Libmonster ID: IN-1251
Author(s) of the publication: E. S. YURLOVA


Doctor of Historical Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Key words: India, status of women, caste, family, gender asymmetry, female infanticide

The caste system is largely based on the inequality between men and women established by religious institutions. The Brahmin priesthood, through the moral and ethical imperative of religion, supported the reproduction of the caste system in a series of centuries and generations, since it saw in it an effective mechanism of power and the preservation of inequality.1

In traditional society, hierarchical relationships between castes and between men and women were expressed in a ritual concept known as "purity and desecration." This concept was built in such a way as to keep the weakest strata of society - women and the untouchables-in subjection. In the words of the Indian sociologist Andre Betey, this concept was "the most irresistible idiom invented by human sophistication to preserve the unshakeability of the social hierarchy." 2


In Indian society, there was a strong perception that a woman could not have the same ritual purity as a man. And this applies to all castes. Menstruation and childbirth gave reason to think that a woman is less clean than a man. That is why women from high castes were equated in their status with sudras (manual laborers). They were excluded from the initiation ceremony and were unable to read the Vedas in Sanskrit and participate in religious sacrifices. Another source of ritual desecration for women was widowhood. The widow was forbidden to perform a religious ceremony (puja) in front of the family gods or to prepare "clean" food for these gods. At the same time, the widower was not subject to such restrictions. It was believed that in terms of ritual purity, high castes surpass low castes.

It was assumed that in high castes, the ritual purity of men, compared with women from the same castes, was significantly higher than in lower castes, where the difference in ritual purity between men and women was significantly smaller. This was due to the fact that low-caste women were carriers of double desecration. First, it is desecration because they are women. And, secondly, because they, just like men from lower castes, were engaged in caste-assigned "desecrating" activities (leather processing, washing, working with clay and garbage collection). Therefore, gender differences were less significant in these castes than in the higher castes. We can say that the higher the ritual rank of a caste, the greater the gender gap in the "pure-impure" dichotomy. By this logic, the most" pure " are male brahmins.

Sexual desecration has fundamentally different consequences for them. It is closely related to the ancient custom that allowed a man from a higher Varna (and later caste) to marry a girl from a lower Varna (caste). Therefore, inter-caste marriages usually took the form of hypergamy-a marriage in which a man is higher than a woman in Varna. These marriages were known and allowed in all periods of Indian history.

Today, this practice is more common in Northern India. Even the secret relationship of a high-caste man with a low-caste woman was not blameworthy if he did not eat the food prepared by this woman and did not live with her constantly under the same roof. But if the secret became clear, the men had a means of purification: they performed ablutions and ritual expiation. Even in South India, orthodox Brahmins in Karnataka and Tamilnadu, for example, would remove their old sacred cord after a sexual encounter with a low-caste woman, perform a bath, and put on a new sacred cord.

At the same time, tradition prohibits the marriage or association of a high-caste woman with a lower-caste man. The guardians of tradition claim that a higher " seed can fall on a lower field (soil), but a lower seed cannot fall on a high field." This means that a woman's sexual relationship with a man from a lower caste than her own is so profane that she can be excluded from the caste, her family is ostracized, and if she has a child, it will be considered "untouchable". Her partner is severely punished by the powerful of the "caste world" - Jats, Rajputs, Brahmins. It is deprived of its source of existence, ruthlessly-

Ending. For the beginning, see: Asia and Africa Today, 2013, No. 4.

* The sacred cord is tied over the shoulder of the boy at his initiation (editor's note).

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stno beat, and sometimes even kill 3.

Different cultural perceptions of the differences between the sexuality of men and women are concentrated in the problem of procreation. Marriage and sexual relations represent a central element in the caste that has a decisive impact on a woman's life. In the caste system, belonging to a caste is exclusively and invariably determined by birth. Among Hindus, as a rule, the principle of patrilineality (account of kinship on the father's side) applies. Hence, the identity of the father plays a crucial role in which caste the child will belong to. The role of women in a patrilineal caste society is strictly limited.4


Sexuality is one of the factors that motivate people to live together. It is a driving force for bringing people closer and closer together, and one of the main components of family life. The formation of sexuality occurs under the influence of the conditions of a person's existence, his social environment. Some characteristics of sexuality are inherent genetically, while others are formed in the process of socialization.

The above definition of sexuality has little relevance to Hindu marriage practices, which have evolved over several millennia and have been reflected in the caste system, with its rules and exceptions, that still exists today. The prevailing morality in Indian society, writes Prem Chowdhry, does not involve emotional and erotic satisfaction in marriage and treats love and sexuality with distrust and suspicion.5

Even today, most educated women continue to rely on an arranged marriage. Collusive marriages are still the prevailing norm in family and marital relations.

