To get to the gist of the problem of intra-gotra also called (a-gotra) marriages, we need to understand the concept of gotra and its appearance in the Hindu culture. Gotra is a type of a lineage system within an Indian Caste that restricts intermarriage under a descent from a common ancestor. It is a highly determining factor in marriages, especially in parts of Northern India such as Haryana which is also famous for its Khap Panchayats, notorious for taking illegal action against these marriages. Gotra refers to the Guru that one followed during the ancient times which brings us to the argument that, different families in the same caste might have followed a certain guru but that does not mean all the followers of a certain guru are the part of the same family.
Originally there were a total of seven gotras all referring to the lineage segments of Brahmans tracing their devotion to seven ancient seers: Atri, Bharadwaja, Bhrigu, Gotama, Kashyap, Vasishtha, and Vishvamitra. An eight Gotra was added, named Agastya, named after the seer intricately linked with the spread of Vedic Hinduism in southern India. The number of Gotra’s proliferated in the latter times to justify one’s lineage from a prominent Brahman seer.
It may also be intriguing to realize that some gotra clans descend not from birth but from the profession/occupation followed by individuals. The primary clans of Viswakarma (Viswabrahmins), for example, may be traced back to their vocation. They are divided into five major gotras: Saanaga, Sanatana, Ahabhoonasa, Patnarasa, and Suparnasa. The word saanaga means “blacksmithing.” Sanatana is associated with carpentry, Ahabhoonasa with metallurgical works, Patnarasa with sculptures, and Suparnasa with goldsmithy. Other gotras exist among Viswakarmas. People of the same gotra in the aforementioned clans do not necessarily have the same origin of birth or family. Marriages within the same clan, however, were prohibited.
Some time ago, a village in Kaithal district, Haryana witnessed the killing of a couple named Manoj and Babli who reportedly belonged to the same gotra, fell in love, and eloped to marry, indifferent to the reservations of their family members. A diktat was issued by the ‘caste panchayat’ or the infamously so-called ‘Khap Panchayat’ decreeing the killing of the couple. The perpetrators who executed this injustice were brought to justice and sentenced to death. However, the very bigwigs of these Khap panchayats who issued the decree were endeavoring to mobilize people demanding amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act in a motion to bar intra-village and intra-clan marriages.
The Bombay high court in Madhavrao vs Raghavendraraoin the year 1945 itself, declared a-gotra marriages to be legal while analyzing various cases of the privy council and the Hindu scriptures. Its been a long time since the decision of the court but still, the taboo associated with these types of marriages is alive and misunderstood just as much as it was in the past. This makes it imperative to understand why Afterall a-gotra marriages were banned in our culture for centuries back, to interpret its relevance, logic, and usefulness in the contemporary scenario.
This comes out of relevant research that, so-gotra marriages were banned not because of brother-sister relation but instead to augment the society of their ilk, which means if marriages were to be allowed between the followers of the same gotra then the followers of that gotra would become limited however marriage in another gotra ensured the addition of one member, which is the bride in the list of followers of that gotra.
In a day where it is highly relevant and in practice to distort science in favor of traditional rituals, such can also be said about the similarity of genes in the clan. So far as we have seen the essence of prohibiting intra-clan or a-gotra marriages is the intermingling of similar genes resulting in a troubled offspring, which is unsupported as people of gotra descend from families of different origins as we saw above, additionally there are bound to be changed in genes of children as spouses come from different parents. Thereafter it can be said that followers of the same gotra do not descend from the same origin and can get married as they do not belong to the same families.
Author’s Name: Aryan Raghav (Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow)
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
Madhavrao vs Raghavendrarao, 1945 AIR 1946 Bom 377