Marriage has long been central to the study of kinship and family and to imaginings of culture, identity and citizenship. If the deeply gendered nature of marriage has been critiqued by feminist researchers, the conjugal contract has been the subject of debate in the legal domain and the economics of marriage and of the wedding ceremony figure in the discourse on development.
Engaging with these and other strands is marrying in South Asia, a volume which looks closely at Bangladeshi, Pakistani and south Indian Muslims, Bhutanese ethnic groups, Nepali widows, the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, south Asian gays and lesbians, middle class and urban, working –class communities and many other groups. With the globalising world as the backdrop, the essays trace the encounters with changing notions and practices of marriage.
The book examines processes that make a marriage, the implications of non-marriage or its end and the acknowledgement of multiple sexualities, as well as the contestations and conflicts, including in the law courts, that are part of the institution. The integration of the larger economic and political contexts in understandings of personal relations around marriage is significant. The diverse ethnographic accounts, demographic analyses and economic investigations provide a wider window to marriage than is usually available in a single volume.
This volume brings together scholars in sociology, anthropology, economics, demography, development studies, queer theory and gender studies, and historical research, from around the world. Marrying in South Asia is a must-read for students of the social sciences and for all of us interested in the ideas around conjugality and the institution of marriage.
Ravinder Kauris Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi.
Rajni Palriwalais Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi.
Weddings in South Asia are getting bigger and fatter, along with media and middle-class angst over a perceived rise in divorce. Is this all that is left to marriage in South Asia, one may ask-an event and its denial? Reports of what are called 'honour killings' -violent attempts to prevent self-choice or inter-caste marriage-are also frequent, in North India and Pakistan. The 'age of consent' is once again under debate in India. Are these reiterations of the institutional nature of marriage or actions taken to bulwark a normative practice threatened as never before? Or do they, conjointly, ask us to rethink the theoretical models with which we have looked at marriage? Are these the effects of modernity, capitalist development, globalisation, and individualisation, or are they themes long present? What is happening to marriage outside the media glare or is that at all a possibility in today's world? A wide array of questions is evoked when examining the complexities of changes and continuities in marriage in South Asia.
Despite new public imaginations of marriage, love/self-choice marriage has not replaced arranged marriages; nor has divorce replaced lifelong marital unions. Not all iterations of marriage 'rules', which remain important signifiers of caste identity and community culture, require defence or rest on visible violence. Marriage and its gendered domesticity are significant in individual and familial aspirations for sexual and social intimacies and in life trajectories.
Yet, economic processes and globalisation have affected spousal selection, marriage prestations, and the articulations of desire; they cannot help but affect the inner workings of conjugality. Marriage and its termination has long been a site for state intervention and the point of entry for concerted efforts at gendered social reform. As social anthropologists and sociologists, in whose disciplinary histories constructions of marriage have been critical, these issues confront us. Literary scholars, too, are relooking at their imaginaries of love, intimacy and marriage. For scholars of other disciplines such as economics and demography, marriage either did not figure in their discourses or was simply a fact, rather than a process. Yet, they too are turning their attention to marriage. Drawing from various disciplines and asking diverse questions, the essays in this book address the simultaneity of apparent flux and change with the hegemonic and gendered normativity of marriage.
THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE: SHIFTING FRAMEWORKS
In looking for recent work on marriage, at first sight it appeared as if we were in a desert. Perhaps the paucity of research could be related to Fortes' (1962) musings? He asked if there was anything new to add, empirically or theoretically, to the study of marriage other than work on procedures of spousal selection. The questions and assumptions that had driven earlier anthropological and Sociological work on kinship, marriage and family globally have also underlain studies done in the subcontinent. Along with caste, religion, and village, the latter were taken to be the principles of social organisation. The shifts from structural functional (Srinivas 1952; Karve 1953) to structural (Dumont 1957, 1966; Madan 1975) and subsequently to cultural (Fruzzetti 1982; Inden and Nicholas 2005; Das 19-76) frameworks led to new analytical insights (Uberoi 1993). Schenider's critique (1984) of the biological premises, ethnocentrism, and implicit 'orientalism' of kinship studies had concluded that there is no transcultural category called kinship. According to Stone (2001), this account froze kinship studies in the US academy. This does not, however, explain the apparent dearth of work on the subcontinent, where many studies remain oblivious of his critique. A quick scan of books published in the 1980s and 1990s, in which kinship and marriage figure, suggests a trend of extending extant frameworks to hitherto understudied groups, such as 'tribes', 'remote' communities, and non-Hindus. 1t could be, then, that the formalistic and legalistic models which permeated kinship studies, critiqued by Bourdieu (1977), is more pertinent in explaining the decline in interest. If rules are taken as a sufficient description of marriage and kinship, once the former are known, there would be little to understand other than deviance. Thus, much work in Pakistan, particularly as the Islamic character of its society was asserted, tended to focus on issues of state and religious law or the extent of the prevalence or otherwise of the formal rules of preferential kin marriage (Palriwala 1994).