For a large number of Indians, love and passion have never been associated with marriage, says American author Elizabeth Bumiller. Many married couples do not give the impression of being connected by any special feelings, there are no friendships between them, such couples have nothing in common except the social class in which they were born. There is a lack of intimacy in the marriage life of middle-class Indians, particularly because few expect it. Khushwant Singh, an ironic historian and journalist, jokingly remarked that "all violence in this country stems from repressed sexuality." 6

The current state of affairs is reflected on by young people, who have expanded their opportunities to compare the behavior of married couples in other societies. This issue was addressed by the Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri in her book Namesake. The main character of the novel named Gogol (in honor of N. V. Gogol) was born in an Indian family in the United States. As an adult, he found himself in an American family, where he was most impressed by the close, warm relationship between the parents of his American wife. They were in stark contrast to the relationship between his father and mother, who, like all their Bengali relatives and friends, had married by agreement. There, the relationship between husband and wife was very restrained. Gogol never in his life witnessed the manifestation of closeness and affection between his parents. "If there was any love between them, it was an absolutely private, inconspicuous affair." 7

In Indian marriage, traditional procreation and duty have always been more important than sexual satisfaction. In the Laws of Manu, it is stated that only the lower castes marry for sexual pleasure. In organized marriages, where there is often no love between the spouses, the main thing is the birth of a son. It means recognition and a certain amount of respect from the husband's extended family. A woman who has been trained in her home since childhood to leave for someone else's family and was often perceived as a burden, only after the birth of her son for the first time experiences the joy of love and a rush of positive emotions. She gives him all her inexhaustible love. Subsequently, this often leads to the fact that after the son's marriage by agreement, it turned out that he loved his mother more than his wife.

In modern Indian society, the problem of love marriage and consensual marriage is becoming more acute. So far, the traditional approach prevails-marriage is not a personal one, but rather a communal one.

page 43

in some cases, even socio-political) business, in which the newlyweds must follow the established rules and customs.

At the same time, the problem of marriage by agreement, without love and mutual attraction also applies to young men, who, like girls, are married at the choice of their parents. Here is one example. In 1971, I visited a hospital in the Punjabi city of Patiala together with a neurologist from the Moscow State Research Institute of Psychiatry, Professor Yu.S. Nikolaev. Local doctors asked him to consult four married young men to determine the cause of their mental illness. Two of them complained about the inability to come to terms with the marriage, which they entered at the insistence of their parents, and the resulting sexual problems. After listening to them, our neurologist suggested eliminating the main cause of mental disorder - a failed marriage. To which the local doctors replied that it was hardly possible to tell their parents about this, since they believe that such a reaction is normal and that everything will get better over time.

In some of the most conservative areas of India, love marriage is denounced as a " jungle wedding." The community does not recognize such a marriage as legal. It is considered as a sexual relationship without regard to public morals and rules. Moreover, it is believed that for a man, marriage for love demonstrates weakness of character, lack of masculinity, dependence on a woman. Such a marriage is frowned upon because it violates family relations and leads to the collapse of a large, undivided family. It is also perceived as evidence of the weakness of the power of older men and women in the family over the son and, accordingly, over the daughter-in-law. This, in turn, strikes at the family hierarchy and violates the established balance of "power" both in the family, and in the caste and community. Therefore, marriages that go beyond the generally accepted norms are considered a threat to the existence of the family, caste and community. And yet, the number of love marriages is increasing. At the same time, violence against their participants is also growing.


Indian experience shows that there are still many groups and organizations in society, including caste panchayats, that are interested in maintaining the old norms of social relations, especially family and marriage. The latter are considered by them as the core of the entire hierarchical caste system. A "properly" traditional marriage is the strongest bastion of the caste. It is such a marriage within its own caste that ensures the preservation and revival of caste exclusivity, perpetuates the traditional values of the community. Therefore, any threat to violate them causes protest on the part of such a community.8

Democratization and new economic opportunities for women have led to changes in public life and affected traditional institutions. New trends challenge the caste system and related customs and norms, including marriage relations. Some young people, mainly from the middle class, violate sexual codes and taboos by their behavior, reject the requirements of family and caste status, the exogamy of the village, and with them-the ideas of honor and decency of the family-clan-caste. These challenges manifest themselves in various forms, including the flight of young men and women from their families to other regions, where they register their marriage in accordance with the civil Code or on the basis of the Arya Marriage Validation Act adopted in 1937. But even after that, they are attacked by anger and direct violence of their relatives, in many cases ending in murder "for the sake of honor".

Practice shows that women are more likely to be victims of such violence. Their violation of caste norms and morals, family and caste rules causes a negative reaction in the patriarchal environment. An attempt on the part of a girl to choose her own groom is considered a violation of traditional rules of decency and honor*.

