Updated: Aug 22, 2021
For thousand of years, the 'human-induced' caste system has been a bane of the society. Created essentially by the 'upper class' or the 'more affluent ones', it aimed to serve one purpose: Slavery.
Every worthwhile thinker has pleaded to end the decadent practice of the caste system before it ends up destroying the cultural structure of India.
How this system evolved is difficult to say. The Hindus believe that four social groups originated from Brahma, the god of creation. They also believe that the Trinity runs this world. In this Trinity, Brahma is the creator, God Vishnu is the preserver and God Shiva is the ultimate destroyer.
According to scriptures, Brahmins were placed on top of the hierarchy. They came out of Brahma’s head and were mostly teachers, meant to serve as gurus and society advisors or intellectuals.
Second in the hierarchy are Kshatriyas who supposedly came out of Brahma’s arms. They were warriors and rulers.
Third in the hierarchical slot were the Vaishya community. They were part of Brahma’s thighs, and meant to look after trade and agriculture.
The most unfortunate of the lot and at the bottom of hierarchy were poor Shudras who were created to serve the society.
Lord Krishna in Bhagwat Gita, also supports the caste system but with a deference. He tells Arjuna that division of society in not on the basis of birth but Karma. You occupy a specific caste based on your karmic capability. The aim of cast system is to ensure smooth functioning of society.
Even Manu Smriti, one of oldest and considered to be the most authentic and authoritative book on Hindu law supports division of Hindu society in to four parts.
In modern India, the caste system still casts its shadow on the social fabric of India. Things are definitely better than yesteryears but the momentum of change is slow. In traditional Hindu families, marriages outside the cast is still opposed, honour killings are still true, and falling in love outside your cast is considered a sin, specially if the boy or girl are from the lower cast. In states like Haryana, Khap panchayats still decide the fate of hearts.
Sixty Seven years ago, our family faced a similar dilemma. It was a Shakespearean dilemma of 'To be or Not to be'.
While I was posted at Madho Pur Headworks, a part of Jammu and Kashmir, on army duty, I received an SOS letter from my sisters. In this letter, they told me that my younger sister, Rama liked a kshatriya boy, Mohinder Chopra, who was an emergency commissioned officer in army like me.
Both families had forbidden this alliance due to the caste difference. We are so-called 'Pure Brahmins' and the Chopras, were the second level 'kshatriya'.
Rama and Mohinder wanted to get married and spend their life together. As love dictates young hearts, Mohinder did not relent and insisted that either he would marry Rama or no one else. His parents finally bowed to their son's wishes and came to our house with the proposal. Alas, the other side (my family) had not relented. They rejected the proposal outright. The thought of a Brahmin girl going to a kshatriya house, was a moral sin and therefore, impossible.
The Chopra's were an affluent family, well respected in their circles. They felt very slighted with this treatment.
Through this letter, my sisters pleaded with me to intervene. After reading the letter, I was upset, irritated and furious. 'How could they turn down such a decent proposal and due to caste', I thought! The Chopra's were well settled, affluent and definitely much richer than us. Further, Mohinder was an officer in the army. They were in cloth business, had their own house and owned a car. We lived in a two-room government quarter. We did not even have a scooter at that time. Refusing such a proposal on cast basis was beyond my comprehension.
While I never believed in the caste system even as a young man, the army taught me that their were far more higher values in life than division on the basis of caste. We are all humans who deserve to live equally, without chains.
Something had to be done and fast, I thought. My sisters had mentioned the boy’s army address in the letter and his regiment was somewhere near Jammu.
The Universe was telling me that I had to be instrumental in this alliance. Our divisional exercise was to start after three days, and his regiment was a part of this exercise. That meant that I could meet him and assess if Rama had made right choice. On the last day of exercise, I sought my commanding officer’s permission and visited Lieutenant Mohinder Chopra.
He was standing at his command post as GPO, gun position officer. Mohinder was tall, and exceptionally handsome with a good physique. He saluted me and we talked about many general issues and then I said, Chopra, I do not think you recognize me. I am Rama’s brother, Harish.
Let me come straight to point, I said grimly. My mother and brothers are against this alliance. What do you have to say to this? He thought for sometime and said, If our families do not approve, I would return all her letters and photographs. I also promise never to meet her again.
I was very impressed by his honesty and sincerity. I told him, I have liked you Mohinder. I will try my best to persuade my family. Let us hope for the best and leave result in God’s hand.
