India: Keeping it in the family

There’s a nice saying in English which is: every day is a school day. It means that you learn something new each day.

This is exceptionally true when you are immersed in to a foreign culture.

However, today was a school, college and university day.

I was talking to a work colleague, as you do, and he happened to mention that a girl was betrothed (promised) to another man. This girl is about 22 so nothing wrong there (if you discount the fact that she may have had little say in the decision). My school day came when he went on to tell me that the man she had been promised to was her Uncle.

Not a close family friend that is called ‘Uncle’, but a real blood relative uncle. To be specific, her mother’s brother.

Naturally I thought this was a total wind up as India, particularly South India is such a conservative society with strict morals and ethics. Surely ‘keeping it in the family’ would be against every law and religious custom.

To my horror, I found out that this is real and happens often. Wikipedia describes it in more detail for those of you that want to go there. It’s perfectly accepted in the more rural parts of the country for the daughter to marry the mother’s brother.

Furthermore, when I brought up the subject with others, the general attitude was “yeah, what’s wrong with that?”.

It turns out, my maid, is also married to her uncle – her mother’s younger brother. She leads such an unhappy life because she refuses to ‘live’ with her husband. ‘Live’ was the choice of words used by my friend to explain that although she lived in the same house as her husband, she refused to consummate the marriage, much to the displeasure of her husband and the rest of the family.

6 Comments India: Keeping it in the family

  1. Fay

    Blimey. The only mention in that Wikipedia article of insest being permitted is South India.

    Someone might want to change the tense of this part of the wikipedia article to present:

    “In some South Indian communities, where gotra membership passed from father to children, marriages were allowed between uncle and niece, while such marriages were forbidden in matrilineal communities, like Malayalis and Tuluvas, where gotra membership was passed down from the mother.”

    Now imagine this

    I guess since family line is passed from the father to his children, the brother of the mother is not considered part of the family..until you see the genes! Cultural beliefs aren’t going to stop the offspring from being inbred!

    Poor woman.

    Bit of maths thinking and if this happened every generation, then this woman’s children would have only have one distinct pair of great^n-grandparents. Ie instead of 2 pairs of grandparents, they have 1, cos the other is also their great grandparents. Instead of 4 pairs of great-grandparents, they have 1, because others are also great-great grandparents or great-great-great grandparents.

    In the other direction, say Preity and Nagesh decide that they want some of their great^n-grandchildren to be (2*2^n – 1)/(2*2^n) their genes, they just start this custom! Their grandchildren will be 1/2 thier genes (like normal), their great-grandchildren will be 3/4 their genes (not like normal), their great-great-grandchildren will be be 7/8 their genes, their great-great-great grandchildren will be 15/16 their genes….that can’t be healthy!

  2. sarah!

    ohmygod… there are many things very wrong with marrying your uncle, indeed, what in the world is right about it…?? it is illegal in england… isn’t it!!

  3. admin

    It is illegal in England (not sure about in Suffolk! All have webbed feet, I’ve heard). The jury is out on whether you are legally allowed to marry your cousin in England though. Even if you are, it doesn’t make it right. We’re fairly certain that marriage to your second cousin is legally ok.

    Further discussion on this subject reveals that it *used* to be fairly common in poorer families because the bride’s parents would no longer have to pay a large dowry for the wedding and to the groom’s parents. Hence the phrase “keeping [the wealth] in the family”.

  4. Fay

    Suffolk!?! I think your talking about Norfolk!

    How could you confuse the two!?

    There’s a phrase used by medical proffessionals in Norfolk – NFN – Normal for Norfolk. It’s used to describe conditions that are the result of inbreeding, or just odd or not particularly bright people.

    And yes some people up in Norfolk do have webbed feet.

  5. Zoheb

    Im from Chennai which is in South India, and I recently read an article about a little girl marrying a frog. Last year I read one about marrying a dog, and another a tree. Humans are interesting 🙂

    By the way these marriages were for spiritual and superstitious reasons. I doubt the woman was in love with the tree!

    Marrying relatives is actually very very common in India. But someone as close as a mothers brother is rare. But it does happen regularly.



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