Advice: How Do You Live with the Caste System?

Dear Lauren, I am from Colombia, I met my partner from Nepal one and a half years ago. Our relationship is very beautiful, however, the differences between our cultures is difficult. My partner belongs to the highest caste. For that reason it is very difficult for him to speak with his family about me. I clearly understand the situation and I am sure one day we will solve this problem.

How do you live with the caste system in India?

Anonymous Reader

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Dear Anonymous Reader,

Caste is a complex concept, it divides people into groups based on their duties and was created to bring about order in ancient society. As we are no longer in ancient times, I don’t think it should be considered relevant today, but sadly for some, it still is. This is partly due to controversial caste quotas introduced post-independence, designed to liberate the traditionally disadvantaged, as well as ingrained prejudices.

Living in India and speaking to many others in intercultural marriages, I think it is hard to speak to traditional parents about marrying outside their community, irrespective of caste. It may be hard for parents to understand their child’s decision to marry outside their community if their mindset is as rigid as the caste system itself.

I have noticed that when I meet people from the older generation for the first time, they are usually eager to know my surname, so they can determine caste. Our surname is a rare, and so people cannot always connect it to a caste. Once an elderly man started an argument with me in a shop. He said that I could not say my surname correctly and he wanted me to write it down. He then he accused me of being unable to spell it and suggested several alternatives. This went on for a while until I simple told him my husband’s caste and he stopped arguing, as he has received the information he wanted.

My husband has always told me that it’s important not to think of castes as higher or lower than each other because this reinforces the discrimination. When considering caste from a cultural perspective, it’s always best to name the castes, instead of it’s place in an ancient and redundant hierarchy.

I hope your partner can cultivate the courage to speak to his parents soon, I know it’s difficult but it’s the only way forward if you plan on taking your relationship further. Take care.

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