The shock over the brutal murder of Pranay, a 24-year-old Dalit man from Miryalaguda, was yet to die down when another such attack took place in Hyderabad on Wednesday. This time, the assailant is the young woman's father, who slashed her newlywed husband and nearly amputated her arm. Madhavi is currently in hospital, battling for her life. Her husband has survived the attack. This was once again a case of inter-caste marriage.
There have been varied responses to both cases. Many people have condemned the incidents without any riders. However, there are several others who, in some way, try to justify the violence. While one section is openly casteist, hailing Maruthi Rao, the first accused in Pranay's murder, as a hero, there is another section that is taking refuge in the "parental love" angle to hide their own bigotry.
This latter section typically considers itself "broad-minded" and may issue several disclaimers - of not believing in violence and casteism - before getting into the whataboutery. This section looks at the violence as a consequence of extreme parental grief, arising out of the Dalit men having "deprived" the families of their daughters whom they had "cherished" all these years. Moreover, the women were "too young" to elope and marry someone their families consider unsuitable. Facebook Live streams of many Telugu channels on these two stories are full of comments by people questioning the women for having gone against their parents who had supposedly brought them up lovingly, with many dreams for their future.
In the second case, especially, the justification is much louder, because the police has denied that there was any caste angle to the crime. This, despite the fact that Sandeep's family has said that Madhavi's father, Manoharachari, had objected to his daughter marrying a Dalit man repeatedly. They had allegedly asked her if she couldn't find anyone else other than Sandeep.
As anti-caste activists have been saying, not all inter-caste marriages evoke the same kind of response. The violence is considerably higher when the match is between someone from a privileged caste and a Dalit. To deny this reality or obfuscate it with other excuses to is to be dishonest. It is to be noted that both Amrutha's (Pranay's wife) family as well as Madhavi's family knew about their respective relationships and had objected to the match on caste grounds.
In Amrutha's case, she was reportedly beaten up by her uncle in a bid to stop her from seeing Pranay. Madhavi's father was looking to arrange her marriage with another man. It is in these desperate circumstances, when the couples knew that the families would go to any lengths to separate them, that they eloped and got married. This is true of several such inter-caste couples and it is considered acceptable in India for parents of adult children to control their lives on the basis of caste, class, and religion.
Even if the circumstances were not as dire, legally, all the four people concerned are adults and are free to marry who they want. Their parents' views about their choice of partner does not matter in a court of law. The "emotional" argument made, however, is that the men deprived the families of the beloved daughters of the house and that this is unfair to the parents.
Firstly, this view smacks of patriarchal ideas that consider women to be property, to be given and taken. Moreover, if all this is about parental love, why should the daughter be "taken" from them if they had respected her choice and accepted her partner in the first place? If the families are not willing to treat her as an adult and respect her right to marry according to law, how can the daughter and her partner be blamed for going against their wishes?
Secondly, this argument confuses a sense of ownership over one's child with love. If you choose to reproduce and bring up a child according to your social and familial norms, it isn't a favour that you are doing to your offspring. Many people have children simply to fulfill societal expectations and you do not own the child just because you brought him or her into this world.
While all parents have certain expectations from their children, it is foolish to believe that these expectations are in their best interests always. For instance, several parents force their daughters to stay in violent marriages (arranged by them, according to caste and class factors) because they are more concerned about what society will say than the welfare of their child. They value their "honour" over their children, and emotionally manipulate them into staying in such situations because they "owe" it to the people who brought them up.
It is this dangerous sense of ownership that leads many parents to use violence against their children and those associated with them. How can it be any form of love when a parent gets their child beaten up, hacks them or someone they care about to death? There cannot be any justification for this behaviour, especially when the son or daughter is an adult themselves.
Lastly, let's say that we buy the argument that this isn't about caste or caste alone for a moment, and that the parent is only concerned about their child's future. Even then, it is high time we recognised that children - grown adults in this case - are allowed to make their own mistakes, just as their parents did when growing up. A parent may believe that their adult offspring is making the worst mistake by marrying someone they don't approve or choosing a career they feel has no prospect or whatever else. At the most, the parent's job is to share their thoughts with their adult son or daughter. If the suggestions are not well received, the parent may either continue to be supportive or withdraw. Their job is not to lead the lives of their children for them.
"Parental love" apologists should take a hard look at themselves in the mirror. Hiding underneath their sophisticated demeanor is 50 shades of prejudice that no amount of education or exposure has managed to shake. They are no different from the bigots who have changed their profile photos to Maruthi Rao's pictures, genteel disclaimers notwithstanding.