Professor Studies Marriages in India’s Caste System

Published on Tue, June 05, 2012

If you talk to Packiaraj Arumugham, you get a sense of someone who really loves his work. Packiaraj, assistant professor of social work, became interested in studying marriage quality between Indian "castes"—a centuries-old system of social hierarchy particular to India, which influences one's job occupation, marriage and status.

"The popular notion in India is that inter-caste marriages are problematic," Dr. Packiaraj says. "I wanted to explore the question: Is this notion consistent with the empirical data?"

Between 2000 and 2001, Dr. Packiaraj traveled back to his hometown in southern India, where he surveyed 240 inter- and intra-caste married couples. The results, he says, were unambiguously clear.

"I did not find any statistically significant difference between the two groups," he explains. "If there is a problem within one group, the same problem is found within the other group."

In other words, a marriage is a marriage, regardless of caste or social class.

A few years later, Dr. Packiaraj was introduced to The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences by a colleague and decided to submit his article, "Marital Quality in Inter-caste and Intra-caste Marriages." In April, Dr. Packiaraj learned that his work will be published this summer.

"Studies that look at inter-caste marriages are very limited," he says. "Interestingly, however, even though it is more than a decade since I carried out this study, I did not find any literature that has diverged from my own findings."

By conducting this kind of work, Dr. Packiaraj hopes to inspire like-minded Indian scholars to explore empirically valid data, which could be used to fight widespread misconceptions about intra-caste marriages in India. When asked point blank if India's caste system is good or bad, Dr. Packiaraj responded: "It's unfair."

"It should not exist in the first place," he says. "These kinds of studies can lessen the severity of the caste system in India, and that is my hope."