Itihaas
August, 20th, 1997
Akhilesh Mithal

The Legend of the Origin of Marriage in India

 




What should be the priority in the decade following the 50th anniversary of Independence?

 

 

 

 

Perhaps this Cause for the Twenty-first Century should be the Prevention Of Cruelty to Women.

 

 

 

Marriage gives absolute power to men over women to punish, chastise, brutalize maim and even kill their wives without the law of the state or society coming into play.

As we enter the second half of the first century of India's Independence it is time to take stock. What has been achieved? And, more importantly, what should be the priority in the decade 1997-2007? What problem needs to be addressed most urgently? Perhaps the total absence of idealism requires immediate and sustained attention.

There is a callousness abroad again. Like there was under alien or foreign, feringhee rule. A lack of caring concern for the weaker sections of society. Everyone appears to be saying 'I am alright Jack!' Everyone for themselves and a 'the Devil take the hindmost!' attitude prevails.

India needs a Cause to struggle for, to revive the flickering flame of the idealism which led to Independence and the great land reforms, abolition [at least in Law] of discrimination and of privilege on account of birth and the movements for literacy, health and education which have pulled the country out of the dark pit into which a colonial administration obsessed with revenue enhancement year upon year had pushed it.

Perhaps this Cause for the Twenty-first Century should be the Prevention Of Cruelty to Women. At the psychological level there is no greater trauma than the cruelty practiced against Indian and particularly Hindu women.

Yama, Lord of Death stalks the female Indian from the moment of conception. The unwanted existence of a female embryo can be discovered by amniocentesis and swiftly ended by abortion. As infant weaned far earlier than a brother the unfortunate girl child is left puny, weak, and thus susceptible to illness and disease which is neglected, often leading to death. As child, and as adolescent a girl child is weighed down with the responsibility for nurturing and care of siblings and of performing household chores and is fed very much less than her brothers which all predispose her to premature and untimely death.

Marriage is the next stage in the dire and distressed life of the girl child. Hardly mature she becomes the victim of the lust of her usually much older husband and conceives child after incomplete child often herself dying in the process of reproduction.

And then, if the husband dies, there is the ultimate horror of SUTTEE. In a macabre manner, the being burnt alive on becoming a widow, the great Hindu SUTTEE sacrifice denotes positive progress! Because it means that despite being unwanted and constantly at peril and running the gauntlet the Hindu girl child has successfully crossed many milestones hurdles and obstacles to survive. What a price to pay for being born female.

Do we want women to continue to pay this price into and throughout the twenty first century? The gender ratio in India [920 women to 1000 men] is a disgraceful statistic and all the Indian people and especially the Hindu majority need to take oaths and pledges that when the sixtieth year comes and is celebrated this blot will have been wiped out as have been smallpox, and famine deaths. The equality promised before before the law needs to be made real.

Perhaps the legend and myth governing the Man Woman relationship, the Myth of the origin of Indian( Hindu) Marriage has to be recounted. Its becoming more generally known and getting studied in depth may help remedy the situation by highlighting the struggle for power and how men won a round in remote antiquity. The Hindu Code Bill strove to make a more even playing field and failed and we have to try again.

The Myth and Legend of the Origin of Marriage in India

'In remote antiquity there was a (janmaandha: blind from birth) man named Deerghatumaa - or the one immersed in great, deep and interminably long darkness. Unable to see the world around him while subject to the desires and needs of the human condition, Deerghatumaa took up position near the watering hole of the habitation. Here he could quench his thirst whenever it arose. Also he could meet everyone in the community for all needed to visit the watering hole.

When Deerghatumaa came to maturity he found that he could grab women when they came for drawing and collecting water and satisfy his desires. Perhaps his blindness made sure that only the willing women were grabbed . After a while he was found cohabiting more and more often with one particular lady and he fathered many an offspring on her.

Years passed and everything appeared to have settled down into a pattern or design for living when chance and circumstance assumed the form of Fate to intervene. It so transpired one day that Deerghatumma waited for the lady and she did not materialize. Impatient and willful and intent upon the gratification of his own desire, Deerghatumma grabbed a fresh woman. She happened to be a girl produced by Deerghatumma on his aforementioned lady. As fated the mother herself came upon the scene and witnessed with her own eyes what she felt was flagrant treachery and disloyalty. Incensed by what she saw she decided on vengeance.

Readers should remember that the institution of marriage had not come into existence at that time. There was no concept of Sin in relation to sexual activity and the notion of incest was yet to come into being. The lady felt 'wronged' and wanted to settle scores with Deerghatumma. She summoned all her offspring, both boys and girls and had them secure Deerghatumma with cords and ropes. She could have had him killed but did not. Perhaps killing had already assumed the status of sin although 'adultery' and 'fornication' had not. She did not wish to commit the sin of killing. Therefore she had the offender tied to logs of wood and thrown into the river.

Readers will note the 'Indianness' of the action. If Deerghatumma died of drowning or being eaten up by alligators those who had committed him to the river bound hand and foot could not really be held responsible for the death. It was the river or the crocodile who did the deed!

Having thus wreaked vengeance without committing the cardinal sin of killing the lady and her brood returned to their daily chores. Perhaps they missed the colour provided by Deerghatumma and perhaps they did not. Days became weeks and weeks months and there was no news of Deerghatumma. It generally felt that he was no more.

But men like Deerghatumma are not easy to get rid of. He surfaced perhaps at the mouth of the river and trekked back to base. One fine day he was seen striding up to the habitation from which he had been bundled off by those nearest and dearest to him.

Deerghatumma was no ordinary person. He was a learned sage enjoying both power and influence. He summoned a meeting of the community and spoke at length of the need for reform. For regulation. For rules to govern the man-woman relationship. He suggested that the unfettered condition of women made for anarchy and it was time to devise a chain, a bond and a rule which would limit and confine their behaviour within acceptable norms - to institutionalise the power of men over women.

This fetter, chain or bond is what we know today as marriage. It gives absolute power to men over women. In the not so distant past men could punish, chastise, brutalize maim and even kill their wives without the law of the state or society coming into play.

In this, the fifty -first year of India's Independence we need to examine the man- woman relationship in our country. The Hindu Code Bill gives women a status and protection that no other law in the world provides. Why then does the slaughter of women continue ? This question must be addressed urgently to remove the greatest blot on the image of India.

 
  Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1998. All rights reserved.
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