Science & Philosophy

Play and Prejudice: Inter-caste marriages and Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan

Kanyadan - Book coverVijay Tendulkar’s 1983 Marathi play Kanyadaan1 is explosive and disturbing. For this play, Tendulkar, a true giant in the world of Marathi literature and theatre, was awarded with the ‘Saraswati Samman’ and he had a shoe hurled at him at a Dalit conference.2

In this short play Tendulkar tells us the story of an inter-caste marriage between Arun Athawale, a Dalit belonging to the Mahar caste, and Jyoti Devlalikar, a Brahmin. Anyone expecting a happy ending for such transgressive form of love are in for a shock because the marriage is a disaster. Arun’s alcoholism, his ill-mannered and foul-mouthed behaviour quickly escalates into physical violence after marriage. But despite this suffering Jyoti chooses to remain with her husband, not out of love, but purely for the principles of duty and sacrifice. The play ends at this point.

Interestingly, PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) founder S. Ramadoss partly and inadvertently sketched a rough outline of the play when, in a conference held in 2012 to counter the assertion of Dalits in Tamil Nadu, he claimed that ‘Dalit youth are luring girls from intermediate castes into marriage that develops into an abusive relationship.’3 (Remember ‘Love Jihad’?)

It may be wrong to judge a play based on such a crude summary. And in this case, it would certainly be wrong to do so because despite its theme of inter-caste marriage this play is not just about the husband and wife. This play is about the beliefs of Nath Devlalikar, Jyoti’s father, who is a Gandhian Hindu reformist. In fact, Nath Devlalikar is even more excited about the marriage than the couple themselves. When at the beginning of the play Jyoti announces her decision to marry Arun, a Dalit, Nath excitedly exclaims,

“Marvellous!…if my daughter had decided to marry into high-caste, it wouldn’t have pleased me as much.”(pg. 8)

When Jyoti confesses that she is not completely sure about the marriage as she has known Arun for just about two months, Nath actively pushes her to go ahead with the decision. Nath even subdues the feeble resistance to Jyoti’s marriage from his wife Seva and his son Jayaprakash.

And it is Nath’s gradual disillusionment with the Gandhian Hindu reformist philosophy that is the true theme of Kanyadaan. The same disillusionment runs parallel within Jyoti as well, and at the end she accuses her father for rearing her as a “guinea pig” for his “experiments”. (pg. 69)

The character of Nath Devlalikar is doubly important because he also serves as Tendulkar’s mouthpiece. Tendulkar himself wrote later that,

“Nath Devlalikar, the protagonist of Kanyadaan is me and many other liberals of my generation whom I understand completely. The pain of these people (liberals) today, the defeat they have suffered, the fundamental confusion and naivety that has led to their pain and defeat, these form the theme of Kanyadaan and I wrote about it because it came so close to me.”4

Also, Vijay Tendulkar’s own views on this issue were greatly shaped by his close interaction with the revolutionary Dalit Panthers movement that raged throughout Maharashtra in the 1970’s. Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan is his personal, albeit surreptitious, comment on one of the founders of Dalit Panthers.

Thus, this short 70-page play finds itself at the junction of inter-caste marriage, patriarchy, Tendulkar’s interaction with the Dalit Panther movement, Gandhian Hindu reformism, and Tendulkar’s critique of this Gandhian Hindu reformist view. To grasp and judge Kanyadaan we will have to understand these issues independently and in relation to each other, and also see if some vital piece is missing in this puzzle.

Inter-caste marriage

Inter-caste marriages are a big deal in India, big enough to get you killed, or even worse5. Yes, situation is improving and today over 11% marriages are inter-caste6, but the problems surrounding it mutate and manage to persist.7

“Caste is a notion; it is a state of the mind”, writes Ambedkar, which prevents us from having a “consciousness of kind”8. By “consciousness of kind”, Ambedkar was invoking the phrase coined by American sociologist Franklin Giddings, who defined it as, “a state of consciousness in which any being, whether low or high in the scale of life, recognises another conscious being as of like kind with itself.”

Even among the educated9, stereotypes of caste exist in abundance (or stereotypes of ‘category’, given the fact that for most upper-caste Hindus and other members of the non-reserved section the problem of caste is “felt” only when it concerns the issue of reservations10.)

One reason why caste is so deeply embedded within the Indian psyche is because in India, I dare to claim, the “experts” in genetics far outnumber the experts on cricket. Of course, almost every person in the world has his personal views on how and why people are the way they are, but the existence of caste in India makes it more likely that the views will be plain wrong.