An important factor influencing the rejection of inter-caste marriages was the growing influence of caste in politics.

The introduction of universal suffrage by the Indian Constitution has led to caste involvement in the political process. The mobilization of voter support in the elections began to occur largely on a caste basis. Therefore, during the election campaign, castes were given an additional opportunity to emphasize their identity. This was also supported by media coverage of the elections, especially on TV, and more recently on the Internet.9

* For more information, see: Yurlova E. S. Caste violence against women // Asia and Africa today, 2011, N 6; Suvorova A. A. Murder in defense of honor as a social phenomenon and modern barbarism / / Asia and Africa today, 2010, N 6 (editor's note).

page 44

Regional parties have come to rely on the more numerous middle and lower castes that claim economic and political power. Small castes compete for social and political power. Therefore, it is important for them to emphasize their identity 10. It is marriage that is a tool for preserving caste distinctions and identity. And hence the stricter requirements for marriage.

In many cases, there is an open or veiled economic factor in the rejection of inter-caste marriages. First of all, this is related to the protection of property rights. Especially in the countryside, where the division of land between different castes in the case of inter-caste marriages creates tension both in families and in society.

The Hindu Succession Act (1956) gave the daughter the right to inherit real estate on an equal basis with the son. But paragraph 23 of this Act continued to contain for almost half a century the provision for undivided (or joint) inheritance provided for by the ancient Mitakshara law (it was recognized in all of India, except Bengal and Assam). Under this law, a woman was not entitled to a share in such a joint inheritance. In Northern India, the law continued to apply, compensating a woman's share of the dowry at marriage.

An amendment to the Hindu Succession Act (2005) approved a daughter's right to an equal share in the undivided inheritance with her son. Now the daughter from birth received the same rights in undivided property as the son. Thus, it was not until hundreds of years later that the Mitakshara Law was legally abolished.11 But in real life, it was very difficult to change the existing practice of inheritance. Opposition to this and other new laws leads to violent land-related clashes in the village.


Inter-caste marriages, as well as inter - religious and inter-ethnic marriages, are usually love marriages. They are more common in large cities in states such as Maharashtra and Tamilnadu, where large anti - Brahmin movements were active in the 1920s and 1930s. They helped to change the relations between castes in society in favor of the lower ones. Later, this was reflected in marriages between representatives of higher and lower castes.

In 1983, at a meeting at Bombay University with representatives of the Dalit community, researchers and journalists, I was told about 500 registered marriages in Bombay between impoverished Brahmins and Dalits. Later, in 1989, an educated, unmarried Brahmana whose parents could not provide a suitable dowry for her caste told me that many of her friends in Bombay, also Brahmans who were in a similar position, chose to marry Dalits who had higher education and a good job. They received both under the state quota system. Children in such marriages adopt the father's caste and thus fall into the lists of registered castes. This is seen as an advantage, since these castes are assigned, in accordance with their share in the population, places in higher educational institutions and in the civil service.

It is no coincidence that the Madras Brahmin Association (Tamilnadu) passed a resolution that allowed girls from Brahmin families to marry Dalits if they received a good education and held high positions. All this indicated a gradual change in the concepts of caste status and a more pragmatic approach to marriage and family issues.

This is especially true for women who have received professional education. They are increasingly involved in the processes related to the development of education, science, mass media, and modern technologies. There are many young women who graduate from colleges and institutes. Many of them came from different parts of India and lived in dormitories, breaking away from the family and its usual vigilant environment. And at work in some companies, especially information companies, their social life is determined by colleagues not only on working days, but often on weekends as well. They also spend their free time together. This creates an environment where young people decide for themselves how to build relationships with each other, including entering into love marriages.

If earlier the arrangement of a traditional marriage was the responsibility and responsibility of parents, today the situation looks different. In a situation where girls and boys receive a fairly high salary, but belong to different castes, marriage for love does not cause much objection to their parents. Although young people still have to get approval from both families, and often even castes. The decisive role begins to play not belonging to a caste, but to a new, including professional community. Thus, a new code of conduct and a new set of rules are gradually being created 12.

This new code of conduct also includes the promotion of so-called free marriage, especially among university youth. This is primarily caused by the living conditions and joint work of young people and represents a kind of challenge to the patriarchal tradition. Many attribute this to the desire of girls to maintain their independence and be free from male chauvinism and traditional family relationships. This raises the question of the future of caste, which still largely determines the dependent status of women.


Some Indian authors believe that the real remedy is

page 45

the elimination of caste is inter-caste marriage. Nothing else could abolish caste, Ambedkar believed. Only blood fusion can create a sense of kinship, and until that sense of kinship becomes the most important, the disunited feeling that caste creates-that you are strangers-will not disappear.13 It is no coincidence that, while working to unify Hindu private law and aiming at the abolition of the caste system, he proposed in 1947 to include inter-caste marriage in the Hindu Marriage Act, which was adopted only in 1955.