On closer investigation, what comes to the fore is that the study of marriage had not disappeared, but been displaced. The study of kinship practices and marriage strategies-rather than of official rules and ideology-entails intensive fieldwork, for which funding has not been easily available, inside or outside academia. As economic growth and population control became central ideologies in development and state policy, demographic change and reproductive behaviour became privileged foci of funding. Social demographers explored the correlations between marital sexual behaviours, reproduction strategies, contraception, age at marriage, and fertility levels with family patterns, mobility, education, urbanisation and female empowerment. In frameworks that rarely distinguish between rules and practice, surveys continue to address deviance, anomy, and the 'impact' of modernity. However, some of these researches also look at marital strategies, extended family/ kinship relations, and institutional dimensions of marriage in understanding the behaviours they focus on (Fricke et at. 1986). Family being the assumed site of care and welfare in government policies across most of the subcontinent, the debate around the 'decline' of the extended family-household is another area in which marriage enters (Shah 1989; Agarwal and Panda 2007; Madan 1993).
Another steady thread of scholarship, globally, has been through the new focus on women's voices and on gender, resonating with Yanagisako and Collier's (1987) call for a unified analysis of gender and kinship. Earlier analyses of marriage have been examined through the prism of gender (Das 1975; Dube 1986). Thus, in discussing structures of work, family, and marriage, Jeffery and Jeffery (1996) narrated how young women looked at their lives. Kapadia (1993) looked at cross-cousin marriage from the point of view of the bride/wife and the pressures inimical to this practice, while Palriwala (1991) analysed residential practices focusing on female mobility rather than the permanence of the patrilineage. Many of these studies looked at the ideology, dynamics, and practices of marriage rather than simply at structure and form. What these and other studies examined more directly was how the historical entrenchment of capitalism had favoured patrilocal systems and male inheritance and thereby affected gender equations in marriage and the domestic sphere (Ram 1992). This is also reflected in social and cultural histories (Arunima 2003; Sangari and Vaid 1989; Oldenburg 2002). In looking at the gendered implications of colonial interventions in class, caste, and community relations, as well as cultural tropes entwined with law and legal practices, marriage was brought to the fore.
In what sense is the institutional character of marriage invoked, in this volume as well as in the wider academic discourse? How does it shape the subjective and structural contours of individual and collective action? Given a discourse that suggests that fluidity has become paramount with globalisation, it becomes all the more necessary to delineate this issue. Sociologically, whether it is arranged by others or chosen for love by the individuals to be wedded, marriage is a structured and patterned set of social relations and practices. It is embedded in norms and values regarding what marriage should be and is. There are explicit social prescriptions and sanctions by public bodies, the state, religion, and community. At the minimum, a marriage makes legal and public, even if not always socially accepted, an intimate relation between two individuals. It thereby imbricates the 'public' in the personal and makes public order vulnerable to the vagaries of what may be viewed as purely individual intimacies.
The latter is also so because in many cultures and certainly in much of South Asia, a marriage is articulated as more than an ongoing relationship between two individuals. It establishes a tie between two social groups such as family-households, lineages, or clans and, at times, reiterates an already existing tie between them. Whether viewed primarily as a contract or a sacrament, marriage establishes a relationship between more than just the two in the conjugal pair. In other words, marriage is an alliance in structuralist and political terms, entailing affinal relations. All this can be congruent with self-choice or love marriage, depending on what the named and valued social groups are.