Consider these instances:

  1. Opposing the implementation of reservations in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru Institute), Prof B.N. Mallick, in 2010, said, “Some castes are genetically malnourished and so very little can be achieved in raising them up.”11
  2. Couples opting for sperm donations are now demanding to know the genes of the donor, because, as the wife said, “My husband felt if the sperm donor was from a different caste, the baby would not get the right genes.”12
  3. When researchers from the Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi, for the purpose of drawing a genetic landscape of India, went to collect random blood samples in Pune, a man greeted them with “You can take my sample, and prove that I am supreme quality of human in India.”13

Just to add to the above third instance, Dr Mitali Mukerji of IGIB, Delhi, who is a part of the grand project to draw a genetic landscape of India to identify disease genes and genetic markers, has stated in no uncertain terms, that

“There’s no logic to talking about caste and sperm and which community has better genes. Indians all have opinions, but the caste system has no genetic basis.”14

The fact that the caste system has no genetic basis has been proven time and again15, but of course, as Steven Pinker16 would remind us of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ at this point, even if there were genetic differences in castes, that would still not form a valid reason for discrimination. Because, as Peter Singer said, “Equality is a basic ethical principle, not an assertion of fact.”17

It is important to understand how the notion of caste, which found its roots in ancient smritis18, currently manifests itself in the view that people belonging to different castes are inherently and biologically different. It is almost as if the believers in caste system think in such terms: ‘I’m a Labrador, he’s a Bulldog, and that one over there is just a stray dog, etc.’

It is important to understand this view for understanding Kanyadaan as well, because initially, Nath and his daughter Jyoti, do not believe in the wrong notion that castes are fundamentally different. In fact, Nath defends/rationalises the bad behavior of Arun by saying that whatever he is, he is so because of the culture he was brought up in. He says that Arun is like “unrefined gold” who only needs to be “melted” and “moulded”. (pg. 31)

And, along with Nath’s and Jyoti’s disillusionment with the Gandhian Hindu reformism (that we shall see later), they both seem to undergo a radical change in their beliefs when they begin to believe that maybe different castes really mean different people. What was earlier rationlised by “nurture” is now taken to be just as irreversible as “nature”. Towards the very end of Kanyadaan, Jyoti confronts her father with,

“I grew up listening to such talk day in and day out- ‘Hatred, not for the man but for his tendencies. No man us fundamentally evil, he is good. He has certain propensities towards evil. They must be transformed. Completely uprooted and destroyed’…All false, vicious claptrap!Man and his inherent nature are never really two separate things.” (pg. 67)

After demolishing the last few remains of her father’s Gandhian reformist beliefs, Jyoti announces that she has chosen never to meet her parents again and that she will continue to live with her husband Arun, because she still wants to remain true with the family principles. And the last lines of play, the most evocative ones, are by Jyoti:

“I have a husband, I am not a widow. Even if I become one I shan’t knock at your door. I am not Jyoti Nath Devlalikar, I am Jyoti Arun Athavale, a scavenger. “Me Mahar-ni ahe, Maha-rani nahi” (I am a Mahar, not a queen)19. I don’t say harijan, I despise that term. I am an untouchable, a scavenger. I am one of them. Don’t touch me. Fly from my shadow, otherwise my fire will scorch your comfortable values.” (pg. 70)

To put icing on the cake, Kanyadaan has seen a recent revival in India and abroad in an English-production directed by Lillete Dubey in which Arun’s character has been given a limp (absent in the original version of Tendulkar’s play), thereby, to use Ania Loomba’s words, showcasing “the need to literally translate the taint of caste into a physical affliction”.20

But, as we shall now see, the notion of caste and its consequences are not the only influencing factors in inter-caste marriages or even in Kanyadaan, because patriarchy plays an equally powerful role too.


The 5th Multilingual Brahmin Mega Convention organized in Pune in 2009 had the following point in its manifesto,

“In order to protect the purity of the Brahmin community and in the larger interest of the country, all brothers and sisters of the community should give priority to marriage within the community itself”.21

And as Sharmila Rege points out, “the same mega convention, in a published code of conduct for Brahmins for the changing times, spelt out a dress code for women and stressed their duties to the family and community.”22

Patriarchy is male domination in the social organisation. Tendulkar himself has heavily criticized patriarchy throughout his works, and it is the one thing he manages to get right in Kanyadaan. As Ambedkar pointed out in his ‘Castes in India’23, the caste system operates not just by endogamy (marriage within the group), but also by specifically controlling women to achieve the goal of endogamy.

