A red-herring about love, weddings, caste, etc.

‘Weddings need rituals to be celebrations, but they need not be casteist’, T.M. Krishna, Deccan Chronicle, March 12, 2023:

Modern alternatives are dry and boring affairs. Signing a document in a dowdy old building in the presence of an arbitrary government official and exchanging garlands is not everybody’s cup of tea. Neither is a distant and staged self-respect marriage where the family has no role. The urban elite may think the after-party is the celebration but, for the rest of the country, ceremonial events are the coming together. If we are to break away from caste-infused ritualistic weddings, we need to evolve new rituals. Non-discriminatory ones that can creatively traverse language, gesture, music, movement, colour, and bring families and friends together. Above everything else, they must be collective fun. We need to choreograph inspiring habits and rituals in order to build non-exclusive communities.

I’m willing to be persuaded that the piece has been edited to lose some sentences and some words in sentences in the interest of space. But that aside, it is dotted with some strange words and constructions that undermine T.M. Krishna’s point. Consider: “I am certain there would be many conversations between the lovers on how to tackle the various challenges that might crop up.” ‘Lovers’ is a colloquial term but it is also loaded. Two people who wish to get married (or live together, for that matter) aren’t only engaged in loving each other. They are partners more accurately, with intentions and agency that transcend their status as ‘lovers’. (I know several people in such relationships and calling them “lovers” would be laughable.) “Not everyone would have the gumption to fight and elope.” Eloping isn’t limited solely by the availability of gumption or bravery more broadly; it also needs to be informed by wisdom and the couple’s own relationships with their communities and their aspirations. “Brides and bridegrooms are young lovers filled with romance and passion, just starting their life together.” Again with reducing the two people to simple ‘lovers’ with the implication that their only option at this time is to have certain decisions imposed on them (as the subsequent lines also indicate).

Then comes a problem of another kind. “Can a janeu-wearing brahmin be anti-caste? A friend of mine who is a rabid rationalist and atheist still wears the janeu. When I ask him why, he hems and haws, unable to give me a sane response.” T.M. Krishna’s friend may have failed to supply an answer that Krishna found agreeable but how that is relevant is not clear for two reasons. First, Krishna proceeds to invoke the reply of another friend, “a good person who treats everyone well”, which makes sense: “I understand everything you say and I am uncomfortable with many rituals, but I am unable to give up certain things because they are ingrained in me, intertwined with my identity.” Second, ethnographic exercises in the sociological and anthropological literature have both cast light on how people in different spheres have reconciled their secular practices and religious views in different ways, and pushed back on primitive worldviews that hold religious and non-religious views in opposition, as Krishna suggests he does when he invokes his first friend’s alleged rationalism. (See here, for example.) I’m also lost as to why this person’s alleged rabidity and atheism matter. Then Krishna writes, “How and where do we slot such people?” It is hard not to wonder why we are slotting people when the way we are doing that seems like the central problem.

I understand and empathise with Krishna’s principal contention, to create a wedding that is rooted in and invokes good memories and our community moorings without othering others (if only because the latter can easily inflict violence), that ‘belonging’ is a wickedly multidimensional term in which one component can’t easily be separated from another, and finally that both these concepts automatically call on us to slot people, so that we know whom we can identify and celebrate with. But to pose the question as a mystery while working with an inchoate premise doesn’t help.