Importantly, marriage is a social institution in the manner in which it gives social sanction and legal recognition to the filial tie. This is not only through a parentally arranged match and in affinal relations. Rather, marriage legitimises children of the married couple and thus carries implications for the continuity and boundaries of these groups; for inheritance and status, access to resources, labour, care and support. It is this dimension that provides impetus to the control of marriage of individuals by their natal families and their communities. Further, marriage is an institution to the extent that it remains significant in official value and in practice as the basis for family-households. Even when marriage does not result in continuous cohabitation, it has implications for responsibilities, rights, and expectations in the everyday life of the married, their kin and their children. It is not only' ... the law [that] sees marriage as a fundamental social institution whose stability is necessary for the care of the young and the aged, for the protection of women, and for the well-being of society as a whole' (Derrett 1978: 163-64; also cited in Uberoi 1995: 323). Even if that stability is difficult to achieve in practice, it is part of the espoused social values and cultural beliefs cutting across many classes, communities, and regions in South Asia. The inequalities of marriage, domesticity and society remain interwoven, and as with all institutions, particularly those that pervade society and have a hegemonic sway, marriage excludes; it marginalises those who fall outside its parameters or never enter it. In speaking of the last, Borneman highlights the spectres and embodied lives of the unmarried, the divorced, the homosexual, and the widowed (1996: 229).
These multiple aspects of the institutional character of marriage indicate the complexity we confront when we try and map directions of continuity and change. One commonality through which this complexity is addressed here is by a focus on practices, social relations, and agency, with 'official' ideologies and norms either questioned or showing signs of being recast, forming a backdrop, or being reiterated. It is important to note that officialising strategies (Bourdieu 1977) may mask diversity as well as change or the new value assigned to 'modernity' may justify them.
When we started looking at the debates regarding the nature and dimensions of change in marriage and family relations in South Asia, the need for a volume that pulled together some of the ideas on the dimensions considered became apparent. One of the first issues was if we could sensibly speak of marriage across the breadth of South Asia. What comprised it into a region? There is, of course, the facticity of its geo-politics, with the Himalayas and its passes to the north, the oceans to the south; the contemporary formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). There is a long economic history of overland and maritime trade networks traversing this area. Its one-time centrality in the global intercourse was fragmented by a common subjugation to colonialism, mostly British. With the arrival of the latter and the later decades of capitalist development, movement of goods and people from the subcontinent reached new volumes and different parts of the globe. The effects of colonial rule were such that even those countries that formally remained outside could not remain untouched, with an apparent introversion that was possibly new to them, such as Nepal and Bhutan.
Most critically, these geographic, economic, and political contours and passages also made for cultural transactions, which cut across and made the region. South Asia is home to a bewildering array of religions and communities, dispersed, intermingled, interacting, holding themselves apart, and jostling for power and domination. Silent or visible resistance to the power and norms of hegemonic combines and class differentiations adds to the diversity in practice. Social groups of varied depth claim cultural uniqueness; that they follow their own rules in marriage, family, and personal rituals and life. There have also peen emulations and common cultural and structural processes that bring them together (Trautmann 1981). In fact, with contemporary processes of globalisation and assertions of ethnic and religious identity, both these trends have intensified. Anthropologists have long looked at the region, defined as both less (excluding Male) and more (including Myanmar) than the current lines drawn. They have drawn comparisons across the region and attempted to draw out structural unities (Dumont 1966; Tambiah 1973; Cohn 1987; Mandelbaum 1988). The cultural and religious significance of marriage rules and practices, marital transactions, and family-household have held an important place in much of this discussion.
It is in such historical and scholarly contexts that we relook at marriage across South Asia. While there is no way in which we could adequately cover the geographical and cultural areas that constitute it, we try to capture some sense of that vastness. One concern was not to make the earlier mistake of allowing the practices of dominant or visible social groups to become the implicit exemplar and paradigm on which the analyses would be based. A second problematic was that in addressing our concerns, we had to ensure that we neither lose sight of the important insights and analyses of earlier frameworks and studies, nor get caught in their web. This volume then represents a shift from earlier frameworks that often erred on the side of assuming the universality of upper caste and/or elite ideologies and collapsed practices into rules. Taking into account the salience of the rules and ideologies of dominant groups in self-representation and aspirations, the essays here focus on practices and the multiple, disparate, incoherent ideologies of family and marriage that influence individual and group choices. A third benchmark arose from our reading of many past studies that tended to look at marriage and family, work and economics, politics and law in separate essays except when sumrnarising the 'impact of industrialisation, urbanisation, and modernity' (Goode 197t). Much of the last discussion explicitly abjured a cultural and political economy perspective, and worked within a Parsonian and modernisation framework. It centred on the idea that the extended family was being replaced by the nuclear family-household and arranged marriage was giving way to love and individual choice. Rather than assuming unidirectional change or unidirectional causality, the attempt in this volume is to capture the dialectics of the changing institution of marriage and the dynamics of marriage practices on the one hand and shifts in economy, polity, society, and family on the other, all affected by globalisation processes. Thus, changing opportunities for work, fracturing of communities by violence, new institutional structures that deal with the end of marriage, new modes of matchmaking with the availability of new technologies and new imaginings of conjugal and intimate relationships, mostly heterosexual but also involving same-sex partners, are drawn in.
