India of yesterday and today: Child Abuse,Sex Abuse, Incest, Prostitution, Homosexuality,Sodomy,…
“For a girl to be a virgin at ten years old, she must have neither brothers nor cousin nor father”DeMause
Considered as one of the greatest nation in the world, the people of India(from India) experienced many historic challenges that require the building of a given nation. One of the most important factors of a nation is the acknowledgement of a cultural identity. When one talks of Indian culture, one should mention that Indian culture is one of the most ancient cultures in the world. According to historical data, some cultural practices would have been dated back to 2,000 up to 3,500 B.C. Undoubtedly, such a culture should have witnessed an advanced civilization in terms of literature, lure, philosophy and social practices. There is no question that India witnessed a unique conception of philosophy which encompasses the four philosophical systems-Mysticism, Sensualism (which would give birth to Materialism and Atheism if pushing forward in thinking),Idealism, and Skepticism. All of these systems can be seen in different schools of thoughts masterminded by skillful polemists and dialecticians. Those thinkers were essentially monks or priest or Brahmas. Their philosophies have considerably influenced India and its cultural or traditional practices. The bedrock of the Indian societal belief is the association of three much-needed elements which guarantee the harmonious well-being of an individual on this earth and/or in the next life: Knowledge, Sexuality, and Religious Devotion. One cannot separate religion from the sexuality aspect of the Indian belief; yet, it is indeed the topic of sexuality that draws our attention in this writing. Our concern is not to call into question all principles of Indian traditions which are germane to religion, but only those people who are eventually being affected the sexual well-being and development of children in this society. Indeed, there is still a good deal of sexual practices supposedly coming from some “divine” prescriptions which are allegedly enjoined priest or eventually monks with sexually “abusing” children especially girls or young women so as to bring a so-called prosperity to the future of the sexually subjugated children or an honor to the family whose children have wittingly or unwittingly been “invited” by getting involved in such a sexuality while they remain young. What is worrying is some parents might have been willing to let their children go and satisfy a so-called religious duty which is nothing but a sexual fantasy from some religious leaders in India. Fortunately, such practices do not deal with the entire people of India; it should be stressed that it only concerns a small part of Indian ethnic group or religious-related group of people. So, it is wrong to point out the entire society for an eventual blaming. However, it is right to draw people’s attention to such unfounded ancestral practices which could grieve young people during their whole lifetime. It is time that something needs to be done to deal with such ongoing practices in certain parts of Indian. It is uneasy because of religious implications, but it is a duty to change mentalities without hurting feelings and beliefs of people. The following document would describe a dramatic situation that teens especially girls kept and keep facing regarding sexual abuses. It sketches out the nature and the practice of such a shameful plague in the modern society of India. The document related events, at least, from the periods of World War 1 and 2 up to this day.
As for sexual behaviour, “almost no information is available on the contemporary situation among any of the tribal groups” (Nag, 1995:p294). Elwin, at least, already observed the gradual erosion of the ghotul institution due to Hindu intrusion of the Muria territory.
“Child” Prostitution, With a Specific Reference to Age
According to Dr. Jon E. Rhode, UNICEF representative in India, “child prostitution is socially acceptable in some sections of Indian society through the practice of Devdasi []. Young girls are given to the “gods” and they become a religious prostitute. There are believed to be around 3,300 devdasis in Belguam area alone. Devdasi is banned by the Prohibition of Dedication Act of 1982”. Over 100,000 “child” prostitutes are estimated to be operative in India’s major cities. Half of the child prostitutes is said to be of Nepalese background. The average age of Nepalese girls entering an Indian brothel is said to be 10-14 years, some 5,000 to 7,000 of them said to be trafficked between Nepal and India annually. According to some statistics, 10,000 Bangladeshi “children” are employed in brothels in Bombay and Goa.
The Jogin system is based on the traditional belief in Andhra Pradesh, India, that evil over the family or the village can be avoided by dedicating a girl in the family to be a Jogin. Such a girl will be married to the god Potharaju when she is between five and nine years old. As soon as she reaches puberty she becomes the exclusive concubine of the feudal gentry in the village. Girls would be lured into undergoing the Jogini initiation at age seven.