The word Kanyadaan itself, as defined by Manu of the Manusmriti fame, means the “gift” of the father to the husband. The desires of the daughter herself are meaningless. This fact is demonstrated most visibly when we see that only in India there was a need to come up with the term “love marriage”, a term used in a derogatory sense by the orthodox (patriarchal, casteist, or both). To know why they hate “love marriage” so much just have a look at the term; love appearing “before” marriage is still considered a scandalous oddity by them. Love assumes the autonomy of the woman and requires her to be in control of her own sexuality and these are two things that are directly at odds against patriarchy.

And sometimes the patriarchy card even trumps the caste card. This is evident from the rules of the Manusmriti as well as from the contemporary and differential problems faced by hypogamous (high-caste woman marrying low-caste man) and hypergamous (high-caste man marrying low-caste woman) marriages. Manusmriti allows for hypergamous (“anuloma”) marriages as long as the low-caste woman is not the first wife, thus keeping line of patriarchal descent more “pure”. But the Manusmriti heavily condemns hypogamous (“pratiloma”) marriages, so much so that if our Mahar Arun and Brahmin Jyoti were to have a child (and she is indeed pregnant at the end of the play) Manusmriti would label the child as “Chandala”24, the lowest of the low. Similarly, even in contemporary India, generally hypergamous marriages face less severe violence than do the hypogamous marriages. In her research paper ‘Contingent Caste Endogamy and Patriarchy’25, Janaki Abraham comprehensively analyses this issue.

The women in inter-caste marriages could end up being the double victims, both of caste and of patriarchy, and Tendulkar has tried to show this in Kanyadaan. For instance, to quote an example local to Maharashtra, Sharmila Rege notes how the recently generated anxieties among Dalits caused by tensions between modern education and lifestyle on one hand, and commitment to political community on the other, has led to led creation of their own set of prejudices. If a Dalit man were to marry a Brahmin woman, she could be labelled by the Dalit community as a ‘vish kanya’, the “poison-spewing seductress who lures the man away from his obligation to the community.”26

Jyoti, along with Arun’s violence, is also subject to her father’s domination, even if the purpose of this domination is reverse. Nath urges Jyoti to marry Arun to fulfil his own ideals. By putting his cherished ideals ahead of everything else Nath undermines Jyoti’s autonomy. She is the ultimate victim of Kanyadaan.

But a case where a high-caste girl is urged by her father to marry into the lower-caste is not based on pure fantasy; this drama actually unfolded in history, albeit in very rare numbers. In a letter written to Gandhi by Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, the latter writes

“So I discussed my idea with my wife and with my eldest daughter (Manorama). They accepted my programme. My daughter agreed to marry an ‘untouchable’.”

Gandhi replied, saying,

“I have your letter. I like it. I am also glad that you have resolved to marry Manorama to a Harijan”27.

With this, we shall now get a deeper look at the Gandhian reformist philosophy followed so diligently by our protagonist Nath, a philosophy whose criticism was also Tendulkar’s purpose for writing Kanyadaan.

Gandhian Hindu Reformism

In his initial years, Gandhi very much believed that the caste system was good and even actively defended it.28 However, Gandhi’s views did progress with his age. At the very end of his life he even declared that henceforth he shall attend only inter-caste weddings. Arundhati Roy succinctly charts Gandhi’s progress:

“From believing in the caste system in all its minutiae, he (Gandhi) moved to saying that the four thousand castes should ‘fuse’ themselves into the four Varnas. Toward the end of Gandhi’s life (when his views were just views and did not run the risk of translating into political action), he said that he no longer objected to inter-dining and intermarriage between castes.”29

It is also impossible to understand Gandhi’s views on caste without juxtaposing them with Ambedkar’s views, which are also essential for a complete understanding of Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan. As I shall argue later, it is the absence of Ambedkar’s explanation of the caste system in Vijay Tendulkar’s psyche that makes his Kanyadaan a bigger failure than that of the Gandhian philosophy that his play is meant to criticise.

Gandhi and Ambedkar held exactly opposing views on every single issue and caste is no exception.

