Friday, July 03, 2015

There's more than just one kind of Indian

Is it a "good" custom? A bad one? I cannot say. What I can say is that my own view of Indian marriage changed forever at 17. My Sociology textbook informed me that there are eight types of marriage mentioned even in that problematic text, Manusmriti. Among them was "gandharva vivah" - what we call "love marriage".  
This was a revelation. Personal choice in matters of matrimony had always been presented - by most grown-ups, friends, Hindi films, television - as something alien. Love, premarital sex and divorce were talked of as "modern" or "Western" ideas. To hear a lot of right wing religious and political leaders, it would appear not much has changed in two decades. (Witness the moment in the documentary film Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad, when a man declares that in Indian culture, there is no space for conjugal love). 
It was through Sociology textbooks (particularly MN Srinivas' India: Social Structure) that I woke up to the fact that love marriage is very much part of our culture. That book taught me the basics of marital norms in different Indian communities.  
Some encourage marrying cousins or uncles. Some encourage marrying a brother's widow. Some tribes mandate a courtship period. Others have a provision for the bride or the groom to live with the other's family, to test the waters and experience the family environment before the marriage is solemnised. Some tribes pick out a mate after just one glance during a community fair or at a dance. 
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1 comment:

Plasticky Popsicles said...

While women in tribal communities are definitely sexually much more independent than their non-tribal sisters, it wouldn't be prudent to argue that bride price is an indication of it.
If one looks at the practice of bride price from the lens of gender justice in work (especially in tribal communities), one would find that the practice isn't necessarily indicative of sexual freedom or economic independence - in fact, it is the opposite. While one way to argue this is to say that it is an upper-caste monogamist view, in practice, it comes with violence, inequity and discriminatory practices against women. Women's work - especially in agriculture in tribal communities - is unpaid and unrecognized, which is quite opposite to the view that it is valued because of bride price.
If it was the woman who was valued - why would you pay bride price to the natal household? And if it is the woman who is free to leave the marriage, why is the onus of returning the bride price on her? If one would see the practice of bride price along with polygamy, younger men marrying older women, taboos that prevent women from some kinds of work, violence, witch-hunting and so on - all of which are practices that control women's labour and sexuality in tribal communities - it would start to look much less romantic.

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