Mohinder suggested that we travel together to his regiment for the evening divisional party. I could spend a night with him and than leave for my regiment in the morning. I agreed as it gave me time to scrutinize the boy better. Both of us decided to skip the evening party and spend time together. He ordered a bucket full of beer. One look at it and I asked him, who was all the beer for? He replied, for us ofcourse! I told him that I will hit the bed if I drank more than one bottle of beer. He didn't believe me and pushed me to have another bottle. While he was chatting, I started snoring as I had told him. That is how our friendship began and continues today.
Even today, Mohinder teases me fondly about my lack of ability to drink more than one bottle of beer!
Next morning, I said good bye to Chopra, and left for my unit. I took a week’s leave and reached home. My mother and brothers were surprised to see me but my sisters were dancing with joy. They apprised me in detail about the entire episode. I also spoke to Rama and assured her that I would do my best to convince my mother and brothers.
I first met my brothers, Shyam and Sant bhai. Both were firm that if mother says no, it means no. There could no longer be any discussion on the issue.
I soon got the opportunity to meet Mati, my mother alone. She listened to me with a passive face. Listen son, the present division of Hindu society into four groups was done by the creator, lord Brahma himself. A Brahmin girl has to be married in a Brahmin family We cannot not go against the will of God, she said with a stern tone.
I debated that these were outdated ideas. The world was changing, and we also had a responsibility to contribute ot it constructively. I also reasoned with her that she had five more daughters to marry. If we set aside the cast system, our choices for good grooms would become wider. The main criteria should be good karma and not a caste category by birth.
My Mati was angry. She could not believe that I had alternate views to her sense of the world. Discussion is over and no more talk on this subject, she said with a grim, almost angry expression.
So, my Mati was adamant and my brothers were not listening. It was time to plan the war strategy. I waited till the evening when both my brothers returned from office. They were having tea with Mati. I went to them and asked Mati to reconsider her decision.
My request was not to break the heart of two young people in the name of cast. Both were adults and could go to court and get married. However, they were seeking our blessings. Even the boy's parents have agreed, I pleaded. Mati stuck to her decision and strictly said no.
My brothers stood by her. OK then, good bye, I told my mother. I am going back to my regiment with a vow to never to come back. I hereby break all my relations with this house. I went to other room to pack my bags. My mother went into deep conversation with my brothers. I went back to my mother, touched her feet and said, sorry Mati, if I have hurt your feelings. I picked up my bag, went to the door and opened the bolt.
My mother could not bear it any more. After all I was her favourite child. Something I never took advantage of but did use it for the larger good of the family.
I heard her crying and saying, Harish beta, do not go. It shall be as you say. I turned back and said, please repeat what you said just now. She repeated her words. I hugged her saying, love you Mati. I turned towards my elder brother and said, Shyam bhai let us go to the boy’s house. He was hesitant and looked at mother. She signalled him to go.
We went to Mohinder’s house and met his parents and his elder brother. Initially, his father showed resentment, since he was hurt and angry. He said to me, I was always opposed to this match, but my son insisted that he would either marry Rama or no one else. So, we agreed under his pressure. We were insulted and humiliated when we went to your house with proposal.
I said with folded hands, Chopra ji that me and my brother apologize on behalf of our family. But Chopra sahib, even we are under tremendous pressure. Our sister also wants to marry only Mohinder. So let us bury the hatchet, and start on a clean slate again. Now we are at your place with the proposal. So things are even.
Chopra ji got up and hugged me and my brother. Things were settled, the marriage took place soon thereafter and without any Dowry.
I was convinced that marriages are made in heaven and performed on this earth. Mysterious are the ways of god. My family had strictly rejected the proposal. Destiny intervened and reversed it in favour of Rama and Mohinder.
This marriage also opened the gates for other inter-cast weddings in my family. Within one year, I received a letter from my sisters again with same problem. This time, the boy in question was my dear friend, Surinder Aggarwal, a pilot in Indian Airforce. I again took leave and reached home. My mother was in a more receptive mood as marriage of Rama and Mohinder was a huge success.
I told my mother about the proposal from the Aggarwal family. Mati was silent for a while, perhaps realigning her caste values internally and said, as you say son. I have complete trust in your judgement.
I heaved a sigh of relief and bowed my head before the merciful God. I looked heavenwards and said with all humility, as you say, so it shall be. Here Iam reminded of famous saying of BulleShah: बेशक मंदिर-मस्जिद तोड़ो, बुल्लेशाह ये कहता पर प्यार भरा दिल कभी न तोड़ो इस दिल में दिलबर रहता
Another poet says मुद्दई लाख बुरा चाहे तो क्या होता है वही होता है जो मंज़ूरे खुदा होता है : I could not have asked for better brother-in-laws for my family or better husbands for my sisters. They have been dear friends, dependable family and love of my sisters for more than 50 years.
I firmly believe that love is our true destiny. We do not find meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another person, we truly love.