The latest PEW Research Centre report finds that majority of Indians condemn inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. For B.R. Ambedkar this would have been a cause for deep concern. In the Constituent Assembly and elsewhere, Ambedkar emphasised that religious and caste hierarchies would impede India’s progress to become the kind of republic that he and his fellow Constitution framers envisioned.
Ambedkar believed that equality, freedom and other values encoded in the Constitution would only materialise in India’s social context if there was fraternity – which was the antithesis of caste, religion and other social hierarchies. And so, he emphasised the importance of fraternity in the Constituent Assembly and played a key role in getting it included in the Constitution.
There are potentially many ways to propagate fraternity: inter-dining, mixing in public spaces etc. But Ambedkar singled out one:
“…The real remedy [against untouchability] is inter-marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling—the feeling of being aliens—created by Caste will not vanish…Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity.”
For Ambedkar, a reliable proxy to evaluate the extent to which social hierarchies have been broken down was to ask the following questions: how often do Indians of different faiths and castes marry each other? Do Indians support inter-religious and inter-caste marriages? The answer was no, during Ambedkar’s time. And as the recent PEW study suggests, the answer remains the same today.
Marriage is a key institution used by dominant social groups to sustain and keep alive caste and religious hierarchies. Ambedkar’s linking of fraternity and marriage forces us to pay attention to marriage as a key site where the Constitution and dominant social groups fight and jostle with each other. Viewed with such a lens, exclusive caste and religion-based matrimony sites, along with ‘love jihad’ laws are concerning developments that strike at the heart of the Constitution’s social transformation goals.