– Compendium on Child Prostitution. Compiled by Socio Legal Information Centre for UNICEF Maharashtra. Collection of 1996 newspaper clippings; Child Prostitution: The Ultimate Abuse. Report on the National Consultation on Child Prostitution, November 18-20, 1995, New Delhi. YMCA / ECPAT / UNICEF
Devadasis, Joginis, Basavis, etc., with a Special Reference to Age
A tradition older than the more celebrated Geisha in Japan, much of the devdaasi’s history is lost in time. The initiation ritual was said to include a “deflowering ceremony”, known as “uditambuvadu” in some parts, whereby the priests would have intercourse with every girl enrolled at his temple as part of his religious perks. A Marathi saying, “Devdaasi devachi bayako, sarya gavachi” (“Servant of god, but wife of the whole town”) aptly defines their position in the medieval era. Heavily influenced by the British the Anti-Nautch Act (Devadasi were called nautch girls, dancing girls) launched by the Indian Government terminated the brahminical occupation of the devadasis on November 11th, 1947.
Necklaces symbolise the bondage that defines devadasis girls from the lowest caste whose parents have given them to local goddesses or temples as human “offerings”. Married to God before puberty, the devadasis, or Joginis, many of whom live in the temples, become sexual servants to the villages’ upper-caste men after their first menstrual period. In some villages, devadasis are kept as concubines by the men who bought them. In others they are public chattel, who can be used by men free of charge. “No estimates are available even about the number of child Devadasis and Joginis though these systems have been in traditionally existence in some societies as a socially sanctioned form of exploitation of women particularly those from lower socioeconomic groups in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh”.
Despite legal measures such as Madhya Devadasis prevention and Dedication Act of 1947 and the Bombay Devadasis Prevention Act of 1954 it continues even today in parts of Tamil Naidu, Mysore Andhra Pradesh and Orissa practised by some castes. A study conducted in Bombay in mid sixties reported that as many as 30% of the Bombay prostitutes were of Devadasi origin. A study shows that Bijapur district girls are still dedicated to the temple amongst certain section of the lower castes and enter the profession with the consent of their parents. They are also taken out of the town or villages by an agent and a large part of their earnings goes to the family members and agents and no social stigma is attached to it. The reason is mainly economic.
A devadasi is a woman married to a god and thus sadasuhagan or married, and hence at all times blessed. In the Vijapur district of Karnataka, girls are given to the Monkey God (Hanuman, Maruti), and known as Basvi. In Goa, a devadasi is called Bhavin (the one with devotion). In the Shimoga District of Karnataka, the girls are handed over to the goddess Renuka Devi, and in Hospet, to the goddess Hulganga Devi. The tradition lives on in other states in South India. Girls end up as prostitutes in Bombay and Pune. The Banchara and Bedia peoples of Madhya Pradesh also practice traditional prostitution. The Devdasi system, the Basavi system, the Jogin system, and prostitution amongst the Bancharas, Rajnat, Dommara and Bedias tribes are all said to be ritualised and socially organised forms of the child prostitution. Districts bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka, known as the “devadasi belt”, have trafficking structures operating at various levels. The women here are in sex trade either because their husbands deserted them, or they are said to be trafficked through coercion and deception. Many are devadasis dedicated into prostitution for the goddess Yellamma. In one Karnataka brothel, all 15 girls are devadasi.
Beside the Devadasis, the male Waghyas, and the female muralis, are betrothed at birth to Khandoba. The latter are “the Maharashtrian equivalent of the South Indian devadasis”. They are considered his brides, and formerly served as temple prostitutes (Stanley, 1977:p32-3).
