Caste permeates every aspect of Indian social life and the hierarchies it imposes, and the divisions it causes, undermine the fundamental principles of equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution
Caste and its abolition are, therefore, a central preoccupation of the Constitution with multiple provisions to bar and punish caste discrimination. In the Directive Principles, the Constitution draws up a time-bound scheme of reverse discrimination or ‘caste-based reservations’ aimed to redress historic wrongs through a system of entitlements for the lower castes.
But as one of the architects of Constitution Dr BR Ambedkar, pointed out, caste is pernicious and cannot be legislated out of people’s lives. In his view, the day India becomes caste-free or rid of a social system that has shackled its imagination for 5,000 years, would be the day when men and women freely married without regard to the other’s caste.
But the government clearly thinks otherwise. To hasten the process of creating a ‘casteless society’, the union government sponsored a scheme called the ‘Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages’ to financially incentivise inter-caste marriages involving at least one member of the Scheduled Caste.
The scheme was introduced in 2013 to further the Protection Civil Rights Act, 1955 (PCR) and Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 (POA). The objective of the scheme was to promote inter-caste marriage by offering financial assistance to the couple.
Based on limited field study and data drawn from around the country, this project attempts to examine how has this latest attempt to destroy the edifice of caste fared and whether it has had the intended effect?
Love blossomed in a small village Udri in Soraba taluk in Karnataka for Pradeep and Shyamla and they decided to marry. The couple got married in 2015 and got registered at the social welfare office for the incentive and the first installment of the monetary fund, which was supposed to help the couple to get settled in the initial phase, was released in 2017 after two years of the marriage.
Pradeep and Shymala (Udri village Inter caste couple)
In another such instance in Maharashtra, Nitin Kasar, from Kasarwadi in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra state, was in love with Pavana, a girl from other caste from a nearby village.Says Nitin, “The inter-caste marriages are legal only on paper in India and not in the societal frame.”
They had to elope from their respective villages and move from place to place in search of food, shelter, occupation and other basic amenities as they feared death in their native village. Currently a farmer, travelled to Rajasthan, Gujrat and finally ended up in Nashik for help after which he approached his parents and still looking out for the complete acceptance from the people and the family. They registered for the scheme in December 2017 and from past 5 months they are still awaiting for the amount to be transferred.
Despite the proposed incentive amount of Rs. 2.5 lakh, due to various reasons, less than 10 per cent of the scheme’s target has been achieved. The major factors for the mentioned unachieved target is the lack of propagation of the scheme. Although, new improvements, like the removal of the income cap for easing the norms, in the scheme are being made to simplify the applying and understanding procedures can be proven beneficial and the scheme can be utilized efficiently in the years to come.
How many couples have availed of its rewards?
In Soraba taluk, 20 out of 48 registered inter-caste couples got the first installment of their incentive in fiscal year 2016-2017, shows the statistics from the local social welfare office.
Sanjeev Herekar from the social welfare office in Soraba taluk states, “The motive of the scheme is to eradicate untouchability from India. The verification process we have is to provide complete information of the applicants and their background.”
Although the numbers on a taluk level may seem satisfying but when compared with the countrywide statistics, it narrates a contrasting picture.
How does the community view this approach to induce inter-caste marriage?
Advocate-activist Rajpal Shinde from Nashik District in Maharashtra explained the ground reality implementation as a complicated process. “There is no contribution of the state and central government in the inter-caste marriage cases. The matters related to inter caste never reaches to the families of the couple in the first place due to the probability of unpredictable circumstances. The family members do not understand and usually nobody is ready to listen at that point. We help them to settle for few months by providing basic amenities. The scheme by the Maharashtra government is providing Rs. 50,000 as incentive”
People living in cities, who are a part of inter-caste marriages, save their own money and then it is easy for them to settle down. Also, they are usually aware of the post affects and the ways to handle the situation they are in but people from villages and disconnected areas run from their villages to hide as they don’t get any emotional and financial support from their people.
In some instances, when the couple reaches police station seeking assistance and protection the policemen take bribes from the families involved and book the male by marking wrong charges against him. In the process of using the fundamental right to express freely included in the freedom of expression the boy and girl faces extreme situations caused by their family members, known friends and relatives and sometimes, even police. The government is responsible for letting all this happen in the system and they do not even abide by the rules and orders stated by the Supreme Court and High court, Mr. Shinde added.
Has it been misused for financial gain?
Under the schem,e central government released funds of Rs. 51.08 crore in 2015-16, Rs.54.06 crore in 2016-17 and Rs. 75.32 crore in 2017-18. The government estimated 20,000+ beneficiaries in 2016-2017, but the actual figures are 17,218 beneficiaries. Also, Bihar didn’t get single penny as central assistance from past three years. On the other hand, Rajasthan having the highest quantum of incentive only registered 304, 284, 400 beneficiaries for the year 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 respectively.
The efforts by the government with the intention to provide financial assistance are shown in the numbers above but the bank records of Pradeep and Nitin shows a complete different story.
In case of inter-caste marriages, apart from the financial assistance there are many other factors that are overlooked by the government while framing such schemes. These includes the protection from the families, emotional and mental counselling along with legal help. The focus should be on the implementation of the scheme to the root level if the aim is to eradicate year’s old practice of untouchability and the caste division of the masses living on the same piece of land. Moreover, the help that the scheme promises dies not reach in every part of the country due to lack of planning and implementation. The inter-caste couples keep waiting for the incentive, which is already less to start a new livelihood, to come for years.
The government is concentrating on incentivizing the inter-caste marriages all across India through various schemes but the lack of action in the registration of the marriage or the protection of the couples who choose to marry outside their caste shows that this aspect is completely and conveniently overlooked by the governing bodies.
In case of the self-choice, inter-caste marriages, the situation are less taken care of where caste and religion are involved. Even in the age of modernisation and globalisation, still women and even men are not allowed to use their right to choose their own life partner. Instead of introducing rules and provisions where citizens of the country can choose their life partners and still feel safe and less vulnerable, government has schemes to give incentives to the couples to manage their life after such marriage.
While appreciating the fact that government is trying to implement schemes that will focus on the eradication of untouchability and the caste system from the social map of the country. But in the deeper context, the problem is not only about the caste system and need to explore the issues in religious arenas as well.
Dalit activist in Soraba
Tahira Hasan, National VP of the All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA) said, “If a girl is 18 and is eligible to decide the government then surely she is also eligible to choose her life partner. The highest court of the land-Supreme court has recently passed a verdict stating that if a person is a major, then society, community and even parents have no rights to stop the individual from marrying anyone with consent. Stringent actions should be taken against the issues like khap panchayat and the honour killings.”
This is familiar territory. Preventing caste discrimination and punishing offenders is well within the purview of the law and is what government does best. It’s the positive action, the ambitious attempt to legislate social behaviour, to make laws and draw up schemes to induce people to change their attitudes or to behave differently that are problematic.
The point is government is not very good at dealing with people at the individual level. Their officers are trained to think of citizens as a grey mass, as supplicants, as criminals, as freeloaders, never as individuals. Thus governments are good at coercion, rarely at persuasion. That is why, for all the good intentions and money spent, financial incentives to encourage inter-caste marriage is likely to end like every other blandishment for a good cause. Public money is spent, smart people learn to game the system, the government produces numbers nobody believes, declares victory and walks away.