“But the families’ concerns about the reputation and respect for their families (by the community) often force them to go against” their child’s choice in such cases, he says.
Some families themselves fear marginalization and even physical harm from the rest of the community, particularly in rural and remote areas, if they stand by their children’s choices to break caste rules.
In northern India, male-dominated khap panchayats or village committees wield huge influence in such matters and often act as a kind of moral police. Some issue outright bans on inter-caste marriages, while at the same time supporting child marriages within the same caste, according to women’s rights activist Jagmati Sangwan.
In Haryana state, for example, where khap panchayats are dominant, Dalits are almost entirely landless. And Dalits marrying into higher castes threaten to “change the balance of power” that has been in place for generations, says Sangwan.
“There’s a threat of changing power equations which is intolerable for status-conscious sections of society who want to retain hegemony over economic and social resources,” Sangwan tells AFP.
There are no quick fixes to these centuries-old problems, says researcher Goli, but increasing “urbanization, education and employment of women” can “pave the way for an increase in inter-caste marriages.”
Sutapa, a 39-year-old researcher, and her husband met and fell in love at a university in Mumbai where they were pursuing their doctorates. Both are from different castes, although neither is a Dalit, and they speak different mother tongues. They were determined to stay together, and after three years, they finally convinced their parents to accept the relationship.
“Living in a large city away from the village, you can more easily meet someone from another caste,” says Sutapa, who did not want to give her full name.
“We had to adjust to each other, but being university graduates helped us,” she told AFP. Married now for 11 years, the couple has two boys, aged four and nine.
And she says “my sons growing up will definitely know the meaning of a love marriage sometime.”