ending.
But this is no movie. And real life is not played out on a movie screen. In real life, the script writers are hardly human and utterly ruthless. A day after Illavarasan expressed confidence in carving out a life for himself and getting his wife back — he was found dead on some railway tracks, ostensibly he had killed himself. Under the circumstances, most probably, murdered. The police are investigating.
This is not the story of Ishaqzaade. This is a real life drama that was played out in Tamil Nadu for the last seven months. The two youngsters and their personal story had been perverted by rival political parties to power their own personal fortunes. And, of course, through this whole show, the intelligentsia – the writers, the journalists, the leaders of the civil society sat quiet and watched it unfold. Of course, we tut tutted over each incident several times in a day, and maybe many days at a time. But there are few organisations, institutions or even individuals who can come to the aid of two youngsters on the run from this caste crazed society.
Our own fears, and definitely, our own prejudices prevented any kind of action being taken to help the youngsters. We as a country can carry candles and march to the India Gate against corruption, but caste is an issue that is untouchable. And if anyone dares to defy it, we will watch fearfully from the sidelines, maybe even hope that they would succeed.
We are a people who readily pontificate on a variety of issues. But we are also a people who have a repository of excuses when called to action. Some of the lines that I have heard over the years when such issues come up are: India has not become so modern. Our society doesn’t have the strength to support this kind of radical behaviour. Young people should not be so impulsive, especially when they are taking on tradition. Oh no, we are not going to say: we agree with caste/religious prejudices. We are smarter than that. We will just blame it on the inflexibility of our social structure.
The answers are obvious. Inter-caste marriage is right. If society is backward and primitive, change it now, modernize now. Ilavarasans and Divyas cannot wait. They should not have to wait. Their lives are NOW. Tomorrow is too late. Make the society strong enough where the radical is the norm. Young people should be impulsive; their impulsiveness is life-giving, as against the studied evil that is tradition. If the social structure is inflexible, we are at fault. We have no business destroying the lives of decent human beings like Ilavarasan and Divya, to pander to the sentiments of vicious and backward masses that are ‘communities’. The edifices of tradition over which lives are sacrified should be chipped away – one stone at a time, consistently and relentlessly. The battle is here and it is now. Before another Divya and another Illavarasan are sacrificed to the caste devil.
Asma has done her Masters in Journalism and worked with several newspapers in Bangalore and Chennai. She is at present, a full-time mother, a part-time editor of her own newspaper –Positiv+ and a sometime media consultant with several organizations.