Priya* works as domestic help. She washes vessels and clothes, sweeps and swabs floors, chops vegetables and performs other housekeeping chores daily in three houses in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In conversation, she shares her experience of marrying outside caste. Translated excerpts from an interview dated 15.07.2011
I was born in Madurai. My parents are from the same place. I had a love marriage. So I married and settled in the same town. I am 40 years old. I have four children. My husband drives an auto.
I had a carefree childhood. I would ride my cycle and roam around like a boy. After I had my period, things changed. My father would not mind me much. My mother would say I should not cross the threshold of the house. I did not like school much either. So I would stay at home. But it was difficult being cooped up. I would go out with friends immediately after my mother left and get back just before she got back. If she came back before I did, she would grab me by my hair and thrash me. She would say, ‘Why did you go? I told you not to. Why do you keep company with those children? Don’t you have brains? You have become a big girl now.’ As she said this, I thought ‘Why are my parents are talking to me like this?’ Then the thought came to me that I should fall in love, choose my husband. There was my neighbour’s son. I knew they were SC, I chose to love him.
I knew about my caste from when I was a little child. My parents would say ‘We are Nadar’. When they told us not to talk to people of lower castes, my parents will tell me this. They will say ‘Don’t talk to people who don’t have huts, they will go the wrong way.’ Whenever my mother said this, I would go and play and talk with those children only. My parents changed me. Then the thought came to me, my thought to love.
I fell in love with my neighbour’s son. He loved me too. I used to go to their house and talk. My elder brother used to visit them also. I used to talk to his parents very well, but not to him. We did not get to roam around or go to theatres or do things like that. We used to look at each other and smile, we didn’t even talk much. I was 15, I had been of age for 2 years. He was 19.
He was thick friends with my elder brother. He would not come to my house. Because he was of lower caste, they wouldn’t allow him into the house. My brother and I used to go to their house. I used to go without my mother’s knowledge, my brother went with my parent’s knowledge.
My family came to know that I was in love. My husband’s name is Duraipandi. I had scratched his name ‘Durai’ with a safety pin on my arm. Another neighbour saw this while I was filling water at the tap. It was the government tap only, where everyone came to take water. They told my father and he started beating me. He said ‘You know what caste they are. They are of lower caste. You have gone and loved him.’ He began torturing me and beating me. Even my other neighbours (of the same caste) started beating me after my mother told them to look after me when she went to out to work.
Then I thought, ‘See how they are humiliating me. I had only felt what anyone of that age would have felt, maybe a little earlier, that’s all. Why should they humiliate me like this?’ The entire street knew by now. We still saw each other but did not talk. In our street, they started to say that I was pregnant. Talk went in that direction. My father said, ‘They say this. Let your uncle come, I will make him beat you. If you haven’t done anything wrong, why will people say such things?’
Then I thought my uncle is also going to humiliate and beat me, and I went to see my mother-in-law. I told her ‘They are saying things like this. My family has come to know that I am in love. Please take me away, please marry the two of us.’ My husband said ‘No, this is not right. We are not old enough, go home.’ He came to beat me too. My mother-in-law had now begun to desire that I marry him. She said, ‘Let us not worry about age’ and she took me away to another village where they had relatives. They finished the wedding there. We were there for a day.
When my mother-in-law and father-in-law returned, my parents immediately filed a complaint saying they had taken me away under false pretences. ‘They are SC. Why will she go with them? We are nadar,’ they said. My in-laws brought us back. In the police station, the sub-inspector(SI) asked ‘You are not old enough. What do you say about this?’ I told him ‘Sir, it is true that I am not old enough. But they have disgraced me. Even if I go back, this disgrace will not leave me. Even if I should be married and bear children to another man, it won’t change. I will stay with this man’ ‘Don’t you want your parents?’ they asked. At that time, I said ‘I don’t want my parents. These people are my parents. My husband is everything to me.’ They asked me to give this in writing. The SI himself asked ‘Do you know what caste they are?’ I said ‘I know. I know they are SC. I knew when I was in love too.’ Then he said, ‘You know they are SC. If you have a child later, will you give your child in marriage to such a family?’ I said ‘I will give my child in marriage to an SC person only. I don’t look at differences like that, even if you scratch an SC person you will find the same red blood, even for a high caste person you will find the same red blood,’ like this, I told the SI. Then my father brought some people he knew. They took me to a separate room and said ‘You don’t need that boy. He is SC. It will become a problem later.’
My father-in-law had seven wives. So, they were worried at home. I told them, ‘That man might be like that. My husband is not.’ They said, ‘Let that boy go. We will marry you to someone else right away’. I said ‘I didn’t do this out of a desire to marry. I have been disgraced, I cannot continue to live on that street. That is why we married at this age’
We gave this in writing and came away and finished a registered marriage also.
We had to come back and live on that same street. We lived in another area for a while. It was an unknown place and it was scary at night. Both of us were very young. So we came back to the same area.
In the next part, Priya* talks about her married life, ponders the pros and cons of marrying for love vs. marrying for caste and shares her son’s blossoming love story.
*Name changed on request