The Maharashtra government’s plans to bring a law to encourage inter-caste and inter-religion marriages.
The Maharashtra government’s plans to bring a law to encourage inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, with a focus on protection for such couples, is a necessary step forward in fostering deeper integration in society. Maharashtra, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, saw the fourth-highest number of honour killings in 2016. So, such a law becomes necessary to ensure that a resident has the right to choose her/his marital partner. Apart from ensuring protection against threats, the government is planning to provide financial incentives for such marriages, including fee waivers for children born from such marriages and even a small cash grant on the occasion of marriage, under the law, as per a report in The Indian Express. However, the state is also mulling over giving children of inter-caste marriages, where one of the spouses is from a backward community, reservation benefits. This where it falls short since it doesn’t have even the most tenuous mooring in the affirmative action logic that is forwarded for extending reservation, and in fact brings into sharp relief caste differences when the law’s spirit should be geared more towards erasing these. The government would do well to rethink this provision when it drafts the law.
The other thing that the Maharashtra government has to bear in mind is that a legal encouragement is fine, but it is attitudes towards caste and religious differences that have to change for inter-caste and inter-religious marriages to become common. The recent Bhima Koregaon protests and the Marathas march for reservation have brought caste relations in the state to a boil. The simmering tensions will keep erupting in the form of clashes or marches and mobilisation by vested caste-based politics as long as the underlying issues, both economic and social, are not addressed. This is where Maharashtra, and indeed, the rest of India, needs to focus on.