Boy Prostitution, Love of Boys (see also Afghanistan and Middle-East section)
Captain’s wife, Mrs. Swinton, who took care of the sick during a dreadful voyage, wrote about a “lack of morality” among the women and men on board. She noted how “the parents of girls will sell their children for a few rupees”, also suggesting a sexual implication to this attitude. Data on love for boys in India are sparse (Brongersma, 1987:p107), but it might have been common in ancient and medieval times, and also in 20th century boarding schools. Bombay anthropologist Gopal (1969:p167) stated that North Indian and Afghanistan males, known for their extraordinary libido, “almost always prefer smaller boys”. Drew and Drake (1969:p127-34) suggested that boy prostitution used to be rampant. Boy’s of 9 to 13 would be locked up in cages and put on display. Gupta (2002:p198) recalls the condemnation of Pandey Becan Sharma ‘Ugra’’s book Chaklet (1927), which dealt with issues of sodomy, sexual acts between adult males and adolescent boys, and other aspects of male homosexuality. The stories would have “acknowledged the wide prevalence of such practices, especially in UP [United Provinces, now Uttar Pradesh], where the beautiful young boys were called ‘chocolate’, ‘pocket-book’ and ‘money-order’ ”.
An examination of boylove in Urdu folklore was offered by Rahman (1989/1990).
Wilber (1964:p130-1) relates: “In the Pushtu-speaking areas of West-Pakistan, the unavailability and deprecation of women have encouraged the alternative practice in which the love objects are young boys and homosexual love is part of popular folklore”. Lindholm for the Pakistan Pashtun:
“[…] the Pukhtun code of romantic love differs from that of the troubadors and the Baluch in one essential: perhaps because of pervasive relations of hostility between men and women, the loved one for Pukhtun men is quite often a boy or handsome young man. Homoerotic relationships were much more common a generation ago than they are now, since Western influence has brought a sense of shame about homosexuality, at least among the more educated. […] In 1977, homosexuality was very much less in evidence in Swat than it had been. Dancing girls had replaced dancing boys, and transvestites had become rare. Nonetheless, the first sexual experience of many, if not most boys, is with one of their passively inclined peers, or with an older man who is a confirmed bedagh. Older men still may cultivate a handsome young protégé who will accompany them everywhere, though the practice is hardly universal. Male beauty is much admired and the same word, xkuili, or beautiful, is applied to both men and women. Pukhtun poetry is often frankly homoerotic, following the Persian model”.
An NGO recently reported:
“Historically, South Asia has seen young adolescent males as sexual objects for older males. Not a man, nor a woman, but perhaps a “male gender” as sexual object. Many participants [of meeting] reported very early sexual encounters, where ages for first sexual contact varied between 8 years and 12 years. Pakistani participants reported on easy access to young boys at a range of tea-shops and restaurants in Peshawar, whilst other participants spoke of sexual encounters in the family between young boys and their uncles, cousins, brother-in laws, etc. Such behaviours also involve street children, male children in orphanages, boarding schools, domestic servants, etc.”.
Khan argued that
“[…] the whole region of Asia has had a history of the sexual construction of postpubertal boys. Young boys are not men, nor are they women who often are not sexually available. and have been historically defined as sexual objects to be desired and penetrated by men. The “beardless youths” of much Arab and Mughal literature reflects such a construction and practice, a practice that still continues to some extent. […] There is [a] construction around male sexual behaviours which can be loosely defined by the Hindi term, maasti. It means mischief, and is often used in the context of sexual play between young men and boys. More often than not it does not involve penetration, and involves invisiblised sexual play between friends. This maasti arises at moments of sexual tensions, as a “body tension”, when sexual discharge becomes urgent, when sexual arousal arises during play or body contact, when opportunities are created for sexual contact, in the dark, under the blanket, in shared beds. Such opportunities are very frequent, where shared households have shared beds. There is a social acceptance of males sharing beds, of male to male affectionalism, both public and private. This means that significant levels of male to male sexual behaviour occurs within family environments and networks, between male relatives and friends. But this is not real sex! This is maasti, easily invisibilised and denied”.
According to another recent NGO study, it was reasoned that
“[p]ost pubescent boys […] are not men, not adults, a state defined by marriage. In that sense they are the “beardless youths”, sexually available to men. “Balkay” is a common word used for such boys. Male homosociobility [sic] and homoaffectionalism [sic] exist and is socially tolerated. Physical affection between men and women in public is not socially acceptable and often can be dangerous for both. For many men, because women are just not accessible, romantic longings are at a distance, unfulfilled and often filled with sexual urgency. All this emotional and sexual energy, the affectional needs and desires have very few socially acceptable outlets. However, intense male friendships are formed within homoaffectionalist framework, which include extensive touching, body contact and even sharing of beds”.
