Real Life Story
This Project Celebrates Love Across Caste Barriers
This powerful Instagram page dives deep into important conversations about inter-caste love through moving, real-life love letters, college workshops, and meaningful community engagement.
Jyotsna Siddharth – actor, intersectional activist, artist, writer, feminist and founder of Project Anti-Caste Love – always knew that the many realities of caste existed in our offices, schools, even cinema. But they were not expecting to encounter them in their own romantic relationship.
“It was revealing to me to see that it [casteism] featured in such intimate spaces, too,” they said.
It was in this frame of mind that Siddharth felt the need to have wider “community engagements” with people who might’ve faced similar experiences.
But they had to tread a fine line. Too much attention can also prove deadly, as seen in the case of an inter-caste couple that was recently attacked by the husband’s relatives, almost 28 years into their marriage.
According to the last national census conducted in 2011, only 5.8 percent of Indian marriages were inter-caste, a rate that has hardly changed in over 40 years. Despite successive state and central governments offering cash rewards to encourage inter-caste marriages, societal acceptance remains dismal and plagued by casteism.
“My idea was to take this conversation beyond academia. Initially, I was hesitant, as we’ve all had different experiences. But then, while speaking to people, I realised that all romantic relationships [in India] are caste-based,” said Siddharth.
Since the idea was to document such experiences where caste and romance were linked, Siddharth wanted to highlight it all: the good, the bad, and the bizarre. And this is how Project Anti-Caste Love was started back in April 2018, with its first love story revolving around the life of Siddharth’s uncle and aunt, who’d met in Iran, fallen in love, and then had an inter-caste marriage.
“This was followed by call-outs for love letters [addressed by lovers to each other],” they said. “I hardly got any traction on that until [influencer] Kusha Kapila shared it on Instagram.”
Among the most moving love letters in the series is one written by a woman in an inter-caste and inter-religious relationship that details ten things that make her partner “extraordinary” – from his bad jokes to his even worse photography skills. Her warm and loving words lend strength and hope to someone who might be similarly in love with someone whom Indian society would disapprove of.
In one of the other letters, an anonymous contributor lovingly calls her partner “the gin to her tonic” and how he’ll just have to “gin and bear (with me).” She can be seen motivating her partner on how they both need to draw strength from the physical distance between them and work harder towards achieving their dreams.
Another letter featured on the website is from one half of an intercaste, inter-religious couple to the other – brimming with tender love but also hitting you with the reality of how they cannot share their relationship with the world yet. It juxtaposes gratitude for “the real gift of heaven” along with the fear of being “us on the news.”
Apart from the moving and deeply personal love letters, Siddharth also posts references to aid and assist inter-caste marriages – such as Dhanak and Love Commandos, which are organisations actively working to provide on-ground legal and community-based support.
“I also do consultations, which are private, one-on-one, hourly conversations,” they said. “These are basically for those who want guidance on how they can speak to their parents [about their relationships], how they can seek help and navigate their inter-caste or inter-faith realities. The idea is to also help them build more resilience. It’s not therapy. And you pay as you like.”
The Project also conducts workshops in colleges. Through different exercises like theatre and art, participants are able to unpack stereotypical and casteist ideas of love.
Written in a host of Indian languages, the love letter series has been discontinued for now. “I’d never want to run promotions, which is also why the letters stopped after a while. However, I do acknowledge that I should perhaps prompt it more organically the next time I decide to continue it.”
The idea behind the love letters series was to enhance “collective reading” in addition to understanding that what we’re all battling with – casteism in romantic relationships – is not just personal but also systemic.
Until the series is back on, though, the letters on the platform continue to shine a light on how love knows no bounds, even if our society does.
Source: Arman Khan, VICE
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