I’ve made it to another internet cafe and hopefully I have at least a bit of time to write before Cailey becomes too impatient with me. Ok so where was I? I had mentioned that the Nepalese government has a plan to pay people to marry out of their caste. This of course certainly does not solve the problem (as I am inclined to see it, I am aware that not everyone sees it this way) of people not marrying for love but I had to wonder -could it change the caste system? And if so would the change be for the better?
Before I go any further in my discussion of caste and marriage I must admit that pre-arrival in India, to the extent that I did know about the caste system, my knowledge was very limited. In an attempt to make it something I could better understand I equated it with class distinctions in the US. I thought that the major difference was that though one is in many ways born into their class, it is subject to change in a way that caste is not. In other ways I thought caste and class were similar in that the lower castes and lower classes are generally afforded fewer opportunities and are subject to greater hardships. In my defense (or perhaps to further point out my ignorance) the British upon arriving to India also attempted to equate caste with class. Like them, I assumed that one’s caste was a good indicator of place in society, education, and income level. I knew of course that there were some exceptions. I had done at least a little bit of background reading on India and knew that there was a prominent women from the dalit class who was causing a stir in the government. However though I was aware of this, I did not fully absorb it and so my understanding of caste was incredibly limited in scope. Caste has been a hard thing for me to understand and in particular write about because though I keep trying to equate it to something from my world, there is obviously no exact equivalent. It seems to me that it has some similarities to class, some to a large family name, and some to race. I admit of course that I still don’t have a clear picture of how everything works and my, at times limited, understanding of the things I am experiencing inevitably colors my observations. This is something I have forgiven myself for and I hope any blog readers can also extend me this courtesy.
Ok back to trying to explain why I might consider paying people to marry out of their caste a maybe not-so-terrible idea. As more people marry out of their caste, the caste label would lose a large amount of its meaning. If marrying between caste was considered acceptable caste would be a less derisive feature of Indian/Nepali/South Asian culture (though how derisive it actually is is still a bit unclear to me). It seems to me that for such marriages to be considered acceptable in the near future there must be some active encouragement since it has been so heavily discouraged for ages.
As I’ve noted, I tend to have a (perhaps detrimental) desire to compare the new things I am seeing with bits of my own world. I am currently attempting to compare inter-caste marriages in India or Nepal with inter-race marriages in the US. There was of course a time not so long ago when such a thing was considered taboo in the US. However I can’t stretch my analogy too far because as I’ve written about before, the purpose of marriage is very different in the US and India. In the US people are expected to marry for love and if they love someone of another race then that is acceptable (perhaps not everywhere but in the US that I grew up in). On the other hand in India or Nepal people are more likely to marry for the stability it will bring to them and their family. A dowry is still an important part of marriage, as is the man’s employment opportunities. Thus is it so strange to think that monetary compensation could be a good way to encourage inter-caste marriages?
Though the government policy Cailey told me about seems ridiculous on face value I can’t help but thinking that maybe some kind of monetary incentive is an effective way to change the caste structure in Nepal. Of course, this post does nothing to address the issue of whether or not the government actually should impose change. I don’t feel comfortable seriously attacking this question because I don’t feel I have a clear enough picture of what the caste system means to the people living in it. Caste is not as deterministic as I originally assumed but I have far from a clear picture of what the system looks like. In traveling in India and Nepal I have become acutely aware of how much I still don’t know about the world, I consider myself lucky to be realizing this at a young age.