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Familiarity breeds…Thoughtlessness

Posted: July 21, 2010

Recently, I heard that a distant relative, a young woman, had married a paternal cousin (though not a first cousin). The news surprised me, and not just because of the health risks of consanguineous marriages. In the South Indian community that I hail from, marriages between cousins are not at all uncommon, provided they follow certain norms.

Until a generation ago, it was very common (in fact, even expected) that a girl would marry her mama or athai’s (bua’s) son. Marriages between the children of two brothers or two sisters are however strictly forbidden, since such children are considered true siblings, not cousins.

Which is why this marriage I heard of surprised me. Knowing fully well that the genetic risks are no different whether one marries a cousin related in one way or another, nevertheless, it seems less ‘strange’ to marry a cousin related through a maternal line. Because that is what is familiar. And familiarity breeds thoughtlessness. (Even among educated people, it seems.)

Then, I came across this video (thanks, IHM for the link!) and was appalled to find children as young as 5 and 6 talking about being ‘polluted’ by those from Dalit families.

Why? Obviously because from a very young age, they have been so familiarised with the concept of untouchability that even without fully understanding what it means, they know how it works.

Years ago, while working as a market researcher, I was conducting focus group discussions at a remote village near Muzaffarpur in Bihar. Everything went well and I was winding up for the day when a group of the more educated villagers (‘BA pass’) gathered to chat with me.

We discussed peaceably the issues the village had and the attractions of city life when one young man piped up. “Madam, people say Bihar is lawless and unsafe; what do you think? Haven’t we treated you well? Did you have any difficulty?” And then he delivered the coup de grace. “That’s why you must interact only with people of good caste, like us. Then you will know how good the people of Bihar are.”

No doubt that young man was once like these kids in the video with their shining eyes and laughter and pushing and shoving.

When thinking about caste and other taboos, my own reaction to a distant marriage in my family showed me how easy it is to be thoughtless.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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