Gandhi wanted the annihilation of just the Dalit (“harijans”, as Gandhi would term them) community by their assimilation (by way of ‘harijanisation’ or imitating the high-castes) into the Hindu fold. Ambedkar wanted the annihilation of the very concept of caste.

While both Ambedkar and Gandhi would both whole-heartedly support inter-caste marriages, Gandhi believed inter-caste marriages to be the only available tool in solving the problem, while Ambedkar cautioned about such an approach in these words, taken from his ‘Annihilation of caste’:

“To agitate for and to organise inter-caste dinners and inter-caste marriages is like forced feeding brought about by artificial means. Make every man and woman free from the thraldom of the shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and intermarry, without your telling him or her to do so.”30

Ambedkar wanted to demolish the very foundation of Hindu shastras that sanctioned the caste system, whereas Gandhi, for most part of his political career, wanted to remove just the practice of ‘untouchability’. Further, Gandhi asserted that the sin of untouchability is committed by the high-caste Hindus and it is their responsibility to uplift themselves spiritually and allow the Untouchables to enter their fold. Thus, in the Gandhian view where the Dalit agency is removed, the already existing privilege of the high-caste Hindus is reinstalled by making them the sole agents of social reform. In fact, in Kanyadaan, when she comes to know that her daughter is regularly beaten by Arun, Seva says to her husband Nath,

“If you ask me, I have my doubts as to whether these Dalits understand what gratitude means.”(pg. 47)

You can even watch the Gandhian reformist philosophy in action if you can get a copy of the movie Malapilla.31 Ramabrahmam’s 1938 Telugu film Malapilla is exactly what Gandhi would have made if he were in the movie industry.

In fact, the 1938 film Malapilla is a mirror image of our Tendulkar’s 1983 play Kanyadaan (noticed the “38” and “83” as well, eh?). In Malapilla, a Brahmin male marries a Dalit female, against the backdrop of village Dalits slowly mending their ways (read as ‘imitating the high-caste Hindus’), and everyone lives happily ever after.

In her absolutely brilliant critique of Malapilla and thus of Gandhian reformism, Swathy Margaret writes,

“The Gandhian resolution believes that at its core, the Dalit community is divided into passive, submissive women and violent, unreasonable, aggressive men.”32

In the same article, she further states,

“The untouchables are represented as drunkards and as prone to self-destruction because of their habits, customs and festivals. They are portrayed as a dehumanised bunch of people and termed dirty, uncivilised and barbaric because they do not follow Hindu culture. The notion that they are themselves responsible for their degraded existence, that it is their habit of drinking alcohol, eating meat, animal sacrifice and dancing that takes them beyond redemption is one that recurs repeatedly.”33

So, in the Gandhian view it is taken as granted that Dalit men by default will be lazy, aggressive, uncivilized, and ill-mannered. In Kanyadaan, when Nath is told of Arun’s rude behavior towards Jyoti, he quickly rationalizes the situation thus

“It is perfectly natural that the boy (Arun) should have rough edges; they are the product of the circumstances he has endured. In fact, it would be surprising if these peculiarities didn’t exist.”(pg. 30)

And taking up the cudgels of Gandhian reformism, Nath urges his daughter to go ahead and marry Arun by saying:

“He (Arun) may not be a gentleman, but neither is he a scoundrel. He is like unrefined gold, he needs to be melted and moulded. This is the need of the hour. Who can perform this task if not girls like Jyoti? …remember, it is we who are responsible for the age old sufferings of these people. We have betrayed them for generations. We should feel guilty about this. And now if Jyoti breaks her word…it would be a kind of treachery. It would amount to running away from the challenge. What you are doing could be wise and foolish. But one thing is certain. It upholds the norms of civilized humanity, and therefore, I stand by you. Go ahead my child, and let us what happens.” (pg. 31)

Where have we heard this before? Does it ring a bell? Oh yes, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘White Man’s Burden’34 stinks of the same patronizing and condescending tone:

‘Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.’

Replace “white man” with “high-castes”, “captives” with “untouchables/Dalits” (“harijans” would be most precise), and that’s Gandhian Hindu reformist philosophy in rhymes for you.

The experiment of Nath thus fails and along with it also fails Gandhian philosophy but this does not mean that Tendulkar’s criticism has succeeded. As I shall argue later, Tendulkar’s understanding of the caste system and his criticism of Gandhian philosophy fails even more miserably than Arun and Jyoti’s marriage.

