With brown eyes, black hair and fair skin, Ruchi Vijayvargiya could easily be mistaken for a North Indian. She is and she isn’t: Born to a Hindu Rajasthani father and a Christian Malayali mother, Ruchi is a mixture of two states, two cultures and two very different religions. Born in Bhopal, she grew up learning Hindi, English and Malayalam and now works in Bangalore in an IT company. Ruchi is part of what has come to be known as India’s “curry generation”. Like a curry, they blend with other ingredients to add a new flavour to India’s multi-cultural mix.
The country today is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by inter-state migration and intermarriages. According to the records of the marriage registration department in the national capital, in three out of every 10 marriages registered in 2012 the husband and wife were from different cultures or religions. According to the annual report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, between 2008 and 2009, as many as 4,955 couples married outside their caste and received financial assistance under the government scheme for promoting inter-caste marriages. In 2009-10, this number rose to 7,148. The actual figure could be much higher, as many cases are unreported.
A growing number of young people in urban India are now finding love in colleges and offices and defying socio-cultural norms relating to marriage. “In turn, this gives rise to kids who are cosmopolitan, flexible and progressive,” says Dr. Aroona Broota, marriage counsellor and psychologist.
Rewind to the 1970s, when inter-community marriages were rare. Out of fear, pressure or convenience, people married within their own religion, caste or clan. Ruchi’s parents were both young medical students who were interning in what was a “new place to both and they were the only decent company for each other,” she says. But what about reactions from their families? “Mom and dad never discussed how they got married. I suspect they must have revolted. The story is that my grandfathers consented and both grandmas were annoyed but eventually came around. I have seen two photos of their marriage: in a temple and a church with just 5-6 people around.”
Udayan Upadhaya, a 23-year-old whose parents are Maharashtrian and Bengali, says his grandparents did not react too well to his parents’ love. “Because of the opposition, my dad wanted to elope but my mother wouldn’t. They were firm that they wanted to marry each other but decided to wait for everyone’s consent. I’m glad dad married my mother,” he smiles.
For Ruchi, the difference in religion meant her parents had to adjust to a lot but then that’s true of all marriages, she says. “Mom didn’t convert but started following Hindu rituals. She adapted to it and Dad also adapted to her faith. We are not regular church-goers but there are some chapels where mom has a strong faith so she takes us there. The advantage is that I got to see two cultures, know as much about the Bible as the Gita. In fact, it made me more curious about religion in general; I even tried reading the Quran.”
Nishu Shukla, a Delhi-based relationship expert, says, “The lesson such mixed marriage couples teach their kids is different from that of traditional parents. A child is more functional and adaptive.”
Till a few years ago, people questioned the value system of children like Ruchi and Udayan. But with their growing numbers and rising acceptability, they are leading the charge of bringing fluidity into the Indian society and blurring caste, class or community lines. “Whenever anyone asks me ‘who are you’ or ‘which part of the country do you belong to’, I always say I’m a mix. Both my sides are important to me and I don’t want anyone of them to matter more than the other,” says Ruchi.
“I’d say I’m Maharastrian, but that’s only for convenience. I don’t really identify with any particular one,” adds Udayan. But what happens when politics tries to force you to pick sides? “Well, I judge issues by logic and not my background,” he says.
For Sujana Mulaparti, a Protestant Christian from Andhra married to a Hindu from Kerala, it’s not politics but their religion that is the issue. “During our marriage, according to the Malayalam calendar, the good time between June 28 and last week of July. But in the Andhra calendar, the good time got over by the first week of July. My in-laws wanted us to get married in the last week of July but we decided to do it in the last week of June. Similarly, during our new house warming, by Kerala tradition, the puja should be done at midnight and in Christianity, prayers are are done only in the mornings. But the good thing is that we have learned to discuss things and find a middle path,” she says.
In some cases, as Karan (name changed) found out, differences can trigger a clash. Karan’s father is a Jain and mother a Sikh. Before their marriage, the couple agreed not to force their children to follow any one religion. But after Karan’s birth, his mother insisted that he do ardas and visit the Gurudwara. “This led to constant fighting between the couple and Karan felt rejected and lost his sense of identity. In his anxiety, he started eating excessively and became obese,” says Dr. Broota.
Dr. Shukla also points out, “This is what happens when couples are not able to balance their own and society’s expectations in terms of family and culture. The result is an unhappy marriage with a confused kid. There has to be an equal level of acceptance and adaptability between the couple and their families.”
There are some like Anuja Agrawal, assistant professor of sociology at Delhi University, who feel that such marriages are not as many as people think. But others like Prof Vivek Kumar, assistant professor at the Centre for Study of Social System in JNU, argue that “such marriages in a rigid society like India are commendable. They are breaking social and caste structures and the first casualty is dowry. It also enhances the status of women.”
Fast-forward to November, 2013. Ruchi will be tying the knot with her colleague and best friend of five years. A software engineer like her, Vivek is a Rajput from UP. “He understands me like no one else and has stood by me for five years. We share the same likes and dislikes… it just feels right,” says Ruchi. Their kids, when they have them, will truly be multicultural but which culture will they follow? “One that will make them good human beings,” she quips. Her parents’ marriage may have been made in heaven, but theirs, she says, has been made by globalisation.
Keywords: multi-cultural marriages