Advice: How Do You Live with the Caste System?

Dear Lauren, I am from Colombia, I met my partner from Nepal one and a half years ago. Our relationship is very beautiful, however, the differences between our cultures is difficult. My partner belongs to the highest caste. For that reason it is very difficult for him to speak with his family about me. I clearly understand the situation and I am sure one day we will solve this problem.

How do you live with the caste system in India?

Anonymous Reader


Dear Anonymous Reader,

Caste is a complex concept, it divides people into groups based on their duties and was created to bring about order in ancient society. As we are no longer in ancient times, I don’t think it should be considered relevant today, but sadly for some, it still is. This is partly due to controversial caste quotas introduced post-independence, designed to liberate the traditionally disadvantaged, as well as ingrained prejudices.

Living in India and speaking to many others in intercultural marriages, I think it is hard to speak to traditional parents about marrying outside their community, irrespective of caste. It may be hard for parents to understand their child’s decision to marry outside their community if their mindset is as rigid as the caste system itself.

I have noticed that when I meet people from the older generation for the first time, they are usually eager to know my surname, so they can determine caste. Our surname is a rare, and so people cannot always connect it to a caste. Once an elderly man started an argument with me in a shop. He said that I could not say my surname correctly and he wanted me to write it down. He then he accused me of being unable to spell it and suggested several alternatives. This went on for a while until I simple told him my husband’s caste and he stopped arguing, as he has received the information he wanted.

My husband has always told me that it’s important not to think of castes as higher or lower than each other because this reinforces the discrimination. When considering caste from a cultural perspective, it’s always best to name the castes, instead of it’s place in an ancient and redundant hierarchy.

I hope your partner can cultivate the courage to speak to his parents soon, I know it’s difficult but it’s the only way forward if you plan on taking your relationship further. Take care.


  1. There is the old caste system derived from Vedism, and this system is different from one region to the other ; Brahmins are very rare in the South, and some jatis (roughly sub-castes) exist only in specific areas. And then there is also politics and economy : within the same caste, some jatis are considered “forward” and others “backward” (with low income and difficult access to education), people from the same jati may be considered “backward” only in a tiny region of a state. Many caste names are not officially registered…

    It took me a long time to find out about my husband’s jati and since he does not use the jati name as a surname, people can’t place him socially. For our child he chose a secular name that no-one can place socially or religiously. Often when Indians hear the child’s name for the first time they go silent and then they say “it’s a good name” (the name roughly translates as “Flower of India”).

    I get the impression from reading blogs that “high caste” families tend to be a little more rigid about inter-cultural inter-faith relationships than other families… and also there seems to be more pressure on the eldest son to have a prestige marriage than on the younger sons…


  2. Excellent advice from You Lauren, you always give a very thoughtful reply. All I can add is that in our case we just choose to ignore all pointed questions about caste and maintain our attitude that it is completely irrelevant to modern society.. we do our best to never seek to offend others but try and just maintain that we are all equal as human beings, absolutely no exceptions. Perhaps you can find a different way to deal with it, but this is what we found works for us. Peace and love


  3. 1.5 years is a long time.
    Give him time (say another six months) but at the same time have a plan B. There is a good chance he will not talk about it at all with his parents and one day disappear.


  4. Great explanation, Lauren. My husband doesn’t use the caste name. He uses his second name, Mohan, as a surname, also a surname in Ireland which is very convenient for an Indo-Irish family. After marriage I kept my surname as I needed it for visa purposes and eventually went double-barrelled. But regarding caste – your husband is perfectly correct to say that it is not right to think of one caste as being higher than another. A very modern and enlightened outlook. As for the reader who wrote to you, I hope she will be able to meet her boyfriend’s parents soon. I had a similar thing going on and my husband’s parents had been asking him for ages about his plans for his marriage. Eventually, they interpreted his silence as meaning something WAS going on, so they waited patiently and encouraged him to share with them, which he did eventually. Mind you, not everyone would have the patience for a long wait like seven years to get together. You have to be really keen on someone to wait that long.


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