For now, we turn towards Tendulkar’s personal interaction with one of the founders of the radical Dalit Panthers movement in the 1970’s, which was the most vital ingredient in his recipe for making Kanyadaan.

Vijay Tendulkar and the Dalit Panther

As many would say, the founder of ‘Dalit Panthers’, Namdeo Dhasal, whose Golpitha (1972) “burst like a bombshell upon the placid precincts of Marathi poetry”35, could well have served as a model for Kanyadaan’s anti-hero, Arun Athavale. It was Vijay Tendulkar, by then an already acclaimed playwright, to whom the young Namdeo Dhasal approached to get an introduction for his Golpitha. Dhasal’s turbulent marriage with Mallika Shaikh was also famous and was penned down by her in her autobiography ‘Mala udvastha Whavyvhay’ (I Want to Get Ruined).

In fact, Vijay Tendulkar himself said later,

“All my creative writing begins, not from an idea but from an experience, mine or somebody else’s which then becomes mine. It was such an experience of another to begin with, that provided the starting point for Kanyadaan.36

But how deep was Tendulkar’s understanding of the Dalit world?

In her comprehensive review of Kanyadaan, Ania Loomba writes,

“Shanta Gokhale points out that Tendulkar offered various arguments in defence of his portrayal of Arun, arguing that “in giving as much space as was required to delve into Nath’s character, there simply wasn’t sufficient space to devote nuancing Athavale’s character..” At one point he admitted that he didn’t know more than a couple Dalits personally. That was nearer to the truth. Then the Dalit argument was why write about something you don’t know? To which Tendulkar replied by saying a writer needn’t personally know the people and places he writes about. The Dalit argument seemed to suggest to him that only Dalits could write about Dalits because only they knew themselves. This was a solipsistic argument that couldn’t hold water. But this was not what the dalits meant. There are ways and ways of knowing people. Tendulkar had never met Sakharam Binder or anyone like him. But in imagining him into being, Tendulkar managed to create a full-blooded character with shades of grey. So clearly, Arun Athavale was not accorded that kind of personal interest by the writer.”37

The question of who can and should write about Dalits was raised recently when Arundhati Roy wrote an introduction for Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’.38 This question is extremely pertinent because the Dalits have always found their own voices hijacked or silenced (even Amebdkar faced this treatment- for example, you can find Arun Shourie’s lame polemic ‘Worshipping false gods’ in almost every urban bookstore but you’d be hard pressed to find a copy of any of Ambedkar’s books, and this has very little to do with forces of demand-supply). But one must remember that the question here is not of the ‘identity’ of the person (although this was the unfortunate case in the debate around Arundhati Roy) but the ‘way’ the topic has been articulated or a character sketched. As said earlier, Namdeo Dhasal, a Dalit, himself went to Tendulkar, a Brahmin, to request for an introduction for his Golpitha (1972), a collection of poems describing a world that Tendulkar had never breathed in. But there was no objection for Tendulkar’s introduction because he managed to write it with sensitivity and understanding. But one can’t say the same about Tendulkar’s Arun Athavale.

Because what emerges from Tendulkar’s pen is not a man but a skewed stereotype of Dalit men. Just as in the Hindu tradition the Goddess Parvati collected all the turmeric paste from her body, breathed life into it, and gave birth to Ganesha, similarly, Tendulkar collected all known stereotypes of Dalits, breathed his prejudice-reeking breath into it, and created Arun Athavale. Arun is not just a stereotype but also seeks to become a representative because most of his self-incriminating lines contain “we” and not “I”, like this one:

“I’ll cut these hands that beat you….What I am but the son of scavengers (Mahars). We don’t know the non-violent ways of Brahmins like you. We drink and beat our wives…we make love to them..but the beating is what gets publicized” (pg.44)

This portrayal is especially disturbing when you consider the fact that Arun Athavale was the first time when a Dalit character had walked on the Marathi stage, and therefore, in Ania Loomba’s words, “given the paucity of Dalit figures on our stages, Arun Athavale continues to carry an extraordinary burden of representation.”39

Also, the Dalit world is entirely absent in Kanyadaan; all we have is the flattened character of Arun. Know that the marriage in Kanyadaan fails not because of the usual problems faced by an inter-caste couple (boycott or harassment from family or society) but solely because of Arun. Thus, given the stereotypes of a caste personified by him, one is left feeling that the marriage fails not because of the caste system but because of a single caste.

