Mr Gunasekar is the founder of Adhalinal Kaadhal Seiveer (AKS), an NGO that helps couples from different castes get married against the pressure of the society. Gunasekar, 48-year-old advocate talks to us about AKS and inter-caste marriages at this time. He wants people to call him “SE.KU.” as even his friends call him so after he championed various movements against caste discrimination.
How did this idea of sheltering married inter-caste couples come to you?
I married a girl from an orphanage, belonging to another caste in 1997. It was an arranged marriage which I set up. I went according to my principles and married her not only because I liked her but because I wanted to defy the caste system by marrying someone outside my caste.
In 1999, when I was only 27, I arranged the first marriage for BABU from MALAYALAM – CHRISTIAN the FC community and KALYANI from TAMIL – HINDU the SC community. In 2003, an inter-caste couple, Murugesan and Kannagi were murdered, which affected me very deeply. I knew the senior lawyer, Mr Ratnam was handling the case and was in touch with him. So, I started helping other inter-caste couples who wanted to get married.
In 2009, the Mullivaikkal genocide in Sri Lanka agonized me. Since then, I have worked a lot for inter-caste marriages. I devote all my free time and the money I earn from practising law, for this cause. I have constructed a small house in Trichy from 10 years of savings called ‘Adhalinal Kaadhal Seiveer’ (AKS), meaning ‘therefore fall in love’. On 17th September 2020 (Periyar’s birthday), I took a vow to fight caste and religious fanatism and have also written a will giving 50% of my property to the AKS trust and the rest to my wife.
I am also planning to get involved in politics against RSS & BJP and have started a political movement “LIBERATION TIGERS OF TAMILNADU”.
In the past 10 years, I have been living for couples from different castes who want to get married. But what pains me is that some of the couples do not care for society or their families.
Do the government and local authorities help inter-caste couples?
No. actually, the Indian government wants to protect the caste system, so they won’t help. As of today, there are 38 districts in Tamil Nadu, each of which has an average of 10 advocates/comrades who are just a call away. Our main centre is at Trichy. Couples who want to have an inter-caste marriage, have to give us a call and reach the AKS centre at Trichy or Tirupur.
I arrange “SELF RESPECT MARRIAGE” within one hour as they reach me. After that, I take the couple who wants to get married, to the police station and meet the parents of the couple there. The formalities are then completed in the police station and I take them to the AKS home.
In this land of Periyar, a majority of the people are good and only a small fraction are either religious or caste fanatics. The government first must save the couple from any harm. After that, my duty follows.
After the couple is married do they go back to their village?
No. They are allowed to stay at AKS for a month, during which I arrange jobs for both of them in Tirupur. There are a lot of job opportunities here. Usually, within a week they get a job and in a month they also find a rented house for themselves.
Does the couple face any danger in Tirupur from their families?
No. Relatives may come to Tirupur but Tirupur is a Lover’s Fort and is very well protected, where 5 out of 10 couples would have had a love marriage. At least 30%-40% of the couples have had an inter-caste marriage. AKS member insists that the couples do not go to their native place at least for a year so that no harm is done to them. Some couples are very scared and will listen to us but others are arrogant. They will leave Tirupur and go to other places within a year.
Does the police give you enough support?
At times, some of the couple’s parents create a problem, that’s when we seek help from the police. We usually go to the police beforehand and introduce the couple. Then it becomes the duty of the police to protect them from any harm.
In Thiruvarur, there was a couple, Ashok and Kritika Devi. When they got married, the police helped them a lot. They told AKS to install cameras to capture any kind of evidence, in case anyone tries to harm the couple. If one day I am attacked or murdered, the captured pictures become evidence. I aspire to attain martyrdom fighting for inter-caste marriages. It would be a matter of honour for me.
What else do you think can be done to stop caste discrimination?
Couples who want to have an inter-caste marriage should have the courage to fight for their rights. If the lovers from different castes want the opposition to be eliminated, the only solution is to fight the opposition.
If inter-caste couples hide, how will this problem be solved?
