Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Culture, Process and Legacy of Hindu Marriage

I wish I could keep out of quoting the name of a caste or creed or any specifics of classification. However, for being factual and not approximate or hypothetical, I have make references to some specifics. My intention is not to accuse anyone. This blog is an objective analysis of the marriage process and intends to address the inconsistencies in the marriage process. After all, marriage is the most important social activity in a society and logically, if any social reform is to happen, it should start from a marriage.

The Hindu marriage process is thousands of years old. It makes references to the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, and to other scriptures like Yajur Veda, Upanishads, etc. Though the practice has evolved over a period of time, it still is archaic and anachronistic. One cannot however, deny that there is a certain drama in the age old process that makes it both interesting and cherishable.

The marriage practice is well established and it is performed with high precision. Any process that is in practice for so long will be! With smaller regional differences in the proceedings, and few exceptions, the process has remained almost the same through out the entire country through the test of time. To quote an exception, while a Hindu marriage is preceded by a priest (a Brahmin) all through the country, an Iyer (kind of Brahmin) Hindu marriage is itself can happen unpreceded by a priest. So, the evolution of the marriage practises vary grossly across various strata of social classification.

While the Hindu religion strongly discourages inter caste marriages and inter dining, generally, the marriage process itself is not considered to have anything to do with castes. However, this is not true. It implicitly endorses caste system by appointing a priest to precede the marriage cerenomy itself.

The priest who precedes the ceremony is always, without exception, a Brahmin. A non-Brahmin cannot become a priest according to Hinduism. In fact, the long established marriage process revolves around the priest more than the groom and the bride themselves. The priests prescribe the activities to be done in a marriage. The couple like it or not. A marriage without a priest is often considered inauspicious and people take immense care in ensuring that the priest is happy. The process itself, the meaning and rationale concerning the activities are clear to understandable only to the priest. The process is inherently obscure due to the usage of Sanskrit and not the actual mother tongue of the families. And no one but the priest understands Sanskrit. So the superiority of a Brahmin is implicitly acknowledged as a social norm by the Hindu marriage process..

It is very difficult to understand the need for such obscurity and opaqueness. In fact, a marriage process should be very simple and straight forward that it is a common knowledge among the people. After all, marriages are the most important and also the most common of the social processes. But that is not the case. A certain formality is required; but, it seems very unnatural that the process is complex to the degree of obscurity. I am not just referring to the marriage ceremony itself, but also the associated practices like varapoojai, kanyadanam, sapthapadi and the many many ceremonies.

How can this premise be addressed? The logical solution seems simple and obvious. Conduct marriage without a priest – disassociate castes from marriages completely so that the marriage process does not endorse the caste system. The problem however is more complex. The marriage process is preceded and controlled by the priest. The process is unrehearsed and is left to the 'expertise' of the conductor. Orders are given on the stage and are done then and there. As simple as that. There is no understanding as to what goes on and why it is being done. Because, of this priest centred nature of the process, removing the priest also means the need to redefine the process. 

The self-respect marriage, a strong alternative to the traditional marriage, however, does not provide an equivalent strong process that shall create a seamless transformation from a priest centred to a groom-bride centred marriage process. Moreover, the self-respect movement was created for a different purpose. Self-respect movement was the result of a social revolution in Tamil Nadu and it was designed as a tool to display one's disapproval against the caste system and the religion itself. A practice that not only distanced itself from religion and castes, but also from the concept of God itself. So, there is no real alternative form that essentially disapproves castes but remains ideologically agnostic about one's belief in God; which also means, for the theists who simply do not believe in castes and disapprove the divinity and superiority that is given to a Brahmin priest, there is no alternative.

