The diversity of India’s cultures and traditions often results in the existence of practices and beliefs which at times can be paradoxical. For example, while on one hand India has one of the highest rates of child marriage and a traditional belief that expects women to get married at a certain age, in other parts of the country there also exist tribes for whom marriage isn’t a norm nor is it hugely practiced. For the Garasia tribe of northwestern Rajasthan, live-in relationships, rather than marriage, is the dominant mode of co-habitation. While this may seem like ‘too modern’ a practice to be thriving in this rural society, it has in fact been in place for hundreds of years and is a central part of their culture.
In a report published by Al Jazeera, Shahnawaz Akhtar writes about the tribes age-old practice—known as dapa—stating that partners often live together for years and even have children before they get married. Marriage for them is only an option when they have earned and saved enough money to support their family, and for the Garasia, whose main source of income is through farming and daily-labour, this could take decades. The best part of this, which Akhtar points out, is that it is a completely accepted practice without any kind of discrimination and gender-based prejudice, which in a patriarchal and rigidly traditional society such as ours is a wonder.
Concentrated in the districts Udaipur and Kotra, there is a high chance that when you visit the regions you could chance upon the celebrations of a joint wedding. The marriage of 70-year-old Naniya Garasia, for example, to his 60-year-old partner, Kaali, was a huge affair which was made even bigger considering that it wasn’t just Naniya who was being wed but also his three sons to their respective partners, in the presence of the entire village as well as all of Naniya’s grandchildren.
What’s noteworthy about the Garasia tribe’s customs and beliefs is the importance they give women. The entire affair begins when a fair of sorts is hosted where teenagers are expected to interact and befriend prospective life partners. They elope and upon their return to the village they live together before which the groom’s family pays the family of the bride a certain amount of money. When the couple does wed, all expenses are handled and paid by the groom. But as Akhtar points out, if the woman so desires, she can choose a different partner at another fair and he is then expected to pay a larger amount of money to the girls former partner.
Social scientist Rajiv Gupta, who has long studied the dapa practice of the Garasia, points out that entire system is based on “the right to choose and the right to reject.” “They don’t find the modern society’s marriage system worthy, as it brings with it several impositions, especially on women,” he said. “In tribal society, democracy is deep rooted, whereas the institution of marriage gives superiority to manhood...Tribal people are more into practices that give equality to both sides—what democracy actually preaches to us.” Those studying the Garasia arrangement also shed light on the fact that cases of rape and dowry deaths are rare occurrences in such communities.
In our current climate of gender discrimination, violence against women and overall questioning of the legitimacy of Indian democracy, there is definitely a lot that our so-called ‘modern society’ can learn from the Garasia people. While mainstream society continues to look at all tribals as inferior and backward, there is merit in their practices, especially when it comes to the status of women and their empowerment.
Click here to read the entire article written by Shahnawaz Akhtar’s for Al Jazeera.