The clan one belonged to seems to have been immaterial when it came to love or marriage in Tamil Nadu of yore, something exemplified by the oft-quoted lines of ‘Kurunthogai’, a literary work from the Sangam age. The lines “sempula peyal neer pol anbuday nenjam tham kalanthanavey” describes how the love-driven bride and groom were, oblivious to their backgrounds, as inseparable as rain water and red sand.
In modern times, inter-caste marriages continued to be common. A classic instance was the family of P. Subbarayan, former premier of Madras presidency.
Subbarayan, a gounder, married Rahabhai, a Mangalorean. His son Mohan Kumaramangalam married Kalyani, a Bengali and his daughter Parvathi married Krishnan, a Brahmin. Mohan’s son Rangarajan too married outside his community.
Former finance minister C. Subramaniam and incumbent P. Chidambaram are among those who trod the same path. Communist leaders including Srinivasa Rao, P. Jeevanantham, K. Balathandayutham, P. Ramamurthi, N. Sanakaraiah, P. Manikam and Umanath married outside their caste. Balathandayutham married a Christian while a student at Annamalai University.
“Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar used to ask why one should attach so much importance to inter-caste marriage. After all, the duo involved are human beings,” said senior Communist leader R. Nallakannu, who married a Christian.
However, marriages involving Dalits and intermediate communities that are politically and economically empowered have always evoked protests.
“Today, such marriages are easier in cities. In villages, where the bride and bridegroom have to live with their families, it is extremely difficult,” he said.