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caste relations

Son marries outside caste, father files copyright case protecting use of family name

Case demonstrates innovative tactics families are employing to stop inter-caste marriages, say activists.

A Bihari lawyer, Sidh Nath Sharma, has filed a case against his son demanding that he stop using their family name after he married a lower caste woman. If his son, Sushant Jasu, continues to use his name, he should pay him Rs 10,000 in copyright fees every time he uses it, Sharma demanded.

Sharma, a Bhumihar Brahmin, claims that by marrying outside their caste, his son has not only hurt him, but damaged his social reputation. He is seeking Rs 1 lakh as compensation for all the time and money he spent bringing up his son.

Jasu is a tax official working in Gujarat. Jasu's wife, who is unnamed in an AFP report about the story, is a bank officer from Danapur. Sharma's wife and the rest of his family, who all attended Jasu’s wedding, support the son's decision.

“This just points to how caste reproduces itself,” said Suryakant Waghmore, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “Even the most irrelevant law can be used very innovatively to perpetrate caste matters. Constitutionally speaking, this case should not even have been registered.”

According to a 2013 study by Princeton, only 6.14 per cent of marriages in Bihar are between people of different castes, compared to a national average of 11 per cent. Of these, 3.62 per cent of inter-caste marriages involved women marrying men of upper castes. Bihar also grants Rs 50,000 to all Bihari Hindu women who marry outside their caste.

Activists working in Bihar say this is a wholly unprecedented case. “The fact that he has sued his son is very bizarre,” said Father Philip Manthra, president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Bihar. "This case is definitely an anomaly." Cases of inter-caste marriages are usually dealt with by khaps and other traditional caste associations, he said.

These associations employ a range of tactics to pressure people not to marry across caste lines. Violence is not uncommon, though there are no official figures for such crimes.

When he heard about the story, copyright lawyer Avesh Kayser said, “This is utter stupidity. Where is the question of copyright in this? It is a person’s personal name. I can understand if the name was a trademark, but even so, if I were named Ratan Tata or Anil Ambani and I started a proprietorial business, there is nothing either of them could do to stop me.”

However, now that it is in court, Sharma’s case will have to be weighed on the merits of the law. The case will be heard on January 25.

“For the sake of argument, a surname could possibly belong to a family, but once a personal name is added to it, it assumes an entirely different identity,” said Kayser.

“Even if the copyright over the surname does belong to the family, it was not created by the father,” he added. “By Indian laws, copyrights cease to exist 60 years after the death of the creator. Therefore the surname cannot be considered to be the family’s copyright.”

For now, Sharma has agreed to withdraw his case if his son divorces his wife -- with her consent -- and marries a woman of his own caste.

Waghmore rubbished this idea. “If the son has any sense, he’ll drop his surname now that he has already crossed caste boundaries,” he said.
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