In Focus 16th August, 2016
“..Without even contracting a marriage”.

God’s own country has much to answer for it seems.

I have never been to the backwaters of Kerala, never navigated through the streams in boats, never tried to climb trees to get coconuts. I don’t know a whole lot about Malayali culture. I don’t even speak the language. My association with Kerala is an academic one.

It is the knowledge that I can be a little more secure in the idea of democracy with Kerala’s example before us. It is the idea that we can all profit from Kerala’s shining example. That somewhere deep in the cynicism that shrouds our democracy, lies the promise of a better day.

And that illusion was shattered a little while ago, when I read about Kerala’s High Court giving its assent to a college’s expulsion of students living together. Let’s try to understand this. The High Court says, “This is not a mere case of falling in love; but two students taking the drastic step of eloping and living together without even contracting a marriage. As consenting adults they could definitely act according to their volition. But, here they could not have even legally entered into a marriage. When taking such drastic step for the sake of love, as adults, they should also be ready to face the consequences. The Management’s concern of setting an example to the other students and ensuring maintenance of discipline in the educational institution cannot be easily brushed aside.”

“..Without even contracting a marriage”

That seems to be the prime objection here. That the individuals involved did not enter into a marriage. But isn’t marriage supposed to be a union of two people where both parties make a consenting and informed commitment? And shouldn’t we teach children that they should only enter a marital contract once they’re absolutely sure? The coercive enforcement of a social institution that the couple were clearly uncomfortable with, impoverishes both the institution of marriage and the charter of fundamental freedoms.

This incident is hardly isolated or unprecedented. The time has come to cast a hard look at the state becoming instruments of fundamentalist policing. If you’re trying to move in with somebody you’re not married to, you find that the city is surprisingly devoid of real estate, people are suddenly more interested in the exact specifics of your relationship.

If your relationship does not fit into the default, patriarchal relationship, then society cracks its whip. And it’s because society claims ownership of the institution of marriage, and the mainstream morality. It feels entitled to people’s life and sexuality.

The college principal proclaims, “This (the expulsion) will help in maintaining discipline”. Fair enough. But who gets to decide what discipline is. And how does society expect to keep progressive while a coercive nanny state breathes down its neck, reinforcing every archaic idea, responding to hurt sensibilities with an iron fist, and wielding constitutional authority like a medieval guard? 

It is time to tell society, the state and our parents, that they’re downright wrong.

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