I want to bring in the deliberation that has been missing in defining a generic marriage process that shall bend itself to the whims and fancies of the couple and their families. I want to attempt defining a process that shall redefine the existing Hindu marriage process. The new process shall distant itself from irrelevance (superstitions), caste system, but shall keep the spirit of a traditional marriage. The new process shall acknowledge one's belief in God. This process shall be flexible for people to plug in new sub-processes or alter the process itself to make it more relevant in the future. A process that can be easily reproducible and makes the marriage process easy to implement without violating the Hindu marriage act. I believe that changing the marriage practices in arranged marriages will certainly be a huge step towards social equality in India.
Let me try to redefine the process in my subsequent blogs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Social inequality, casteism and reservations

Social inequality in India is the summation of social problems both generic to the other countries and uniquely India. The generic issues being education or the lack of it, poverty, health, etc. Social inequality also refers to the disparities in income, economic assets and quality of living. It is important to make the qualification that social inequality is different from economic inequality which denotes the gap between rich and poor, economic assets, etc. Casteism, on the other hand, is uniquely India. A long standing parameter for social classification. It can be easily romanticized to be the root cause of all social problems in India. Untouchability  being the most significant among them all. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes people where legally untouchables for the most part of the Indian history and has legally become touchables only since the mid part of 20th century. And these people contribute to nearly 24.4% of the Indian population based on 2011 census.

In the current times, one can often note that in a society with social inequality, economic inequality shall be a given. This is seen many countries (even developed countries) in the current era like the Unites States of America, India, etc. All these nations have rampent social inequality problems. This proves that the necessary if not the sufficient condition for economic inequality is social inequality. Reason being, when people are socially equal - meaning, they have access to similar healthcare, education, treated equally and fairly at all times, they are given a platform where they can compete equally. On the other hand, in a society where social equality is absent, competition shall not be fair. Few shall have an inherent advantage over the other substantial population, or in a differnt sense, a smaller section of the population is at a disadvantage compared to the others.

In the recent times there has been an increased interest and argument about the strategy of the Indian government with regards to addressing social inequality. It is identified, acknowledged and accepted that education is the primary means of addressing social inequality. Owing to that, there is a reservation system which tries to make quality education accessible to people of the backward social classes; to be explicit, the backward classes BC, most backward classes MBC, scheduled castes SC and scheduled tribes ST. The reason behind choosing castes as the classification parameter is simply because caste was the exisiting norm of classifying people in the society. Caste in most cases still is. Substantial proportion of the Indian population still does not support a inter caste marriages, inter dining, etc. Prove me wrong and I shall amend my argument.

Most often the weapon people choose for establishing that reservation based on caste is hurtful, is the percentile of marks one from the SC/ST has to score to get a seat in IITs/IIMs/Anna Universiy etc. Yes. It seems unfair. A student from the backward classes seems to have an undue advantage in the cut throat competition. He is in a better position to score a seat in one of the prestigious institutions. However, the disparity in the percentile proves the existence of social inequality. If social inequality is indeed non existent, then such disparity will not be there. The large disparity indeed shows that there is a substantial social inequality. When the gap becomes smaller and smaller over a period of time, that is when one can establish that caste based reservation is obsolete.

On that other hand, if one is to argue that such disparity is because of the inherent inabiltiy or laziness of people the backward classes, then he becomes a narcissist by definition. My argument shall simply stop there.

We belong to a society where education, one of the fundamental rights, has been neglected for a huge section of the Indian population for 2 millenniums. And one of the manifestations of that inequality is the percentile disparity. The numbers do not prove that people of the backward classes are lazy or dumb, it only proves that the there is social disparity. Moreover, the data released by the Directorate of Education also shows that the disparity is reducing.

India is designed to be a welfare state - which means, the goverment takes responsibility in ensuring that the subjects get educated. No matter what. They eat. No matter what. The government ensures that the basic needs of a man for his survival is provided by the society. And in achieving that sacred goal, a greater good, it sometimes asks us to sacrifice a little portion of our meal. That is the system. It is the ideologically right thing to do too. People with privilege share theirs with the subjects who done. The system is not perfect. But it certainly helps. The social inequality has been reducing drastically in the past few decades.

India is also a socialist country and the tenet principle of socialism is social equality. And hence, India shall strive to achieve that as well. Caste based reservation should be in effect till the time when social inequality is in effect! I will discuss the alternate solutions that people suggest - i.e. economic classes based reservation and the changes that can be suggested to the existing reservation system

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Disassociation and Neo-Elitism

Since my childhood, from the time I started with A-for-Apple (rather than அ - அம்மா), through the years, when Algebra troubled me briefly (How can I subtract 5 from 4? And w.t.f is -1?), through the time when I was deemed an adult (at least politically), through the years when I started rationalizing issues more critically and started adapting / making my own ideologies, I have been noticing this happening around me. Consistently. A neo-elitism. Something that was propelled by the rampant adaptation of English as the medium of instruction for education in my state and country as a whole.

