M. S. Thirumalai

The Principle of Caste Eclipse and Caste Revival

In an earlier report, I wrote on the principle of caste eclipse and disappearance of this eclipse, adopted by a High Court in India.

The High Court Bench of two senior judges in Tamilnadu, a south Indian state of India, heard a case relating to the conversion of a Dalit gentleman. He was baptized in his early childhood, but he now wanted to be declared a Hindu. The Honorable Judges declared, “Even assuming that the petitioner was baptized, it was done at a tender age when he was unaware of the purpose of the ritual.”

In yet another significant observation, the same Judges declared, “when a Hindu by birth converts to Christianity or any other religion, the original caste remains under eclipse, and as soon as he reconverts to the original religion, the eclipse disappears and the caste automatically revives.” (Early Childhood Baptism and Caste Affinity)

Validity of Hindu-Christian Wedlock

Another interesting case has now been heard and yet another judgment that may have some bearing on conversion to Christianity from Hindu religion is pronounced, this time by the Supreme Court of India.

A Tragic Case History

According to the news reports from the Press Trust of India, Hindu-Christian wedlock is declared to be invalid under Hindu Marriage Act.

Bandaru Pavani, a Hindu woman, claimed that her husband, Gullipilli Sowria Raj a Christian, had misled her by pretending to be a Hindu and married her at a temple. The husband had misinformed about his social status, the wife had complained while seeking divorce. 

According to the couple, Raj, a Roman Catholic Christian married Pavani on October 24, 1996, in a temple by way of exchanging of ‘Thali’ (sacred thread) in the absence of any representative from either side. 

Subsequently, the marriage was registered on November 2, 1996 under Section 8 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. 

The matrimonial court rejected her plea for divorce saying the marriage was valid under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, even if one of the parties belonged to any other faith. 

However, the High Court upheld her plea and said the marriage was void as the Act postulated marriage only between Hindus, following which the husband filed the SLP in the apex court. 

Dismissing the Christian husband’s appeal, the apex court [the Supreme Court of India] said Section 5 of the Act makes it clear that a marriage may be solemnized between any two Hindus if the conditions contained in the said Section were fulfilled. 

Practices in South India

In many parts of South India, marriage between Hindus and Christians has been widespread with the special feature that both the bride and groom are usually from the same caste. Caste consideration is very strong in these parts, and marriages are usually arranged by the parents and relatives of both the parties. Caste becomes more important and decisive in the choice of grooms and brides in these marriages.

Practices in North India

On the other hand, Christian marriages in Northern, Western, and Eastern parts of India are between men and women (and families) who are already Christian. Caste identity is not retained with vehemence. When a man and woman choose to marry on their own (called “love marriages” in India), inter-religious marriages may take place. However, most marriages, one could venture to say over 97% of them, are arranged marriages in India in all religious communities.

A Reason for Such Differences in Approach

Difference in practices as described above may be found in the history of the evangelization of various parts of India. In South India, early missionaries, both from the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Churches, had great success in drawing in the Hindus from the so-called upper castes in large numbers even as they were able to bring the people of so-called lower castes to Christ in great number. Economically, the people from the so-called upper castes were landholders and thus had means to educate and occupy positions of importance in society, whereas people from the so-called low castes were, generally speaking, landless labor and had little means to educate and occupy positions of importance in various fields.

Missionaries and national leaders employed various combinations and permutations of conciliation between these groups but these efforts did not succeed and did not result in a caste-free Christian community. For a long time, seating within the church auditorium during worship service and other meetings was guided by caste considerations.

The problem actually sprang from another crucial Hindu practice of seeking wedlock only within one’s own caste, which afforded security and identity, and continuity of friendly relations with their Hindu relatives.

On the other hand, this disparity between the social status of castes did not matter much in other parts of India as the emerging Christian community was rather very small and thus had the wisdom of developing a cohesive Christian identity.

Practices of Inter-religious Marriages

When a Hindu bride is married to a Christian bridegroom, or when a Christian bride is married to a Hindu groom, often the Christian families insist on the bride/groom getting baptized as Christian in their denominational church. However, there may be occasions in which such formalities may not be insisted upon.

After marriage, what happens is an interesting (and sometimes a) story of personal conflicts (2 Corinthians 6 :14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers) and accommodation. Many non-religious and spiritual factors come to influence the decision of the religious affiliation of the married couple. And yet, there have been many success stories of coming to Christ from these unevenly yoked marriages.

Need for Caution is Greater Now Than Ever

The decision of the Supreme Court further complicates the situation for such inter-religious marriages, particularly in South India. So far, the practice has been to insist on nominal baptism before the wedding took place in the church. Hopefully this would be enforced more seriously, although we all know that nominal baptism is no baptism at all in spiritual terms. If this is not done, then, marriage itself is in the danger of being declared illegal, and the children of the wedlock will suffer.

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M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D

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