Inter-caste and interreligious marriages and The State Intervention

Synopsis: Inter-caste and interreligious marriages in India, although have been a subject of academic discussion, especially in social sciences, account for a diminishing percentage of all marriages in India. Religious and caste-based atrocities serve as the most important reason behind such statistics. Hence, this article will focus on the aspects of marital democracy in India and the advancement of the Indian society in general, with respect to the framing of ‘love jihad’ and the infantilisation of minority communities in India that had been historically marginalised. This article also traces the importance of such marriages in order to retain the democratic framework of India.

inter caste and interreligious marriages in india

In a country like India that shelters diversified groups and is hailed for being a land of pluralism and secularism, the discourse on marriage has always been prevalent. With the promulgation of an ordinance to prohibit “unlawful conversion” through marriages in India, by the governor of Uttar Pradesh and the same to be followed by states like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, headed by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, it has triggered a wave of controversies and has been subjected to criticisms from well-known political analysts and media figures like Christophe Jaffrelot, Abhinav Chandrachud, and Teesta Setalvad. Hence, it calls for a much broader discussion on the institution of marriage in India, in its entirety.

Inter-Caste and Interreligious Marriages in India – Laws and Regulations

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 grants all the citizens of India the right to perform caste exogamy and legalises inter-caste marriages. The maker of the constitution and the great social reformist of India, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar opined that inter-caste marriages would be a way forward to get rid of casteist practices and bring about a more inclusive society. The Special Marriage Act of 1954, was enacted to provide all the Indians and Indian nationals in a foreign country with a special form of marriage. It originated from the Civil Marriage Act of 1872 by Henry Maine that legalised inter-caste, interreligious and registered marriages, but was later found to be inadequate by the Indian leaders who believed that such legislation would encourage marriages based on lust, and would move away from the traditional (read here) ideals of a ‘sacred’ marital bond. Hence, it was replaced by the new Special Marriage Act and all the interreligious marriages are supposed to be performed under this Act.

Despite these being laws enshrined in the Indian constitution, reports show that interreligious marriages account for not more than 11% of all marriages in India. Similarly, only 5.58% of marriages are inter-caste (Das et al). This is solely because marriages outside the set boundaries of religion and caste have led to violent consequences like honour killings.

Immediate Repercussions

In India, individuals who perform religious and caste exogamy are viewed as alien identities who want to rebel against the normal social order and contribute to anomy. Caste is an ascribed identity and caste endogamy is one of the most prominent but subtle ways to maintain the purity of one’s caste and thereby the hierarchy that comes along with its ascription. While Dalit men who have married women from upper castes have been mostly killed, Dalit women who have married men from upper castes although have been discriminated and stigmatised, didn’t encounter half as much brutality as inflicted upon the former. Hence, out of the 5.58% of intercaste marriages, 5.38% are characterised by an affinal kinship between an upper caste man and a lower caste woman. The upper caste Hindus and their brahminical patriarchy have time and again put the onus on women to uphold the tradition, culture and “honour” of their family, and thereby, of their community.

The Hindu caste membership imposes the following restriction on an individual – one must marry within one’s own caste (endogamy; endo: within and gamous: union). As regards endogamy, hypergamous marriages called ‘anuloma’ (meaning ‘with the hair’ signifying its naturalness or normalness) are permitted, even if they aren’t prescribed. Anuloma is a practice whereby an upper caste man can get married to a lower caste woman and give rise to a new caste that would be placed at the bottom of his ascribed caste but above the rung of his wife’s caste in the caste ladder. However, a woman, whatsoever, can never marry below her caste; such hypogamous marriages came to be known as ‘pratiloma’ (meaning ‘against the hair’). Such practice has been proscribed by the flag bearer of Hinduism and brahminical patriarchy, Manu and other Smriti writers. Hence, Hindu rituals of marriage consider women as objects that would help in the reproduction of an heir and as mere possessions owned by their husbands. Therefore, a lower caste man owning a similar object owned by an upper caste man is seen as a violation of normal social order and of generational hierarchy which has been superimposed by the upper castes.

When the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, addressed the crowd at a BJP election rally in Jaunpur by referring to a recent high court judgment warning (Muslim) men of their “notorious activities of hiding their identities”, made sure that anyone who plays with the “honour” of his (Hindu) daughters and sisters, won’t be spared. It isn’t surprising for Adityanath who publicly opined that “women should not be left free or independent”, to expand the game of power-and-control a bit further, however, the support of the masses in favour of this judgement is what makes one question if the largest democracy in the world has been able to retain its democratic strongholds.

The Discourse on ‘Love Jihad’

The term “love jihad” first appeared in Gujarat in 2007 and soon resurfaced in Kerala and Karnataka in 2009, massively promoted by RSS (a radical Hindu organisation which supposedly is monitored by the BJP) ideologue Pramod Muthalik and the Hindu vigilante group to refer to “fanatic boys who are encouraged to attract Hindu girls, in an effort to demoralise the Hindu community”. In reaction to “love jihad”, various groups of armed Hindu goons forcefully intervened in interreligious marriages to “save the Hindu girls from the clutches of Muslim men”. In 2018, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh launched anti-romeo squads to protect women, particularly from Muslims. This takes us back to Engels’ ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ which shows the transition from a matriarchal and mateilineal to a patriarchal and patrilineal society whose onset was marked by women losing their sexual freedom to their husbands and other male counterparts. In the words of Teesta Setalvad, it isn’t any different and history is time and again repeating itself as we are regressing slowly and gradually – “The love jihad spectre: It has now crept into judicial discourse, to the detriment of a woman’s freedom and autonomy.”

Abhinav Chandrachud, one of the best-known lawyers in the country, in an article, expressed his disappointment with the ordinance for it has “chilling effect on the freedom of conscience” and goes against Article 25 of the Indian constitution which clearly states that one has the right to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion. While its take on “unlawful conversion” is justified, its approach in addressing the issue is what subjects it to public scrutiny and large-scale criticism. Besides, making any form of religious conversion an illegal activity, an unbailable offense and putting the onus on the person carrying the conversion to prove that it isn’t illegal, the term “allurement” is what makes the ordinance unconstitutional. This includes even providing a gift to the person who is sought to be converted – in the words of Chandrachud, “if a person offers a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to a non-Hindu, and the non-Hindu decides to convert to Hinduism after reading it, the conversion could be said to have taken place by “allurement” since it occurred after a gift was given to the convert.” The ordinance also states that reconversion to one’s previous religion is not illegal or act of criminality even if it is vitiated by force, misrepresentation and allurement. However, as is evident, the issue, here, is not about Non-Hindus converting to Hinduism.

When a Muslim man marries a Hindu woman in Haryana, he is given police protection following the intervention of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Haryana reportedly has set up a three-member committee to draft a law against “love jihad”, but perhaps this is an exception. The question, however, is what makes it an exception? Unlike what usually happens, here, the groom opted for conversion to Hinduism. Hence, it’s blatantly obvious that conversion to any religion but Hinduism will be countered with brutality. Certainly, to uplift the 85% Hindu population from staggering, the state would employ all measures, amend and frame new laws and employ mobs as and whenever it deems fit.

The ordinance also categorises Dalits and Adivasis as minors. Their conversion will now be encountered with more stringent rules. By infantilising these historically marginalised groups who are considered incapable of knowing their minds, the state once again proves the superiority of the upper caste Hindus and continues with the perpetration of religious and caste-based hierarchies.

During a recent interview with the Dalit dialogue, activist and scholar Chandra Bhan Prasad, I remember asking him about his stance on this particular issue, to which he replied that sooner or later, the state might come up with another ordinance in the name of “dress jihad” whereby Dalits and other historically marginalised groups of people wearing a similar set of dresses and accessing similar brands like that of the Hindu upper castes, would have to face legal repercussions. I cannot begin to fathom the seriousness that accompanies this light-hearted statement and it is not long that we have to wait for a (legal) ban on inter-caste marriages, as soon as love jihad gets entrenched into the Indian Constitution, the process of which has already begun.

An Ethnic Ochlocracy

I have borrowed this term from Jaffrelot’s comment on love jihad as a foremost measure to transform India into an ‘ethnic democracy’. I believe, ethnic extremism and democracy are poles apart, much like the Indian subcontinent and its principles of secularism and socialism in current times. The term ‘ochlocracy’ was originally coined by the Greek Philosopher Polybus and is derived from the Greek word ‘ochlocratia’ which means mob-rule. Along with tyranny and oligarchy, ochlocracy was categorised as one of the bad forms of government since it completely ignored a section of the population and favoured a group (or an individual) even at the stake of justice (Chukwuma and Ibrahim, 2014).

In Nazi Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler whose activities were directed to making Germany a world power and German race as the highest of all, gender and sexuality of women were regulated by the state and the discourse was publicised. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 directed at the protection of German blood and German honour forbade extramarital intercourse and marriages between Germans and Jews and the employment of German women (under 45 years of age) in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law also stated that those with German or related blood would be granted citizenship whereas the remainder were categorised as state subjects devoid of citizenship rights. The Jews and later the Blacks and the Romanis were classed as enemies and bizarre savages just like Muslims and other minority groups in India are viewed as – unclean, unhygienic, normless and barbaric. By classifying conversion to Hinduism as “return to one’s original faith”, Hinduism is finally established as the single authentic faith while other religions get labelled as products of fraudulence, seduction, and coercion and thereby, illegitimate and are liable to punishments.

Although the institution of marriage serves as little as no purpose, it has time and again acted as a force in bridging the gaps between various religious and caste groups as well as exposed the loopholes and the deep-rooted communal mindsets of the people. With the increase in online matrimonial platforms like ‘Brahmin Matrimony’, ‘Kayastha Matrimony’ and so on, it is evident that internet which initially started off as the most democratic space, has been gradually monopolised by the ones in power and the ones favoured by the state.


  1. BBC News. (2019). The couples on the run for love in India. Retrieved from
  2. Chandrachud, A. (2020). UP’s ‘love jihad’ ordinance has chilling effect on freedom of conscience. Retrieved from
  3. Das, K., Das, K.C., Roy, T.K. & Tripathi, P.K. (n.d.). Dynamics of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India.
  4. Jaffrelot, C. (2020). On ‘love jihad’, BJP picks up baton from vigilante groups. Police, judicial apparatus have aided this move. Retrieved from
  5. Majumdar, D.N. & Madan, T.N. (1986). Rank and Caste. In D.N. Majumdar and T.N. Madan’s ‘An Introduction to Social Anthropology’ (pp. 190-206).
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  9. The Print. (2019). Inter-caste marriage isn’t the problem, marrying a Dalit man is. Retrieved from
  10. Varadarajan, S. (2020). Raising ‘Love Jihad’ Bogey, Yogi Threatens Death for Men Who ‘Hide Identity, Disrespect Sisters’. Retrieved from
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Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.