Finally, tracing women's voices, gender, and contours of intimacy, rather than the mere fact of marital or other intimacy are important dimensions of the framework of this volume. As indicated earlier, gender has been central to most of the work done in the area of marriage, kinship and family in the last two decades. Issues of marital prestations and dowry, marital violence and the condition of widows for women’s rights and value in society, as well as the mutual construction of kinship-marriage-family and gender ideologies have been examines. Yet, though the negativities of contemporary marriage for women have been a focus in earlier work, there has been little work on conjugality itself, on the dimensions of emotion, sexuality, support, and care which the fact of marriage is taken to frame. Agency in marriage then often appears only as male violence or parental suppression or self-choice. How and why do men and women desire or not desire marriage; what is it that not being married denies them; why do marriages persist in the face of conflict and how do individuals and groups deal with the end of marriage, whether by divorce or death? While this volume cannot address all these issues, the concern is to look simultaneously at the internal and external processes that make the institution of marriage and it implications for those in and out of it.
RENEWING TRADITION AND DIVERSITY
Attempts to analyse change or continuity in marriage, family, or kinship are vitiated at the start if the manifold cultures and local variants in the articulated rules and values pertaining to marriage are not kept in mind. Diversity in marriage practices has long been grist for the anthropological mill, even as (both structural functional and structuralist) theorisations were directed at understanding underlying universal structures. In the south Asian and in particular the Indian context, these diversities were ordered into more localised patterns or structures. The arguments of Karve (1953), Dumont (1966), and Yalman (1971) were divergent as were their units of analysis and mappings. Yet, their common concern was to find 'the similarity in principles and the underlying identity in the essentials of the structure' (Yalman 1971: 8). Caste endogamy and hypergamy emerged as important organising principles in much of these works, which tended to focus on Hindus, their norms, and dominant practices.' Three critical distinctions figured repeatedly in these research works. One was the preference for consanguineous marriage such as cross-cousin and uncle-niece marriage among castes in South India, or parallel and cross-cousin marriage among Muslims as against the north Indian Hindu rule that proscribed marriage between close kin of varying degrees-from the seventh to the untraceable (clan). The second was that post-marriage residential rules among many matrilineal and bilateral groups in the Ma1abar, in the Northeast and in Sri Lanka, were not in accordance with a simple patrilocality. The third was the variation in marriage prestations between dowry and bride-price, which Tambiah (1973) mapped across the subcontinent, but which otherwise tended to be peripheral in the search for the structural features of marriage.
Yet, there is a range of diversities that has not been mapped even though the diversity of articulated rules is the most easily narrated. One reason was the dominance of the upper-caste Hindu and the tribe in the sociological and anthropological imaginations of India. Thus, in this volume, Abraham discusses the Thiyyas who were matrilineal but patrilocal, different from the dominant matrilineal, matrilocal Nayars, who have been the focus of much anthropological work. Another factor was that conjugal relations and their implications for women was a dimension of analysis for only a few scholars such as Karve (1953), Gough (1959), and later Dube (1986).
As gender gained importance in social science scholarship, the north-south divide in marriage practices gained analytical significance. Along with women's work patterns, constructs of this diversity were deployed to explain regional demographic patterns in sex ratios, age at marriage and female empowerment or the lack of it (Miller 1981; Dyson and Moore 1983). Today, the divergences in the gendered implications of this gee-cultural divide are being questioned as caste ideologies, the proscription or acceptance of widow remarriage, and domestic violence are examined (Ram 1992; Agarwal and Panda 2007) and presumptions associating gender equality and female autonomy with close kin marriage queried (Philips, this volume; Abraham, this volume). It becomes important then to recognise and find ways to move beyond descriptions of levels of diversity and homogeneity.
