The Violent Materialization of Caste in Indian Matchmaking and Sairat

It isn’t hard to notice dominant caste and class people in Indian Matchmaking legitimating themselves by promoting beliefs and values congenial to them. In the garb of dating, comedy, glamour, and familiarity, casteist and sexist values are naturalized and universalized. 

Sima Taparia, the matchmaker on the show, is often seen remarking, “Matches are made in heaven and God has given me the duty to make it successful on earth.” At least two problems arise from that statement: one that it serves as divine certification for endogamy, and second appropriating to oneself the right to gatekeep caste pride and honor. In Sairat, we see what the gatekeepers of caste honor resort to. The impurity and dishonor an individual can bring to a community is dependent on their proximity to ‘inferior’ bodies. This is the violence of caste system.

You might be wondering how a small decision taken within the confines of a room in the U.S. has the potential to contribute to honor-based killings in broad daylight somewhere in India. But here’s the thing: Indian Matchmaking’s portrayal of dating and romance is anything but innocent, cute, or funny; it is regressive and violent. Regressive? You’d agree. But violent? You’d probably be thinking that I’m reading a bit too much into it, and you could be right, but not entirely, because the desire to validate endogamy is a political statement that has brutal consequences. 

As a person who loves eating beef, let me point out how personal choices have political implications. Almost every biodata seen in the show had vegetarian as a preference. This is not an innocent personal choice. I consider it important to locate that preference within a context where vegetarianism is a marker of caste identity. To speak of vegetarianism is to speak of caste “by other means” as against speaking of “caste on its own terms.”[I] Therefore, clients wanting to marry within their own communities putting forth that want in the garb of mere “preference” is a political statement to safeguard and sustain endogamy. 

Take note of the mention of caste and food preference

Desire doesn’t matter as much as who is being desired. Desire is a good thing so long as the one desiring does not desire what isn’t to be desired. Desire is acceptable only as long as it maintains social order and hierarchy. This is the violence of caste system, and endogamy only sustains that violence in seemingly innocuous ways. 

I will draw your attention to two characters from Sairat, namely Parshya and Prince, to highlight the materialization of the caste-masculinity nexus.

Scene where Parshya slaps Archie

First, there is a very disturbing scene where Parshya physically abuses his wife Archie in public. A man who is unable to fight off other men on numerous occasions finds it within his rights to abuse a woman simply by virtue of being a male. Dalitness, for Nagraj Manjule, is no excuse for the manifestation of masculine vices of aggression, violence, and control. Though in Parshya we see a subversion of gender roles and masculinity, we are also offered a glimpse of the evil of patriarchy.

Second, when I first noticed Prince, I almost thought this was a mischaracterization by Manjule, but the more I paid attention to this character, I realized that Manjule, in portraying Prince as a man who does not seem to be a well-built muscular macho person, is conveying the idea that men not only derive the power to control and dominate other bodies through their maleness or muscularity but also by their caste affiliations.

Prince (in a coat) cuts his birthday cake with a sword

Dalit feminist theologian Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar notes how in the process of ‘othering the other’—in the monitoring and disciplining of bodies of women and Dalits—dominant-caste men construct a “pure” self.[ii] This “pure” self is what we see in Indian Matchmaking. By erasing Dalit, Queer, and Muslim narratives and bodies, dominant-caste men end up defining themselves in relation to (and in the absence of) other identities. Men unashamedly flaunting their caste or community names wielding it as a badge of honor, seeking to preserve and embrace “culture,” which we all know is a euphemism to caste, is a result of that constructed false-image. 

As a response to this caste-masculinity nexus, I propose the idea of cast(e)rating masculinity. To cast(e)rate masculinity is to have men cast(e)rate themselves from the power, and the license to act on the power, that caste and hegemonic masculinity accord. It entails abandoning the need to acquire a manhood patterned after patriarchal ideologies, calling for a dogged refusal to use abusive power that caste and maleness accord.[iii]

It is important for men, as Dalit theologian Prabhakar Dayam reminds us, to interrogate ourselves and come to an awareness of being located in a position of power. Only when we men question the influences that shape our being, the perspectives we hold as men, and the actions we perform, could we distance ourselves from the abusive power that caste and masculinity concede.[iv] I wonder now even as I wondered then if the men on Indian Matchmaking had that awareness of being located in a position of power. 

If shows like Indian Matchmaking want to showcase narratives of dominant-caste men, may they be narratives of discomfort, repentance, and accountability, and not one of pride and honor because we know all too well that endogamy, seen in Indian Matchmaking, is about preserving caste honor, and honor-based killings, witnessed in Sairat, is about reclaiming caste honor. Indian Matchmaking has fumigated and vaunted endogamy, but no amount of exoticism will ever be able to mask the barbarity of casteism.

Aakash walks out of the house after seeing his parents lying dead in a pool of blood

I remember watching Sairat, not once but twice, in fear. Is this not the violence of the caste system that even when you’re watching it manifest on screen it leaves you gripping with fear? The scene that left me paralyzed was watching that little baby walking out of the house leaving behind bloodied footsteps. Those feeble feet point to the violence one would experience when caste norms are violated. That visual and memory will forever be itched into the memories and bodies of those that transgress caste norms. This is the violence of the caste system. 

We must learn to discern how caste materializes in the shows and movies we watch, in the places we live and move in, and in the words and actions we speak and perform.

P.S. To watch the entire conversation on “Caste and Social Violence,” click here.

Cover Image by Ohmydearlife from Pixabay 

[i] M.S.S. Pandian, “One Step outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere,” in Economic & Political Weekly, 37:18 (2002): 1735-1741. Cited in, C. Sathyamala, “Meat-eating in India: Whose Food, whose politics, and whose rights?” in Policy Futures in Education, 17:7 (2019), 878-891.

[ii] Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, “Turning Bodies Inside Out: Contours of Womanist Theology,” Dalit Theology in the Twenty-first Century, Sathianathan Clarke (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 208. 

[iii] For a clearer understanding of what Cast(e)rating Masculinity entails, consider reading my book Church and Human Sexuality. 

[iv] Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, “Towards a Liberatory Christian Theology for Men: Interrogating the Gendered Self,” in Created in God’s Image: From Hegemony to Partnership, eds. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth and Philip Vinod Peacock (Switzerland: WCC, 2010), 34.

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