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Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra

The Gauna Ceremony of Child Brides

PRELUDE

It is a custom prevalent even today in several states of India – U.P., Bihar, M.P. & Rajasthan and maybe even some others and is mainly practiced by village folk. Rural India accounts for about 83% of the population – Census Data 2011.  Assuming that Gauna is practiced by a conservative figure of 50% of the people in the rural belt in these states,  the number of people who practice this custom is roughly

0.5 x 0.83 x { (200 million – UP Population) + (68 million Rajasthan population) + (103 million – Bihar Population) + (72 million MP population) + (25 million Chattisgarh)

194 million people!

So we are talking about a population FOUR TIMES the population of United Kingdom.

FOUR TIMES.

It is hardly possible to pretend that they do not matter or that our views must override theirs.

Their numbers demand that we respect these people and their opinions even though they may be different from our own.

Especially in an era that reveres (or at least, pays lip service to) free thinking and individual choice and democracy and self-governance!

We simply cannot brush these people & their lifetsyle into the margins under the pretext of ‘they are uneducated / they do not know any better’. 

Granted that they do not know better about many things such as going to the moon or creating a new drug.

But in the cultural and social domain, they do know enough to run their social life and their family life quite successfully. It has been tried and tested in their social context for centuries and had it not made sense it would have been abandoned by them. Their social norms are as valid in their context as ours are in our context.

We have to recognise that in the ‘social life’ context the urbanites are superior to none others and they the rural folk are inferior to none others. It might well be on the contrary.

 

***

In earlier notes, I have explored the polyandric societies, women-centric marriages and sequentially-polygamous societies that prevail in India even today. And so, like Alice in Wonderland I have walked through yet another door and unknowingly entered a new world for the first time. The world of Gauna.

It is common to see marriages being arranged amongst girls & boys who are children. Thereafter the children continue their life exactly as it was before the ‘marriage’ ritual.

Sometime after the girl turns 13 or so, she moves to her the home of her husband and her in-laws.

This event is accompanied by a ceremony called the Gauna.

The marriage is consummated and conjugal life begins. Babies are born and life proceeds.

Just as it does in the case of every other species. Just as nature planned it.

Sometimes the Gauna may occur even before the girl turns 13.

In my first year as a young bride at the age of 20, I had a maid servant – Suman – a tall and beautiful Maharashtrian woman, whose son had been recently married. The Gauna ceremony (though it is not called that in Maharashtra but the concept is the same) had taken place and so the daughter-in-law – a happy young girl – 12 years old would accompany her mother-in-law to work. Both had an affectionate and bonded relationship. When I asked about the intimate details of their lives (this inquisitive chit-chat is not uncommon either in ‘my’ world) I learned that the young bride Haru lived in the family quarters and slept beside her mother-in-law. And that she would move into her husband’s chamber only much later, when the elders deemed it fit.

My next encounter with the concept of Gauna occurred when I heard some folk songs from Madhya Pradesh in Bundelkhandi. A sweet-romantic song about a young groom spending sleepless nights eagerly waiting for his bride’s gauna. An absolutely endearing song!

And then the third time I came across Gauna is when I met a young girl in Rajasthan accompanying her old parents. Her wedding ceremony was done but her Gauna remained to be done. A sweet shy girl 15 years of age, she seemed happy and well adjusted, pleasant and at peace in every way. There was not a hint of ‘protest’ in her demeanor. There was no boredom, no sense of ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’ nor any signs of distress.  Everything seemed just right.

But in India there is a law against Child Marriage. Some activist somewhere won this battle and so child marriage is banned.

My eyes, my mind could see nothing ugly, nothing unjust, nothing negative going on in any of my three encounters with this concept.

To the argument of ‘free choice post-adulthood’ my question is – are we allowed to choose something as important as the religion we follow after we attain adulthood or is this forced upon us at birth? Why?

To the argument of ‘too early to have sex’  – my suggestion is to look around at the other species in nature. Once the body is ready, reproduction begins in all animals with the exception of (most) humans. Our social norms of delaying the start of reproduction has many other reasons and might be valid. But from the point of view of the girl’s health, my belief is that nature’s design is probably sensible and if some groups want to live by the plan that nature created, then so be it. Besides, a look at the Teen Pregnancy statistics in other parts of the world will reveal similar behavior. The only difference is that among these ethnic groups that I speak of, this occurs within a marriage and elsewhere it occurs outside marriage.

Maybe there were other arguments against child marriage – but I cannot fathom them. With the concept of gauna in tandem with child marriage I wonder what the thinking was when this was deemed wrong!

jm

May 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This entry was posted on May 14, 2014 by in Culture Kaleidoscope and tagged , , , , , , .

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