And therein lies:

Tendulkar’s ultimate failure

As we saw earlier, in the Gandhian Hindu reformist philosophy the Dalits were put at the mercy of ‘spiritual upliftment’ of the upper-castes. All that the Dalits needed to do was mend their ways by imitating practices of upper-castes. Although Gandhi was opposed to inter-caste marriages for the major part of his career40, towards the very end of his life he suggested them to be the sole method of eradicating the pains of the Dalit community. This reform never even entered the mainstream41 and has always remained rare but this was the ideology that Tendulkar sought to criticise in Kanyadaan.

But we must ask ourselves what parts of Gandhi’s ideology Tendulkar actually (intentionally or unintentionally) criticised?

The defect in Gandhi’s ideology was accurately pin-pointed by Ambedkar, “Anything you build on the foundation of caste will crack, and never will be whole.”42 In the earlier quote, Ambedkar explains how using arranged inter-caste marriages to remove casteism would be just like “force-feeding” and that the correct approach for demolishing the caste system would be to demolish the religious sanctions received by the caste system, which would directly enable men and women to freely inter-marry.

But Tendulkar’s criticism of Gandhi’s ideology is far different. If Gandhi is to be accused of patronising43 the Dalits (after all “harijan” means ‘children of god’) and portraying them as unfortunate and ill-mannered men who only need the hand of the upper-castes to raise themselves up, then Kanyadaan goes a step further and claims that it is impossible to do so because the Dalits are going to remain permanently like that.

When the Marathi writer Meghna Pethe informed Vijay Tendulkar that some Dalit writers were offended due to his portrayal of Dalits, he tersely replied, “I pointed a gun at a wholly different target. What can I do if something else falls dead?”44

Let me tell you what Vijay Tendulkar actually managed to shoot at.

In Kanyadaan, Tendulkar does oppose Gandhi’s solutions but in doing so he supports and validates Gandhi’s flawed assumptions.

Tendulkar does oppose Gandhian Hindu reformism but in doing so he never leaves the Gandhian framework of representation of Dalits, on the contrary, he is further enmeshed and entrapped in this framework, unable to imagine a world outside of it.

Thus, for a play daring to deal with the issue of inter-caste marriage, we see none of the problems actually faced by most inter-caste couples, and for a play aimed at criticisng the narcissism of some misguided liberals, we instead get to see prejudice of Tendulkar himself.

It is times like these when the following lines by Arundhati Roy come to the mind,

“Sometimes, quite often, the same people who are capable of a radical questioning of, say, economic neo-liberalism or the role of the state, are deeply conservative socially – about women, marriage, sexuality, our so-called ‘family values’ – sometimes they’re so doctrinaire that you don’t know where the establishment stops and the resistance begins. For example, how many Gandhian/Maoist/Marxist Brahmins or upper caste Hindus would be happy if their children married Dalits or Muslims, or declared themselves to be gay? Quite often, the people whose side you’re on, politically, have absolutely no place for a person like you in their social, cultural or religious imagination. That’s a knotty problem… politically radical people can come at you with the most breathtakingly conservative social views and make nonsense of the way in which you have ordered your world and your way of thinking about it… and you have to find a way of accommodating these contradictions within your worldview.”45

Vijay Tendulkar is one such ‘knotty problem’. Being one of the most accomplished writers the Marathi world has ever seen and a vocal activist who was always on the forefront for numerous political and social struggles, finding a way for accommodating Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan in his perceived image is indeed very difficult, even painful. But it is nevertheless a necessary exercise as it reminds us that despite all and everything, we are still very much haunted by the ghosts of our past.


  1. Tendulkar, Vijay: Kanyadaan. Translated in English by Gowri Ramnarayan. New Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996. All quotations for the play are from this edition.
  2. The shoe was hurled at Tendulkar in 1988. Following is an excerpt from his prize acceptance speech after receiving ‘Saraswati Samman’ award, that appears as an Afterword in Gowri Ramnarayan’s edition (Delhi: OUP), 1996: “The work which has been selected for the Saraswati Samman is not the story of a victory, it is the admission of defeat and intellectual confusion. It gives expression to a deep-rooted malaise and its pains….. I have written about my own experiences and what I have seen in others around me. I have been true to all this and have not cheated my generation. I did not attempt to simplify matters and issues for the audience when presenting my plays though that would have been an easier option. Sometimes my play jolted the society out of its stupor and I was punished. I faced this without regrets. You are honouring me with the Saraswati Samman today for a play for which I once had a slipper hurled at me.”
  3. D. Karthikeyan, “Survey of inter-caste marriages tells different tale” posted on 4th March, 2013. Accessed on 25th March, 2014, accessed at
  4. Mahida, Beena A (Researcher): “A critical study of Vijay Tendulkar’s major plays” (Award date: 2009), Department of English, Sardar Patel University, Issue date 5 March 2013
  5. Following article gives a detailed account of the violence faced by inter-caste couples:Chowdhary Prem, ‘Enforcing Cultural Codes : Gender and Violence in Northern India’, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly, Vol – XXXII No. 19, May 10, 1997
  6. Accessed on 25th March,2014. Accessed at
  7. Following paper presents the spatial patterns and determinants of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages in India. “Dynamics of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India” by Kumudin Das, K. C. Das, T. K. Roy and P. K. Tripathy. Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  8. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition’, New Delhi: Navayana Publication: 2014
  9. For an example where even young educated students rigidly oppose inter-caste marriages:M.K. Ananth, “Educated caste Hindu youth campaign against inter-caste marriages”, published in ‘The Hindu’, 16th July, 2012. Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at:
  10. Reservations are a different topic altogether and informed debate is rather absent on this issue. For a comprehensive account of reservation policy in India, read: Deshpande, Ashwini: “Affirmative Action in India”, New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 2013.
  11. Raman Anuradha, “Standard Deviation”, published in ‘The Outlook’ on 26th April 2010. Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  12. Hoon Ruchira, “Playing God in caste-crazy Bihar”, published on 6th April 2009. Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  13. French, Patrick: India, A portrait. New Delhi: Published in Allen Lane by Penguin Books, 2011
  14. Source: Ibid
  15. A recent study of genetic mapping in India conducted by Scientists from Harvard Medical School and the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India. Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  16. Steven Pinker’s ‘The Blank Slate’ remains the best book on the subject of ‘nature vs. nurture’ and it also tackles the political, social, ethical, and economic implications of our discoveries of human nature. An absolutely essential reading. Pinker, Steven: The Blank Slate. England: Published by Viking Penguin, 2002
  17. Singer, Peter: Practical Ethics. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 1980
  18. As the Manusmriti says, “The perfect match takes place within the same caste, and the father’s position testifies to his care and love for his daughter.”
  19. The sentence in Marathi appears in the Marathi version, not the English text. This line is taken from Khole, Vilas: Tendulkar naavache vaadal’ (A storm named Tendulkar) Edited by Dr. Prahlad Vader’, Pune: Pratima Prakashan, January 2012
  20. Loomba Ania, ‘Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan’, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Volume XLVII No 43, October 26, 2013 issue
  21. Rege, Sharmila: “Against the Madness of Manu”, New Delhi: Navayana Publication, 2013
  22. Source: Ibid
  23. Ambedkar, ‘Castes in India’, BAWS, Vol. 1. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979, pp. 3-22. Edited by Frances W. Pritchett
  24. Manusmriti Chapter X: 12. For more discussion on the aspect of “Chandala”: Accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  25. Abraham Janaki, “Contingent Caste Endogamy and Patriarchy”, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Vol – XLIX No. 2, January 11, 2014
  26. Rege, Sharmila: “Against the Madness of Manu”, New Delhi: Navayana Publication, 2013
  27. Goparaju Ramachandra Rao: “An Atheist with Gandhi”, accessed on 25th March 2014, accessed at
  28. For example, here is a line from one of his earlier speeches, “I believe that if the Hindu society has been able to stand, it is because it is founded on the caste system…To destroy the caste system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be chaos if everyday a Brahmin is changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin” ~ Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Navjivan’ journal, 1921
  29. Arundhati Roy, from her Introduction to Dr. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition’, New Delhi: Navayana Publication: 2014
  30. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition’, New Delhi: Navayana Publication: 2014
  31. There are many more movies and novels that follow the same pattern that are discussed in:Margaret Swathy, “Cultural Gandhism”, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Vol – XLVIII No. 18, May 04, 2013. Here is an excerpt:”It is possible to trace a Gandhian mode of representation of the caste question in Indian thought, literature and films. In literature, for instance, we see the representation of caste equations in India in the Gandhian mode in Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (1938). Even the progressive films of early Indian cinema are saturated with Gandhian approaches and solutions to various social problems (Kapur 2000: 236).1 Later films, in order to serve different and not-so-different historical purposes, also perpetuated a Gandhian ideology. In the late 1970s, we have Balipeetham, a novel in Telugu written by Marxist feminist Ranganayakamma, being made into a film; in 1988 there was Rudraveena, a film directed by Balu Mahendra. A similar deployment of the Gandhian understanding of the caste question marks radical Telugu cinema as late as the 1990s (Osey Ramulamma).”
  32. Source: Ibid
  33. Source: Ibid
  34. For a text of the full poem: Accessed on 25th March, 2014, accessed at
  35. Loomba Ania, ‘Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan’, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Volume XLVII No 43, October 26, 2013 issue
  36. Mahida, Beena A (Researcher): “A critical study of Vijay Tendulkar’s major plays” (Award date: 2009), Department of English, Sardar Patel University, Issue date 5 March 2013
  37. Loomba Ania, ‘Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan’, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Volume XLVII No 43, October 26, 2013 issue
  38. There were protests from Dalits against the publication of Arundhati Roy’s introduction for ‘Annihilation of caste’. To get a glimpse of the debate, see this open letter by ‘Dalit Camera’ to Arundhati Roy see: for Arundhati Roy’s reply to ‘Dalit Camera’ see: (both accessed on 25th March, 2014)
  39. Loomba Ania, ‘Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan’, published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, Volume XLVII No 43, October 26, 2013 issue
  40. Source: Ibid
  41. Source: Ibid
  42. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition’, New Delhi: Navayana Publication: 2014
  43. Today the word “harijan” is considered derogatory by many Dalits. “You will appreciate that `Harijan’ word has already been considered derogatory, insulting and against the dignity of millions of Dalits and oppressed people in India…” P.L.Mimroth, convener of CDHR wrote in a memorandum to Justice Sayed Sagir Ahmed, Chairperson of RSHRC.” Accessed on 25th March, accessed at
  44. Mahida, Beena A (Researcher): “A critical study of Vijay Tendulkar’s major plays” (Award date: 2009), Department of English, Sardar Patel University, Issue date 5 March 2013
  45. Arundhati Roy’s interview with Amit Sengupta, posted at ‘Tehelka’ dated 5 November, 2005. , Accessed on 13 December, 2013, accessed at:

