Print Edition - 2014-05-18  |  Free the Words

Ways of life

  • Through the practice of capture marriage, Kabaddi illustrates a clash between tradition and modernity
- Binit Gurung
Ways of life

May 17, 2014-

Should we change our tradition just because times have changed?” a local Thakali man thunders at a closed-door meeting presided over by the village mukhiya to discuss the aftermath of Bir Kaji's (Dayahang Rai) failed attempt to capture his maternal cousin soltini Maiya (Rishma Gurung) for marriage. This culturally charged scene from the recently released Nepali movie Kabaddi depicts the way of life and culture of the Thakalis, an ethnic group indigenous to Nepal's Mustang district.

Hauling off women

Set in the predominantly Thakali village of Naurikot in Mustang, Kabaddi presents a rare glimpse into 'capture marriage', where marriage is basically secured by the boy's abduction of the girl. Dor Bahadur Bista, in his book People of Nepal, mentions that the boy, along with his friends and relatives, abducts the girl and takes her to the house of his relatives until an approval for marriage is obtained from the girl's parents. In case the girl's parents have already consented to the marriage, Bista writes, “The girl may find herself dragged from home.” He, however, notes that the actual marriage can take place only after the boy's parents beg for forgiveness for all the trouble caused and win the approval of the girl's parents.

In the film, Bir Kaji has long been smitten with his cousin Maiya, whose parents have given their word that they would marry off their daughter to the former. Bir Kaji, by virtue of being a cousin, apparently has undisputed first claim to marry her, according to the preferred cross-cousin marriage tradition observed by the Thakalis, like some other non-caste ethnic communities in Nepal. Maiya, however, has her own plans. She is ambitious and has a desire to pursue further studies in Kathmandu. She hates Bir Kaji for his wayward ways. Nevertheless, there are several moments in the movie when Bir Kaji is exhorted by his relatives and friends to whisk away Maiya if she does not relent to his proposition. Kaji, for his part, waits patiently and only acts when he feels threatened by the entry of a city-boy (Nischal Basnet), who eventually goes on to foil the capture plan set up by Kaji and his two friends.

Capture marriage is different from elopement. Marriage by elopement is commonplace in almost all societies. Elopement is a secret marriage, usually based on mutual agreement between the boy and the girl, done in haste without giving prior notice to the partners' respective parents and relatives. Elopement, however, may invite several complications if the caste/ethnicity/class/race of the partners is incompatible. Nevertheless, the notion of elopement as such doesn't court controversy the way capture marriage does. Capture marriage is no doubt ungentlemanly and may be unwarranted for many of us if we look at it from the perspective of human rights as the girl's will is almost never taken into account. It is therefore punishable by law. But traditions often override laws and most conflicts that arise from capture marriage are settled within the community itself by the mukhiya before any legal recourse can be taken.

With changing times

Going back to the aforementioned village meeting following Kaji's capture marriage debacle, the scene particularly captures the tension between tradition and modernity. One participant in the meeting suggests that traditions should change according to changing times, implying that the old tradition of capture marriage has become irrelevant. Another participant disagrees vehemently whereas another seconds him. The elderly participants call for consensus. With the modernisation of society, some cultural traditions no longer appeal to the people as strongly as they once did.

In the words of Daniel Lerner, modernisation is “an old process of social change whereby less developed societies acquire the characteristics common to more developed societies.” Education, urbanisation and mass communication, among others, are cited as agents of modernisation. 'Coercive governmental authority' and 'nationalism' are also considered influential instruments of modernisation. The state can coerce peoples to adopt modern norms and values while nationalistic ideologies change the cultural behaviours of the members of plural societies as desired by political elites. Bista attributes the decline of capture marriage to the influence and imitation of dominant Hindu traditions by young, educated Thakalis.

Capture marriage, however, is not exclusive to Thakalis. Bista documents this practice among various other non-caste ethnic groups such as Rai, Limbu, Tamang, Magar, Chepang, Baragaunle and even Sunwar and Jirel. Although capture marriage is in decline among all communities, the cross-cousin marriage tradition is still widely practiced. Magars, Tamangs and Gurungs, among other mid-hill ethnic groups, have long followed cross-cousin marriage. Cross-cousin is distinct from parallel cousin. The former refers to cousins from the parents' opposite-sex sibling ie, mother's brother's child or father's sister's child. The latter refers to cousins from the parents' same-sex sibling, ie, mother's sister's child or father's brother's child. Parallel cousin marriage is not tolerated in most communities, with the exception of a very few.

For the taking

Kabaddi cleverly refrains from passing any value-based judgment on capture marriage. The movie neither romanticises it nor is it presented in a negative light. Rather, this tradition of capture marriage lays the foundation for the plot and a unique story is woven around it. By having the story based on one of our indigenous traditions, however infamous as it may be, the movie has proven that there is no dearth of indigenous issues and stories to make movies on in a country as diverse as Nepal. It is just that filmmakers need to passionately explore such stories and should have the ability to present them without offending sentiments.

At the end of the film, we see Maiya on her way to the campus in her own village whereas Kaji is back to wooing Maiya with his friends just like in the old days. This scene is meaningful in the sense that it indicates that capturing a girl may not culminate in marriage in today's times, even in remote corners of the country, unless the girl gives her consent.

Gurung is a student of English Literature and Social Work at St Xavier's College

Published: 18-05-2014 09:02

Next Story

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment