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Why Intercaste Marriages Need To Be Sensitive To Gender And Caste To Be Successful

Posted: June 4, 2020

Modi and A Beer directed by Dhinah Chandra Mohan, is a look at the complex narratives of Patriarchy and Caste, and power structures in intercaste marriages.

As the readings around anti-caste is multifaceted, I have been trying to understand the complexities of intercaste marriages in the patriarchal, caste Hindu society from various perspectives.

In the past few decades, many caste based honour killing cases have been recorded. An equally perturbing story is of intercaste marriages and their intersectional dynamics of caste, gender and the everyday.

Modi and A Beer directed by Dhinah Chandra Mohan, is a powerful narrative that unravels these complexities that have been screeching in our mind.

The politics of intercaste marriages

One of the important medicines prescribed to annihilate caste is intercaste marriages. While one cannot deny the strength of intercaste marriages/ relationships, it’s all the more important to talk about the everyday of the people who are involved in that relationship.

Shruthi and Arun in the film Modi and A Beer are about to get married. They are happy that their families have approved. The usual narrative about intercaste marriage would have either taken the clichéd Tamil film pattern of love story and end it with ‘they lived happily ever after’ or it would have been the other end of the spectrum, which is to present the gory image of honour killing.

While both these narratives are true and real, Modi and A Beer takes a road less travelled. It is a critique of both – casteism in a savarna feminist and misogyny & sexism in the anti-caste man from an OBC community.

*Spoilers Alert

Savarna feminist and her casteism

Shruthi, a Tamil savarna woman from Chennai and Arun from the OBC community are in love. They convince their parents for the marriage.

Approval from the families is not the ultimate happy ending to intercaste marriages. In fact, it’s the beginning to the long voyage. As they both meet in the bar to ensure Arun stops drinking beer is where the story hops from one thought to the other like a rabbit.

Shruthi wants Arun to stop consuming beer and she also asks if it’s possible to stop consuming meat. From the first scene till the end it’s evident that within the romantic relationship, systems of power work at various levels. While it is true to any relationship, within the frame work of an intercaste romantic relationship – caste, class, language, region and gender are at intersections.

As a savarna ableist, she talks about the Dravidian movement and anti-caste struggles in Tamil Nadu. As a privileged upper caste woman she has the language to defend her casteism. When her casteism is ‘called out’ by her lover she knows to escape without being accountable for her mistakes. From judging people who consume alcohol and eat beef to an incomplete /insensitive understanding of reservation, she is the incarnation of savarna pride wearing a mask of the liberal. Her mask is so transparent that one can see her embracing caste Hindu nationalism propagated by the current ruling party.

As I kept looking at her, she reminded me of most of the savarna women in my immediate circle and their rooted casteism. How easily she says, “Of course, your folks accepting our relationship and my folks accepting aren’t the same.” It didn’t even occur to her that it’s deeply casteist. Does she stop there? No. When she is questioned if she believes in social hierarchy her response is easy and obvious – “Of course, I don’t believe in caste” but continues to defend the current generation savarna kids’ casteism.

It’s an everyday thing that we find around us. It’s easy for some savarnas to claim that they are casteless but as one peels the onion, the layers removed reveal its true colour. The dialogues between the couple in this film are like peeling the onion which I highly recommend; peeling the onion is for once interesting!

Anti-Caste and Sexism?

Many Dalit-Bahujan women writers and activists have been addressing/ questioning sexism and misogyny within the anti-caste movement. While one cannot deny the struggles and resistance of men from the oppressed castes, it’s also essential to have a critique of sexism and misogyny that exist in these men.

In the recent past, discussion around this is storming on social media. Writers, activists, academicians from the Dalit-Bahujan communities calling out sexism of these men are pushed to the periphery, and their words are misinterpreted.

Arun in this film is an anti-caste, aware of the systematic oppression, but one cannot justify his thoughts about women, sex, and relationships as innocent and devoid of power structure. He suspects Shruthi’s character and accuses her, and uses abusive language which is totally unacceptable.

Through his references of certain ideological views and imagery in the film, one can assume that he is a Periyarist. To be an anti-caste is like crushing most of the power structures in India but sadly it hasn’t really happened that way. Recognising it is the way forward for resistance and love, and the movie has tried its best to do so.

Decoding different narratives in intercaste marriages

Shruthi’s actions are as condemnable and unacceptable as Arun’s and I believe the movie has tried to make both accountable by presenting it to the audience as raw as it would be in the real life.

People in intercaste relationships can be this raw – both casteist and sexist, and we as the audience are equally important to discuss, critique and participate in this story. So I requested some of my friends to share their opinion about the movie and they were varied.

There was a pattern that one could observe. Some picked Shruthi’s side and some opted to support Arun. Some friends on the online platform are disappointed that Shruthi storms out by making him guilty while she doesn’t even recognize her mistakes.

However, there were interesting thoughts shared by Ms. Geetha, Research Scholar from TISS and Mr. Ravikiran Rajendran, Theatre Practitioner and an Actor from Bangalore. Geetha said – “I think the movie has questioned both casteism and sexism. If people are picking only the feminist angle then it’s because one is not able to see the privilege that Shruthi has because of her social capital.” Mr. Ravikiran says – “These characters are complex by nature. This is exactly how people can behave in real world. As audience we need to look at this complex plot and narrative.”

While I do respect these views, I’m not totally convinced with this argument because Arun is not completely passive in his relationship; he clearly critiques her casteism in the film. If she isn’t recognising her casteism it’s because of her own caste privilege. The film has been firm in presenting her ignorance from the beginning. So, picking selective scenes and de-contextualising is a problematic approach to the narratives.

There were other responses which surprised me further.

“She was civilized in responding to him and he wasn’t. He used abusive language. So, she seemed to have gone through more pain.” – said a friend. So, what then is abusive language? If his language is abusive, each of her dialogues which were casteist (apparently most of it were) is equally a language of violence. As a consumer, if I choose to call a certain language used by certain people as abusive and go ignorant to another equally abusive language, then aren’t we biased? A small research before writing this confirmed that selection of narratives is also based on consumers’ leaning to what they want out of this film.

Danger in the selective consumption of narratives

Evidently, reception to this film has been one sided and there isn’t one concrete understanding. As the audience we contribute to the production and distribution of certain ideologies as much as the director. We are not passive beings or just the consumers in this process.

As a Dalit Feminist, I feel that the selective choice of the narrative from this film is going to be dangerous for both the anti-caste movement and the feminist movement. Being an active participant in critiquing both Shruthi’s incomplete and limited understanding of feminism and the anti-caste movement, and Arun’s limited understanding of Periyarist thought is the way forward for me as a learner and a participant in the feminist and anti – caste movement.

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Assistant Professor at St. Joseph's College, Bengaluru. Former Assistant Professor at Jain University, Bengaluru.

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