Auntyji says... I don’t know beta Ginny, I really don’t know whether it is OK for you to marry your cousin...but I am ready to go through this journey of understanding this with you, so let’s take a stroll.
So to begin with, we all know that in certain cultures and religions it is considered absolutely OK. It is pretty much the ‘done thing’ in fact – male cousins almost have a right over female cousins in one sense, and there it is. Chalo jee. On the other hand, it is considered just terrible, cousins are seen as real brothers and sisters and even thinking about something like this is terribly looked down upon – “Who marries their brother or sister ?” is the outraged argument.
You think it’s love?
Ginny, let’s put society, religion and all the other institutions on hold for a moment and let’s talk about you and the cousin. Look beta, sometimes what happens is this. We get very close to and fond of the one or few men who are actually just around us during our growing up years. We share everything with them and hang out all the time and soon the lines between being a relative and just a man or a woman begin to blur. Before you know it, you feel you are inseparable, in love even.
Too close for comfort?
Now comes the question, how close is close? Is it between just first cousins, where you even look alike, in which case it may well be too close for comfort and thus very difficult to either explain or even understand? You know, say your sister ties Rakhi to your aunt’s son A and you are in love with same aunt's son B... so that's a bit... hain ki nahin?
Then comes one erstwhile Jonny who you have not seen in years and ages and he is twice or thrice removed, just the “rishtey mein toh hum ...” type of a relationship, then I guess it may be more acceptable. But again, who knows? We have heard of young people getting brutally killed because they were ‘brother and sister’ by virtue of being of the same village, have we not?
Law and children
The age old reason for keeping marriages within families was to keep familial values and morals intact, and to keep property within the family. Later this changed and cousin marriage became seen as incest in some cultures. It is banned in some countries, including China and parts of the US. For us in South Asia, it is still fairly common and does happen. In India the law is complicated – it depends on religion and region. For Muslims cousin marriage is legal. For Hindus, is not valid under the Hindu Marriage Act, but there are exceptions based on regional tradition.
About kids. Yes, having a child with your cousin increases the chances of birth defects. Is it a big increase? Well, you can compare it to the increased risk of having a baby when you’re over 40 compared to when you’re 30, say some researchers. Now, that is a chance you may or may not want to take.
Jury is out
So beta Ginny, as you can see the jury is out on this one. If you have precedence in the family, it may be easier for you. But if this is a first and you do not come from any of those communities where this is acceptable then you are in for a very bumpy ride, not just now but for the rest of your life perhaps.
Ginny, maybe you need to check this out – is it love or just the natural process of inclusion? He was always there in your early adulthood and you guys came close and before you know it, it seemed like love. And now you feel marriage is the only way forward when actually it is just the comfort of being with someone you have known since childhood, rather than a thought-out choice... Possible or not? Just give it some thought.
Here are the questions you need to ask before you make a decision:
Is it true love? Is it legally possible for you to get married? Can you accept the risk of increased birth defects? Do you have the support of your family and community, or will you face a terrible struggle?
If you decide to go ahead and marry, then I wish you a long and happy life together. If you decide against it, I hope you get over your heartache and find true love with someone else.
To protect the author's privacy, the person in the photo is a model.