The Odisha government has from 17 August increased the cash incentive for inter-caste marriages. Previously it was awarding INR 50,000 for such marriages but now it has doubled the amount to INR 1 lakh. The amount is expected to be provided irrespective of the economic status of the couple that is getting married. However, there are limits on how one can use this money. As revealed by an official of the state government it can only be used to buy land or articles that will be used in the household.
What is the government saying?
Surendra Kumar, the SC (Scheduled Caste) and ST (Scheduled Tribe) Development Secretary of Orissa government, has made it quite clear that the hike has been brought into effect keeping in mind the present circumstances. This monetary assistance will be available to both women and men who decide that they would be marrying outside their caste. He has also stated that it is hoped that this cash incentive would also bring about the removal of an age old Indian practice – untouchability. The last time that this amount had been increased by Odisha government was back in 2007. Before that INR 10,000 were offered for such marriages.
Place of caste in Indian society
As far as Indian society is concerned caste is always an important factor for marriage. At the very best parents do not allow their kids to marry outside their caste and at the worst couples are killed in order to save the honour of their families when they marry outside their caste. No matter what, marrying outside your caste is considered to be absolutely unacceptable with a few exceptions here and there. The laws in India do allow for such marriages but they provide virtually no protection to people that do so.
The thought behind financial incentives
This is the reason why the Union Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment is offering INR 2.5 lakh for each such marriage. This financial incentive is expected to help these inter-caste couples find their feet in the early stages of their lives. The money is being provided under a programme named Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages. The central government is hopeful that through this programme more people will marry outside their caste and that this would help reduce caste prejudices in the country. States apart from Odisha that are also offering such financial benefits of their own include the following:
- Himachal Pradesh
- Tamil Nadu
Will this work?
The thought behind such a programme is a noble one without a shadow of a doubt. From a practical point of view it will work wonders as well by helping such people get some sort of financial stability at the beginning of what can be considered an unacceptable relationship from a social standpoint. But we also need to ask if it is the right thing to do in the long term. After all, India is one country with one of the highest rates of corruption – one where money pervades each and every value and virtue supposed to be held dear by mankind. There are some uncomfortable questions that need to be asked in this case.
Through programmes such as these are people not being encouraged to marry for money? Who is to say that in the rural hinterlands people will not dump off their wives once they get the money? After all, laws are not enforced in these majority parts of India that still seem to be lagging by centuries when it comes to providing equal rights to women. Is it not better that instead of such free money people are made aware through social programmes and campaigns? Is it not better if strict laws are created and then enforced properly in order to stop acts of hate crime related to caste?
Lastly, from a practical point of view and taking everything into account this is a brilliant move but ideally it is not. As sad and unfortunate as it may sound it is true indeed.