People of a gotra descend from families of different origin. Moreover, the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents

At last, the murderers of Manoj and Babli were sentenced to death. However, the bigwigs of khap panchayats or caste councils in Haryana, who ordered the couples killed, are endeavouring to mobilise people demanding amendments to the Hindu Marriages Act in favour of barring intra-village and intra-clan marriages. Here, we have to deal with the question why the people are rallying round them and how to wean them away from the abominable khap panchayats.

There is the argument that “though there is nothing illegal about it, the local society prohibits one's marriage within one's village and gotra (clan)” as it considers it immoral. The feeling of immorality pivots on an age-old belief that marriage should not take place between intra-clan (sagotra) and intra-village couples. The male and the female of the same clan are treated as brother and sister and hence the marriage between them is taboo.

Intra-village marriages are common in India and the argument against it is not tenable though the ban does exist in some northern states like Haryana. But why are the intra-clan marriages prohibited? A strong belief is that since a couple belonging to the same gotra are the descendants of the same ancestral origin for several generations, they have the relation of brother and sister.

In India, the clan (gotra) has its origin not in the birth of people but derives from the gurus they followed. For example, families belonging to the Bharadwaja gotra are the followers of Bharadwaja Maharishi. But it does not necessarily mean that all its members belong to the same family. Different families in the same caste might have followed Bharadwaja Maharishi; hence so they acquired the name of Bharadwaja gotra.

Likewise, clans might have come into existence. In some castes, the clans were created by their profession and not by birth. For example, the main clans in Viswakarmas (Viswabrahmins) trace their origin to their occupation. They have five main gotras — Saanaga, Sanatana, Ahabhoonasa, Patnarasa and Suparnasa. Saanaga denotes blacksmithy. Sanatana denotes carpentry, Ahabhoonasa metallurgical works, Patnarasa sculptures and Suparnasa goldsmithy. There are some other gotras among Viswakarmas. So the people of the same gotra in the above said clans do not necessarily belong to same origin of birth or family. However, marriages among the same clan were banned.

We can trace the ancestry of families up to 10 or 15 generations. Beyond that it is not possible to go back. But how can the families having the same gotra say that they have descended from one source of family since time immemorial?

Moreover, we can see the name of the same gotra in different castes. For example, the Bharadwaja gotra can be found in both Brahmins and Viswakarmas. Marriages between Brahmins and Viswakarmas were banned not on the basis of gotra, but on the basis of caste. Moreover, marriages within the same caste are banned not on the basis of gotra, but on the basis of cult. For example, Brahmins have 18 cults. Inter-cult marriages among Brahmins are banned on the basis of their cult. The Reddy community has innumerable kinds and marriages between different kinds are banned.

To augment numbers

If so, why were intra-clan marriages banned? Intra-clan marriages were banned not because of brother-sister relations. They were banned in order to augment society of their ilk. For example, if marriages are allowed within the Bharadwaja gotra, the followers of Bharadwaja will become limited. If a bride is picked up from another gotra, she will become a new member of the followers of Bharadwaja, thereby increasing the number of the followers. This might be the reason why intra-clan marriages were banned.

Nowadays, it has become a practice to distort science in favour of traditional arguments. Such is one about the genes in the clan. Pseudo-theoreticians say that as the genes descend from the same ancestor within a clan, marriages within the clan will trouble the offspring because of the conjugation of the same genes; that is why, the argument goes, our elders prohibited marriages within a clan. This theory is baseless because the people of a gotra descend from the families of different origin as we saw above. Moreover, the genes undergo change in course of time as the spouses come from different parents.

Thus, it can be deduced that families bearing the same gotra are not the descendants of the same origin. They do not belong to the same family. Hence, it cannot be said that a male and female from the families of the same gotra have the relation of brother and sister. This should be inculcated in not only the people of Haryana, but the whole of India so that this kind of superstition and age-old beliefs are eliminated.

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