Although generally condemning the practice, 22.57% of 1710 respondents residing in the North West Frontier Province (Pukhtuns) argued that “adults having sex with boys” was considered “a matter of pride”, and another 14.04% stated it was seen as a “symbol of status”; a further 10.76% argued it was “not considered bad”.82.92% claimed to know that “some adults keep boys for sexual services in [their] area”, of which 16% stated it was “very common”, 31% “common”. According to 80.59%, boys in their community would “sell sex for money”.
“Despite the fact that the majority of people consider it bad, the practice is by and large tolerated and accepted. There is again a double societal standard vis-a-vis “Bachabazi” and male homosexuality. While it is quite shameful and disgracing to be a passive agent (receptive partner), it is a matter of pride and power to be an active agent (insertive partner) in a homosexual relationship”.
The general saying would apply, “Bey parday ma shey”(may you never be uncovered). The border with “child prostitution” (Sahil) is problematic. Reid (cf. Bancroft-Hinchey) argues that the Taleban had forbidden the Pashtun tradition of the grooming of “ashna”, or beardless “favourite boys” by “heavily bearded” men in Kandahar, 1994. It was not established how, “[o]nce the boy falls into the man’s clutches—nearly always men with a wife and family—he is marked for life, [since] the Kandaharis accept these relationships as part of their culture”. In 1998, indeed, three Afghan men were convicted by a Taleban Shari’a court of committing sodomy with young boys by having a stone wall felled on them. The homosexuality, rather than the age of the boy, would have been the key factor.
• Baer, B. J. (2003) Kandahar; Closely Watched Pashtuns, Gay & Lesbian Rev 4/30/2003
• Jama, A. (2003) Ashnas and Mehboobs; An Afghani Love Story, Trikone Magazine, 6/30/2003
“Child” and Age-Stratified Marriage and Consummation, with a Specific Reference to Age (see also Brahmin)
Transitions in India could be associated with the invention of a technological, industrial society that is marked by a discontinuity between childhood and adulthood. Prepubertal marriage in India has never been universal in India, as may be suggested by official records (e.g., Agarwala, 1957). For a historical and state-specific overview of data on female marriage ages, see Banerjee (1998:p66).
The Kama Sutra (300 AD~300 BC) describes prepubertal wooing, which seems to steer towards playing house:
“When a boy has thus begun to woo a girl that he loves, he should spend his time with her and amuse her with various games and diversions fitted for their age and acquaintanceship, such as picking and collecting flowers, making garlands of flowers, playing parts of members of a fictitious family, the game of odds and evens, the game of finding out the middle finger, the game of six pebbles. Hide-and-seek, playing with seeds, blind-man’s bluff and other games of the same sort […]”.
Prepubertal, since a girl who has “fully arrived at puberty” should be avoided as a wife. Likewise, “A man who has seen and perceived the feelings of the [prepubescent] girl toward him, and who has noticed the outward signs and movements by which those feelings are expressed, should do everything in his power to effect a union with her. He should gain over a young girl by childlike sports”. According to the Parashar Smitri and Sheeghrabodha the marriageable girls were divided into five categories: Nagnika or naked (seven years old or younger), Gauri (8), Rohini (9), Kanya (10) and Rajaswala (11 or older). According to Vaikhnasa, a Brahmin should marry a Nagnika since that is the best match. According to Marici the best age of marriage for a girl is five years old.
About a thousand years later, the Ratimañjari or “Posy of Love” made allusions to the attractiveness of hairliness, although a distinction is made only for girls aged sixteen or under (bala) and taruni (until 30). The Koka Shastra described that “a young girl who is not yet mature must be approached by way of the ‘outer’ forms of lovemaking”, these include embraces. There were two sorts of embrace for those who have not yet declared their love, four embraces by which they can make known their mind, and eight embraces for those who have shared love-pleasure already.
Child-marriage (Bal Vivaha)was not prevalent in ancient India, and there are reasons to believe that this custom originated in the medieval ages. An idea that would have originated among the Indo-Aryans, when wars were taking a heavy toll of the Aryan population, was to get daughters married within seven menstruations, and, later, before reaching puberty, to make the most of a woman’s Rtu, or fertile years (Thomas, 1964:p162-4). Child marriage had not become general until the early centuries of the Christian era. It was also argued that
“[...] Sati, enforced widowhood and girl marriage are customs that were primarily intended to solve the problem of the surplus man and surplus woman in a caste and to maintain its endogamy. Strict endogamy could not be preserved without these customs, while caste without endogamy is a fake”.
Child marriage of daughters as young 5-6 years of age was common during the Brahmanic Dark Ages due to the custom of dowry. Lawbooks prescribed that the best partner for a man is one-third his age. An English observer, reporting on Mysore society at the end of the eighteenth century, wrote of the Brahmins, “Unless a woman marries before the signs of puberty appear, she is ever afterward considered impure”, and of a merchant caste, that a girl “must be married before any sings of puberty appear, for afterwards she is considered as being deflowered and incapable of marriage”. A father was considered sinful on seeing menstrual blood of an unmarried daughter (Sampath, 1972; Gupta, 1972).
Nineteenth century Hindu scriptures sanctioned both child marriage and early consummation, “the girl should be married before puberty and certainly immediately after her first menstruation. If a girl gets married after her first menses it would not be a Kanya-dan but stree-dan. Kanya-dan can be consummated at the most at 11 years of her age”.
The Indian Penal Code of 1846 placed a ban on consummated marriage under the age of ten. Around the middle of the 19th century, the ideal age of marriage, and not consummation, was under discussion. By that time the laws of Manu (“A man, aged thirty years is to marry a girl of twelve, or a man of twenty-four years a damsel of eight: a breach of this rule makes a man sinful”) would be overruled by the teachings of Angira, that preferred the period between eight and ten, ten being the utter limit. Thus, a man might lose his dominion of his daughter if he fails to find her a husband “before she might be a mother; yet intercourse before puberty is especially forbidden” (Sumner, 1906:p383-5). However, “[…] in the lowlands of the Ganges cohabitation follows at once upon child marriage, with very evil results on the physique of the population”. Risley: “Unhappy the form of infant marriage which is gaining ground in the Bengal form, which favours consummation even before marriage […]”. “The Brahmin law (Sankara Smruthi) suggests that girls should be married before they reach puberty, i.e., when they are 8 to 10 years old. Marriage was very expensive in the Brahmin system. Many girls remained unmarried just because of financial difficulty. Such unmarried virgins were married as the fourth or fifth “wife” of any old Moosad, or eldest son”.
Cited by Heimsath (1962:p493), there existed disagreement on the point of premature (prepubertal) consummation of Indian child marriages in response to the issue raised by Malabari’s 1884 plead for consent laws. (Strikingly, there was also disagreement on the age of pubescence among Hindu girls.) In 1890, Lokmanya Tilak opened a campaign against the Age of Consent Bill, which sought to raise the age of the consummation of marriage for girls from ten years to twelve years. In 1891 the Age of Consent Act (according to which sexual intercourse with unmarried or married girls below twelve years of age, with or without their consent, was to be treated as rape) had been passed, despite overwhelming protest by Indian nationalists. The decision of the British to raise the age of consent from 10, fixed in 1846, to 12 provoked widespread public agitation in Bengal involving both reform and orthodox forces who had been keenly debating the Hindu practice of child marriages, an issue inextricably linked to the question of a rational age of consent, during the previous two decades (Sen, 1980-1). Fearing social unrest the Viceroy had issued a subsequent executive order “that made it virtually impossible to bring cases of premature consummation of child marriage for trial under the Consent Act” (Sinha, 1994:p138).
The age of consent was respectively put at 10 year (1846), 12 (1891), 13 (1925), and two years later arguments were made for age 14 (M. Harbilas Sarda). In 1930, mimimum marriage ages were placed at 14/18 (g/b) (Fischer, 1952:p117-22). Today, “the age of consent to sexual relations is 16 years. Sexual intercourse with a girl under this age, regardless of consent, amounts to rape and offenders are liable to imprisonment from 7 year to life” (ECPAT).
Authors claimed that coitus “routinely” took place before puberty. Premenarchal coitus was assumed to be common in India by Fehlinger ([1921:p125]). Oman (undated) stated that “consummation of marriage has commonly taken place when the child-wife is perhaps not more than ten years of age”.DeMause (1991, 1998) deals extensively with incest in India, identified as “a veritable Galapagos of psychohistorical variations of incestuous behavior”: “For a girl to be a virgin at ten years old, she must have neither brothers nor cousin nor father”. He is sure that this aspect was important in breeding Paradoxia, thus, “little Hindu girls are deflowered by the little boys with whom they play, and repeat together the erotic lessons which their parents have unwittingly taught them on account of the general promiscuity of family life throughout India. In all the little girls of less than ten years of age the complete hymen is wanting” [].
That the “widespread use” of children would occur before their puberty should be clear:
“The sexual use of boys and girls goes back as far as records exist and includes all cases in India. As Mayo says, “For a period so long that none knows it beginning, the Brahmin has been intensively cultivating, and with priestly authority handing on, a passion for immature girl-children in sexual use” []. Temple prostitution of both boys and girls has a long history, and Mayo reported in 1927 that “the little boy [...] is likely, if physically attractive, to be drafted for the satisfaction of grown men, or to be regularly attached to a temple, in the capacity of prostitute. Neither parent as a rule sees any harm in this, but is, rather, flattered that the son has been found pleasing” []. […] Since prior to the 1929 child Marriage Restraint Act most Indian girls were married and began sexual intercourse before age 12, they moved from familial incest to sex with older men chosen by the family while they were still children []. Fathers who allowed their girls to reach puberty without being married were condemned by their religion to hell”.
[It is clear Demause’s grasp of “incest” is that of “child abuse”. Gandhi’s alleged “paedophilic” tendencies have been discussed by Bullough (1981; cf. B&B, 1996).]
Socialisation, however, was said to be in tune with the attitudes on children’s passions, as observed at the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act discussions, and reported by Mayo. Quoting from DeMause:
“Mayo said most of this committee testimony was too obscene to even repeat in its insistence on the necessity for child sex. The Committee was overwhelmed by those who insisted that the children were so oversexed that by the time they were seven years old that child marriage was their only salvation. “Little children, both boys and girls, they lament, naturally develop an unnatural, perverted and exhausting precocity, under the stimulus in which they are steeped” – that is, the family incest during the first seven years. Mayo reported numerous testimonies that blamed the little girls for their rape, claiming that early marriage was an absolute necessity, since “Cupid overtakes the hearts of girls [...] at an early age [...]. A girl’s desire for sexual intercourse is eight times greater than that of males […] When there is appetite, it is the best time for giving food [...] [Mayo, 1927:p63]”.
Legal ages for consummation were established at ten in 1846, and at twelve in 1891; however, at its reconsideration in 1929, it was found that the law “was known to very few members of the lay public” (Scott, 1960:p78). Afterwards, Karve (1969:p126-7) stated that in Northern India, ceremonial cohabitation took place when the husband came to take the girl into his house after first menses; marriage in childhood occurred, although prohibited. Ishwaran (1968:p54) stated that the Marriage Restraint Act is held to promote sexual laxity and responsible for an increase in divorce (p71). In the examined village, six marriages involving brides below age five and bridegrooms below age ten, took place in ten years time (p54). The introduction of the 1929 law caused a brief rush of marriages at ages four to ten (Keddie, 1979:p325-6).
Revivalist nationalists protested the 1891 amendment, which raised the age of sexual consent for girls from 10 to 12, as “colonial intervention in the domestic sphere and demonstrated that the control and objectification of women’s bodies was an important component in the self-definition of national community”.
The practice became a matter of international concerns, given the many writings aimed for establishing its historical identity. The age of marriage declined with caste status, the lower caste may arrange for marriage at age five (Luschinsky, 1962, I:260-2), although this is not universally so (Luschinsky, 1963:p578-80).