About the author

Gaurav D. Somwanshi

Gaurav D. Somwanshi.
Born: 2nd May, 1990..

Alumnus, IIM Lucknow (2013) & GEC Aurangabad (2011)

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  • A very well written comprehensive critique on much celebrated play of Marathi literature.But the play,for which Mr.Tendulkar won “Saraswati Samman” is one of the extreme cases of inter-caste marriages.It may be prevalent in Maharastra but in other states,it has become common.The society has come forward to accept such marriages.Mr. Somwanshi rightly pointed out the ultimate failure of the Tendulkar’s play by citing the possible ramifications,that might arise by his extremely skewed depiction.That play is in real sense a humiliating work-piece against the lower castes and indeed,discourage inter-caste marriages.The more humiliating is, recognizing and awarding the play.Fundamental rights,granted by the constitution of India does not allow such turbulent abuses of right to freedom of should have been checked immedietly by the judiciary

  • A brilliant article; well researched and well articulated. Gaurav Somawanshi has hit the nail on the head, that the problem of the caste system is not related to A caste, but to casteism as a whole. The prejudices are so pervasive, that people belonging to specific castes even come to identify themselves with the associated stereotypes, which usually is a good thing only for members of the upper castes. Gandhi Vs Ambedkar, and Ambedkar’s rational, liberal and socially uplifting ideas need revisiting. It is time we delved deeper into the lives of people of all castes, based our opinions on facts, statistics, and genuine study rather than idle speculation and prejudiced ideas hammered into our brains in our childhood. Gaurav Somwanshi is himself a Mahar, but nowhere can one point out any sort of prejudice in favour of his caste over others. He speaks not out of simple personal experience or grievance but bases his opinions on documented facts. I hope we shall see a book bearing his name soon.

  • Article depicted the internal scene of the play kanyadaan by comparing views of social thinkers and social workers such as Dr.Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. No man is fundamentally evil, he becomes by circumstances, the play is a highly criticism of patriarchy and inter caste marriage…

  • brilliantly articulated…tendulkar is perhaps one of the most overrated playwrights of modern indian theatre..not only kanyadaan, most of his plays are biased..

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