My son is in a law college in Bengaluru. He will be 18 years in October and once he becomes independent, I have no say in his affairs. My policy would have been the same for a daughter. When a child turns 18, he or she gets voting rights. But it is more important that he gets the right to decide for his or her own life at 18 years. If the child decides to marry according to the parents’ compulsion, I believe that it is worse than prostitution. The child should have the right of obtaining physical intimacy only with the person he or she desires. Even a dog will not go near another dog he dislikes, but we humans have to be married to a person chosen by our parents due to compulsion.
Human beings need to have a basic sense in this matter. People think falling in love is a crime, but they should have the right to choose their partners. Once a person attains puberty, he or she has sexual desires and should have the choice of selecting who they spend the rest of their lives with.
When a child is born, he or she is inquisitive and will constantly ask questions. Likewise, the child should always keep asking questions about caste and other things in society. There is nothing wrong in questioning the society we live in.
Parents argue that they oppose inter-caste marriages as it will spoil their child’s life. But in reality, they do not want to defy their religion or break the caste system. I feel that inter-caste marriage does not ruin a person’s life. That’s why I do not leave the married couples to fend for themselves and help them wherever possible. I tell the couples that they should be together but be independent. Both the husband and wife should earn and be financially independent.
I do not get couples married if both of them do not earn or either of them proposes not to earn after the marriage. He wants the girl to have a job as well. Then, if something unfortunate happens to the boy, the girl should not be forced to beg, but will still be independent. In the family, the girl should be equal to the boy and not inferior.
How do people react when they hear about AKS and what it’s doing?
As I said earlier, this is the land of Periyar. Here, every parent is a supporter of love marriage as long as it doesn’t take place in their own home. As long as it is out there in the society people will accept it as something very common today. But when a love marriage takes place in their own house, they often give excuses for their opposition to it saying, if the girl or the boy their child is getting married to would have been good they would have agreed to the inter-caste marriage.
There are 234 MLA’s in Tamil Nadu who will not put the name of their caste as a suffix to their name. They will not get votes if they do so. Even the politicians will support inter-caste marriages as long as it is outside their house. When it happens in their own home, they will never agree to it and give all sorts of excuses to hide their caste discrimination. I am more liberal than people from other districts as I belong to the same place as Periyar.
Do you see a future when caste is just a term of the past?
The change has to come from the inter-caste couples. I got around 150 couples married till date. 90% of them belonged to the same profession and economic status. For example, most doctors wed doctors and most teachers wed teachers. If you ask a family where the couple are advocates, only 80% of them will belong to a different caste.
If you visit Tirupur, you will find that love marriage is widely accepted. In a love marriage if the couple has a similar financial standing the families will be more accepting towards the couple. But if each of them doesn’t, the families in most cases will not accept the marriage.
If the boy is working as a driver, and the owner’s daughter and the driver get married, their marriage is not likely to last as the lifestyle of the boy will be very different from that of the girl. So, even if the caste is different but the economic status is the same the marriage in most cases, is accepted.
Love is blind. There may be some things that are not visible to the couple before the marriage, but these things become more noticeable after marriage. For example, if the husband and wife come from varied economic backgrounds, better financial stability would mean better treatment at a fancy hospital like Apollo Hospital. Ultimately financial and economic stability does matter. If the couple still wants to get married I will stand by the couple, there is no doubt in that. But I have an idea of which marriage will last and which will not.
Whether it’s a love or an arranged marriage the boy and the girl should only get married if they like each other. When the boy and girl love someone, they should fight against their family and society for the sake of their love.
If the girl loves a boy of an upper caste, the girls family is more accepting of the marriage, but if the girl loves a boy from a lower caste the family is much more hesitant. Women can bring about great changes in love and inter-caste marriages.
Honour killings will also stop if the mentality of the couples changes. A family will accept if the boy drinks but the same family sets very high moral standards for the girl. People think that the families honour is tied to the girl who can either keep up the honour or dishonour the family through her actions. This concept should be changed and both the sexes should be treated as equals in a family.