Matriculation schools started sprouting like mushrooms and started asking boys to wear ties and girls not to wear hair pins. A rather abrupt immature change was pushed into the society; with the help of a very inefficient ineffective slacking public education. Those were the times when the boys wore crumpled shirts and pants with dirty ties and girls wore crumpled shirts, crumpled pinafores with bad hairdos and dirty ties. Even as a kid I have wondered, why wear dirty shirts and then a tie. It did not make sense. Even now it does not. For some reason it did not matter to the school, the District Education Officer, the parents, etc. The regulations in the education department was very insufficient and they were framed very retrospectively very long after when they were needed.

Anyways, coming back to the neo-elitism, I can see pressing reasons why the education-boom and neo-elitism happened in India. Contrary to the wide notion that it is for jobs and better education that people started going for the English based education, I believe it is because of the mild neglect to their own language and that language based education. Consider Tamil Nadu for instance. The most significant happenings of the post independent Tamil Nadu is the Dravidian movement - Tamil Puritan Movement. It did a lot of good. It prevented Hindi being forced as the language of Government when people were not ready for it. And most probably will never be. India being a true democracy did the required amends and had peace restored.

But the Dravidian / Puritan movement did not stop there. It became the trump card that defined the politics of Tamil Nadu for the better part of 1980', 1990's and also spilled into the 2000's. During this period, people started getting tired of the overbearing politics surrounding Tamil. Since Tamil got associated to politics so closely and Tamil Nadu's politics is full of people who exploit Tamil without as much as a sound knowledge of it, people started disassociating from politics and in the process of doing so, from Tamil herself.

Consider the snapshot of the current leadership in Tamil Nadu politics, which is still solely fuelled by Tamil. I don't see anyone who has not substantially contributed to Tamil language. And their leadership hence has no relevance to neither the status quo of Tamil language nor her development. I cannot consider M.Karunanidhi, the greatest political nepotist ever, as a good contributor to Tamil language. Neither him, nor any of his progeny has considerable positive contribution of Tamil. He may have some contributions to the Tamil cinema industry, may be; but not to Tamil. I have read his non-film-industry contributions and I am afraid they do not up even to my standards. There are no discourses about his deep insights. No articles that explains his ideology or philosophy. He seems more like an accidental success.

People's disassociation from politics slowly and transitively started meaning disassociation from Tamil. Which means, people wanted a pseudo-identity for themselves. Few moved out of Tamil Nadu created a new identify profile for themselves, few found their identify in English and managed to stay within borders, but for a significant many who disassociated themselves from Tamil, they never found a new identify.

 Neo-elitism is just a side effect of this disassociation. When people are disassociated from their language, they don't feel proud about it anymore. They pick up other things. Ability to speak English being one of them. Better the prouder! When this takes momentum, the distance between them and their actual identify increases. And finally the actual identify disappears.

I see the pseudo identities that people carry roam around in various forms. When people argue that they identify more as an Indian as opposed to a Tamilian. A person from Tamil Nadu who speaks Tamil as his mother tongue, can be a good Indian if-and-only-if he is a good Tamilian. And being a good Tamilian only compliments being a good Indian. Not the otherwise; One other pseudo identity argument that people make is that Tamil does not help them with their livelihood which is morally incorrect. One may not treat mother and mother tongue differently;

The root cause of all this however is the exploitation of Tamil by the successors of Dravidian movement. There is only one way to address this problem. People should consciously separate the language from the state - like how church is separated from the state. A significant portion of one's identify comes from the place he comes from the language he speaks. The sanctity of one's one identify has to be preserved. Else he will be washed away without a trace. By time.

Writing romantic!

Writing is difficult. I have a lot to learn in writing. But I like my writing too. Changing it, I would say, is very difficult, if not impossible. What inspires me is very varied. I derive them from what I observe.

I have observed human fiber which extend beyond logic and understanding. I have seen beauty and cried at it because I could not take it. I have seen and felt the lips of a woman. Writing about these things is like pushing a flood through my capillaries.

Not only is it time consuming and slow, but also painful and difficult. But this pain is after pleasure. A pain that the pleasure is worth for.

Writing to me: By far the most complex art I have ever enjoyed!