However, even the adoption of such laws in itself, for all their significance, could not radically change the situation in the centuries-old system of family and marriage relations. The actual implementation of these laws faced strong opposition from conservative forces, which still draws strength from centuries-old traditions that sanctified the belittled status of women. Indian experience shows that the more actively traditional socio-economic relations are eroded, the more stubborn the resistance of traditionalists becomes. They oppose genuine equality for women, including inter-caste marriages, which undermine the foundations of the caste division of society, which continues to have a major impact on public life in the country.

Indian sociologists emphasize that the modern urban caste is markedly different from the rural one. In the urban caste, there is an internal division into more and less well-off families. The caste's connection with its traditional occupation is greatly weakened. The Jajmani system has essentially ceased to function in the city, and the idea of purity and desecration has lost some of its significance. Caste as a hierarchical system has weakened not only in the city, but also in the countryside. However, any economic and political movements, such as farmers', are usually "controlled by men from the dominant castes, often concerned with perpetuating caste and gender forms of domination in their villages" .14

Despite changes in the laws that now allow inter-caste marriages, in most cases the custom of performing marriages within a caste is still observed.

Economic development and the growth of the middle class are accompanied by new opportunities for personal mobility. This weakens the old link between caste and occupation. However, caste persists and even increases in the public consciousness, which is greatly facilitated by politics. Not the least role in this is played by the mass media 15.

Today, we can definitely say that in modern India, caste and related traditions continue to live in their various manifestations and forms. Since the specifics of gender asymmetry in Hindu society are embedded in the principles of caste, this means that there are and probably will continue to be traditions and customs that largely determine the nature of family and marriage relations. 16

The Indian Constitution and other laws granted rights to all citizens, but caste remained in the back of the minds of most Hindus. The patriarchal customs and habits of hierarchical society have also not disappeared from real life. The development of democracy has made its own changes in public life. However, in the religious sphere and in the caste consciousness, changes occur very slowly and become noticeable only after a few generations. At the same time, they first affect large cities such as Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. And small towns and villages still remain on the sidelines of this process.

However, with the socio-economic and cultural development of society, caste relations, although slowly, continue to blur or change. In turn, this leads to changes in gender relations in favor of women. New trends in family and marriage relations are being strengthened, characterized by greater freedom of women, their desire for independence and independence. The institution of family and marriage is slowly but definitely evolving towards women's equality. However, addressing this and other pressing issues affecting the status of women is likely to take a long time.

Uspenskaya E. N. 1 Ethno-caste communities in the context of the formation and functioning of the Indian traditional social organization. Abstract of the dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Historical Sciences. Saint-Petersburg, 2010, p. 19.

Beteille Andre. 2 The Indian Middle Class //The Hindu. 05.02.2001.

Dube Leela. 3 Caste and Women // Gender and Caste. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2006, p. 241.

Dube Leela. 4 Caste and Women // Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar. New Delhi, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., 1997, p. 10 - 12.

Choudhry Prem. 5 Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples. Gender, Caste and Patriarchy in Northern India. New Delhi, OUP, 2007, p. 1,2.

Bumiller Elisabeth. 6 May You be the Mother of a Hundred Sons. A Journey among the women of India. New York, Fawcett Books, 1990, p. 40.

Lahiri Jhumpa. 7 The Namesake. Boston, N.Y., A Mariner Book, 2003, p. 138.

Kaur Ravinder. 8 Panchayats, Sex Ratio and Female Agency // EPW, 05.06.2010.

Beteille Andre. 9 The Peculiar Tenacity of Caste // EPW. March 31, 2012, p. 42; Gupta Dipankar. Caste and Politics: Identity over System // Annual Review of Anthropology, N 34, p. 409 - 427.

Gupta Dipankar. 10 Op. cit., p. 409 - 427.

Kant Anjani. 11 Law Relating to Women and Children. Allahabad, Central Law Publications, 2006, p. 112.

Baas Michael. 12 'Arranged Love': Marriage in a transnational work environment // HAS Newsletter N 45, Autumn 2007, p. 9.

Ambedkar Dr. Babasaheb. 13 Writing and Speeches. Annihilation of Caste. Vol. I, Bombay, 1979, p. 67.

Harris John. 14 Reflections on caste and class, hierarchy and dominance // Seminar 633 - May 2012, p. 19,22.

Beteille Andre. 15 Op. cit., p. 42.

Dube Leela. 16 Caste and Women // Gender and Caste.., 2006, p. 242.

Jajmani - a system of professional division of labor between handicraft and agriculture, mutual exchange of services (author's note).


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