Mapping and analysing practices and strategies of marriage, especially their divergence from dominant norms, is not easy. It is known that whatever the rule, demography and internal stratification have meant a high rate of non-consanguineous marriages among groups who preferred cousin marriage (Trautmann 1981; Palriwala 1994). The imperative of the fit between practice and rule has never been universal across social groups. To this are added intra- group shifts in the strength of the imperative. How can we decide whether the exigency of this rule has grown or diminished among communities such as the south Indian Muslim khandan discussed by Vatuk (this volume)? Religion alone, is not what gives it symbolic force. For them strategies of consanguineous marriage maintain community identity and secular prestige within the community. With their small numbers, increasing geographic dispersal and internal differentiations they hold this identity and prestige dear. In addition, they believe that close-kin marriage enables conjugal compatibility and better adjusted families. Women may also prefer consanguineous daughters-in-law in the hope of labour (Ramamurthy, this volume) or care (Vera-Sanso 1999). That close-kin marriage constrains dowry has become a factor in sustaining consanguineous marriage for some (Vatuk, this volume; Joshi et al., this Volume), but a reason to avoid it among the upwardly mobile. Kapadia (1993), For one, pointed to the weakening of the imperatives of the preferential rule by dowry, even as the ideology of kinship in Which kin marriage is embedded may remain in place.
The greater class differentiation and the emergence of substantial middle classes affect the ways in which traditions of marriage are or are not changing. That lived experiences of marriage vary substantially by class and not only by caste, ethnicity or religion is captured in studies conducted in the nineties. The earlier focus on elite rules makes for difficulties in tracing change. In reading Grover (this volume), one wonders how much of the acceptance of and resistance to separation, divorce and remarriage among non-elite groups is new and how much a continuity of earlier non-documented practices. How much is it a diversity which could not be acknowledged or was silenced as unnecessary in understanding global principles or structures? There has, of course, long been an argument that among the non-elite, the lower castes, tribes, and the non-Hindu, divorce and remarriage are accepted and practised and widows are not stigmatised (Kolenda 2003; Parry 2001; Ilaiah 2001). With modernisation and the spread of Hindu middle-class values of monogamy and chastity, this argument continues, these practices are endangered, while middle-class, upper-caste ideologies are renewed. Kumar's essay (this volume) on the Kolams, a tribe in east Maharashtra, does m part support this argument. Chuki's overview (this volume) of regional, class, and religious diversity and change in Bhutan, however, raises questions about the earlier autonomy of women as well as of simple readings of current directions of change or continuity. A new diversity seems to be emerging related to class and differential claims to modernity and individual fulfilment as well as claims of community, identity and the valorisation of tradition.
The various essays suggest that the articulated rules of partner selection have become muddied with the espousal of new 'modern' values of 'love' and 'choice: These values may, however, work to strengthen the institutional nature and value of marriage (Lessinger, this volume; Kaur with Dhanda, this volume). This can be of particular significance through the role of marriage in boundary maintenance, i.e. endogamy within caste, community or class. On the one hand, this process works through the assertion of distinct identity and marriage rules. On the other, community boundaries appear to become porous in long distance marriage (Kaur 2004), in the practices of the urban working class (Lessinger, this volume; Grover, this volume) or a new transnational middle class (Kaur with Dhanda, this volume). Yet, marriage is the strategy not just for ensuring a working domesticity, but a strategy for upward mobility and/or class endogamy. This gives all the more force to the demand for a homogeneity within diversity-the aspiration and desire for the legal right to marry for those who have so far been seen beyond its pale, such as the gay subjects of Tellis’ research (this volume).
Diversity in practice, continuation of tradition, and homogeneity of trends appear simultaneous when we look at age at marriage, a continuing concern to social scientists and policy-makers. The actual practice varies with community and class within each country and there is a common trend of a rising age at marriage. Child marriage persists, however (Sagade 2005). Based on large datasets, as is true for much of the demographic work on marriage, Amin and Das (this volume) argue that early marriage in Bangladesh is not just a carryover from the past. It is a contemporary strategy to avoid or give a lesser dowry. Another take on the persistence of the ‘tradition’ of early marriage is that suggested by Andrist et al. also in this volume. They relate it to the clear gap between marriage and continuous cohabitation, a consequence of the ritually marked deferral of consummation among many social groups across the subcontinent. This custom has a contradictory impulse in contemporary times: it allows the performance of gendered scripts in accordance with traditional norms of marriage simultaneous with the fulfilment of modern goals of women’s education.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend