Tribal marriage

The tribal model of marriage:
It’s thoroughly depressing that some Indian girls are still being married off by age 12… suspiciously coincidental with the age of menarche. The obsession with female virginity obscenely reduces half the world to a box of disposable tissues with a faulty seal:

[A]s Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen ‘like a ray of sunshine through a window–leaving it unbroken.’

… Today the NYT reminds us Neanderthal marriage customs are not a uniquely desi shame, they’re tribal:

More than half of Kyrgyzstan’s married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as “ala kachuu,” which translates roughly as “grab and run.” … at least a third of Kyrgyzstan’s brides are now taken against their will. Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard “bride price,” which can be as much as $800 plus a cow.

This in particular is reminiscent of desi village culture:

Once a girl has been kept in the home overnight, her fate is all but sealed: with her virginity suspect and her name disgraced, she will find it difficult to attract any other husband… “Every good marriage begins in tears,” a Kyrgyz saying goes.

It’s always bothered me the way the doli / vidai in a Hindu wedding ends in tears… At its heart it’s a submission ritual: the baraatis have stormed the gates, the bride has been caught, the doli is her broken surrender, carried off in a palanquin to the conqueror’s harem. ’Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge’: it’s Alexander entering Babylon, Hulagu entering Baghdad.

19 thoughts on “Tribal marriage

  1. “At its heart itÂ’s a submission ritual: the baraatis have stormed the gates, the bride has been caught, the doli is her broken surrender, carried off in a palanquin to the conquerorÂ’s harem.”

    I couldnt agree more and find it such an antiquated sentiment. Along with the dowry system but thats a whole other issue. But I guess in large parts of the world its not-unfortunately.

    I’ve already told my family that there will be no vidai or tears at the end of my wedding. We’re ending it with a bang, my drunk family members on the dance floor doing bhangra or something reminiscent of the funky chicken (unfortunately) until dawn!!!

  2. At some time or other I hope we as brown-skinned people will stop being generalized so easily and often. hopefully before 2050

  3. At some time or other I hope we as brown-skinned people will stop being generalized so easily and often. hopefully before 2050

    there’s good generalization and bad generalization. without generalization, and a pure nominalist position, you really will stop a lot of conversation. my personal opinion is that in the political context people are fine when it comes to generalizing the Other but more particular when it comes to their own kind. “Republicans are like….” “Liberals are like…” etc. etc. but if you are a conservative every conservative is unique, if you are a liberal every liberal is unique, if you are brown every brown person is unique. on the other hand, liberals, conservatives and whites are fair game to generalize about respectively from each position for a certain class of folk.

    so do we reject generalization on principle or refine the process so that it better captures the statistical realities of variation within the clusmly apparatus of typological verbal expressions? i favor the latter.

    so here’s a generalization: most brown females are not coerced into marriages and tormented by their new “kin” about dowry related issues. but, most people who are coerced into marriages and tormented by their new “kin” about dowry related issues are brown (note the intersection between coercion and dowry, coercion is common, dowry is a particular south asian spin).

    p.s. manish’s impressions pretty much match what i saw on videotapes of marriages of bangladeshi women. repulsive.

  4. I’d agree with you more Razib if there weren’t structural problems with the discourse. In a different setting I think generalization isn’t neccessarily harmful or ill-concieved. However there is a pervasive effect by which actions of those who are “racialized” are expanded onto the entire “race” without what I think is enough qualification. Particularly when you compare this with the de-racinated category of people, for whom fewer if any actions stick as group-wide generalizations.

    Its something to do with the process of the Essential versus the Other. Brown-skinned folk are Othered and thus can run into trouble defining ourselves as beings-in-and-of-ourselves in discourse. The various generalizations may change, but our “vulnerability” to being fixed, like a fly on the wall, by this or that generalization is more constant.

    Thus I can be cheap or spend-thrift depending on who is Othering me with what generalization at the moment

  5. So the notion that a bride cries because she has to her home and live in a different/new home is not true?! That she will be away from her family should not really make her sad at all, right?!

    Are you just trying to find deep philosophical torture fundaes in a simple concept?

  6. Particularly when you compare this with the de-racinated category of people, for whom fewer if any actions stick as group-wide generalizations.

    patriarchal, genocidal, heterosexist, capitalist, exploitative, “linear thinking,” imperialist, etc. etc. all of these generalizations have been stuck to white people, in particular white males. the correspondence is not perfect, exact or identical, but, there are similarities. try being a white male in a women’s studies class, i’ve had friends (white males) who tried, and they are clearly totems that serve as focal points to outrage if they don’t abase themselves propery and correctly.

  7. In the special environment of the university, particularly in the 1990′s, I would agree with you. However, there has been a pretty successful backlash against this, and overall I think those epithets don’t stick too well outside of those settings. Nor should they. We should all be free of them, however, on a sustained basis, the actions of minority/Other groups are much more likely to be discussed in a racinated way, eg on the evening news, when school shootings happens, or when gang violence occurs, for example

  8. patriarchal, genocidal, heterosexist, capitalist, exploitative, “linear thinking,” imperialist, etc. etc. all of these generalizations have been stuck to white people, in particular white males. the correspondence is not perfect, exact or identical, but, there are similarities. try being a white male in a women’s studies class, i’ve had friends (white males) who tried, and they are clearly totems that serve as focal points to outrage if they don’t abase themselves propery and correctly.

    This is because people on “The Left”, myself included at times, focus on the individual in a rigid form of identity politics instead of the social role that individuals play. A person occuplies so many different roles in social relationships (class, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, what have you) that simple “oppressor/oppressed” dichotomies are a recipe for disaster (and in my opinion, a Tool Of The Man). That’s not to say they don’t have a place, but, I agree, a more nuanced understanding is more useful.

  9. So the notion that a bride cries because she has to her home and live in a different/new home is not true…
    1. RTFA:
    Some of the tears are genuine, but I suspect many more are of the crocodile variety…
    1. Think about the structure of a traditional society where your daughter is not encouraged to earn her own income, has to move in with the in-laws and change her name.

    I’d be sad too.

    1. Whether brides are sad is independent of the ritualization of that sadness. At this point, it’s part of the show, and you’re not a good bride if you don’t cry.
  10. 3. Whether brides are sad is independent of the ritualization of that sadness. At this point, it’s part of the show, and you’re not a good bride if you don’t cry.

    Throughout my entire wedding planning process, I believed this. I had been to dolis where brides were laughing and didn’t cry and all the aunties talked trash. I was a wreck the night before and the morning of my wedding (because I was moving 3,000 miles away from my family), but not a single tear at the doli. I wonder if I gave those aunties something to talk about …

  11. Sonia, What exactly is the ‘doli’ ? I thought the doli was a little platform for the bride to sit on and the doli is supported at both ends by people who carry it on their shoulders. Kinda like the dolly, though in the doli the platform is lifted high up on the shoulders of the people who carry it.

  12. This is why you should get married South Indian and Wisconsin style like me. At the end of the night, everyone is full on thair vadais and paayasam, leaving the maamis to gossip about the ladies’ saris/jewelry and the rest of us to get drunk and shake our thangs on the dance floor.

    Serious time: It is sad that in any so-called reform, the women still get the shaft, in every meaning of the word. Afghanistan and Iraq were liberated, as was Kuwait, but were they really? Is a culture really free when it still treats its women as chattel, only slightly above inanimate objects for trade? Of course, not all of our South Asian counterparts indulge in this type of uncivilized behavior, but it’s sad that this is not at the forefront of reform and education agendas at the local and national levels.

  13. What exactly is the ‘doli’ ?

    You’re right .. it is the platform thing. However, the ceremony/ritual itself of the bride leaving with her groom after the wedding is also called the “doli” in some cultures.

  14. OK, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the “suhag raat” – the traditional “wedding night” in India. What happens between the couple when in many cases they have just met? Or worse, what happens to those 12 year old brides?

  15. “By tradition, child marriages aren’t supposed to be consummated until the brides are 16, I believe.”

    And which horny young village lad is gonna wait 4 years when he’s been waiting already his whole life?

    I can tell you what happens… rape.

    But hey, there are no marital rape laws in India yet and it’s just considered her “duty”, right?

    In a recent international poll regarding women and orgasms, Indian women ranked last.

    No wonder.

  16. Have you ever read the autobiography of Gandhi? He makes it clear that we was MARRIED at 13. He even mentions the wedding night. Even now it is still very common. Next time you take a trip to India, (if you ever do), make it a point to talk to all the “maids” in the middle class homes over there. Hear their stories. They may feel shy to open up to a man. Get a female friend to inquire into their lifestyles and marriages. You’ll learn alot about how the “other half” lives.

  17. It is very easy to comment on the ritualistic practices of the world but somehow one tends to forget in the euphoria of modernism that these very communities existed much before we could even imagine existence. In order to criticize one must be socially aware. There are some traditions which were Geo-socially important at that time and relevant reasons. Try to visualize in the modern context,especially India where dowry has become a major headache ,although this does not justify any act of violence …just think..