There has been a dramatic increase in age at marriage for women in a rural area of north India. Age at marriage rose from under 12 years before 1930 to about 19 years in 1988, mainly as a result of socioeconomic development and advances in education of women.
Today, as in the past, data vary over subregions. In Rajasthan state, a 1993 survey of 5,000 women revealed that 56 per cent had married before age 15, and of these, 17 per cent married before age 10. Data obtained via 1986/7 semistructured interview from a random sample of 50 households in each of 4 villages in 3 districts of Rajasthan revealed that in 51% of families, females got married before the legal age of 11 years (Nagi, 1990). A 1998 survey in Madhya Pradesh found that nearly 14 per cent of girls were married between ages 10 and 14. Among girls born in rural Dharwad during 1962-1972, the median age at marriage is 16 years while “nearly one-fourth of the marriages are even pre-puberty cases”. However, in a mass marriage solemnized at Wardha village in Vidisha district in 1981, there was not 1 of the 110 couples of the prescribed marriage age. 55 of the brides were below age 10 and 48 were between 10-12 years. Only 8 brides were older than 14 years.
• Fawcett, M. G. (1890) Infant Marriage in India, Contemp Rev 58:712-20
• Forbes, G. H. (1979) Women and Modernity: The Issue of Child Marriage in India, Women’s Studies Int Quart 2,4:407-19
• Hatcher, Brian A. (2003) The Evils of Child Marriage: Ishvarcandra Vidyasagar, Critical Asian Studies 35,3:476-84
• Kosambi, M. (1991). Girl-Brides and Sociolegal Change – Age of Consent Bill (1891) Controversy, Economic & Political Weekly 26,31-32:1857-68
• Nair, J. (1995) Prohibited marriage: State protection and the child wife, Contributions to Indian Sociol 29,1-2:157-86
• Pathak, K. B. (1980) Law and Age at Marriage for Females in India, Indian J Social Work 40,4:407-15
• Plomp, Ch. (1938) Het kinderhuwelijk in Voor-Indie, Mensch & Maatschappij [Amsterdam] 14:385-401
• Sagade, J. (2005) Child Marriage in India: Socio-Legal and Human Rights Dimensions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
• Sarkar, T. (1993) Rhetoric Against Age of Consent – Resisting Colonial Reason and Death of A Child-Wife, Economic & Political Weekly 28,36:1869-78
• Sarkar, T. (2000) A Prehistory of Rights: The Age of Consent Debate in Colonial Bengal, Feminist Studies 26,3:601-22
• Tambe, A. (2003) Legislating Sexual Maturity in India, 1910-1930. Paper for the 32nd Annual Conference on South Asia, October 24-26 2003, Center for South Asia, International Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Tambe, S. (2001) From Hidden to Manifest Horror: Child Sexual Abuse, Philosophy & Social Action 27,1:23-35
• Umamani, K. S. & Raju, K. N. M. (1997) Cultural factors and prepuberty marriages in Karnataka, Man in India 77,4:363-74
Regulating Marriage / Consummation Age
Rather specific timing customs of consummation are recorded relative to the event of marriage, which in turn is relative to the event of menarche (or presently, horoscopes). The Marathas, for instance, consummate their marriage after the first menstruation of the bride after marriage. A specific, institutionalised delay relative to puberty / menarche is noted by various authors.
According to Bloom and Reddy (1986:p511-2) Indian childhood and a proportion of nonchildhood marriages are “always” subject to a so-called two-stage process in which “consummation is delayed at least until the astrological signs for husband and wife are both auspicious (which usually takes a minimum of one to three months); in practice the delay seems to serve as a social device for monitoring and deterring the occurrence of sexual relations before marriage”. It is argued that mothers give out a lower age for the bride so as to “ease their consciences, so that “[…] physical consummation and living together is, by and large, a post-puberty affair” (p339). The ritual of consummation could be called return marriage (Rele, 1962:p268), and “usually takes place after the girl reaches puberty”. In the case of prepubertal marriage, a nuptial ceremony (guana in Hindu) indicated the commencement of regular sexual relations after menarche (Mandelbaum, 1974:p35-6). Among the Rajbansis of Bangladesh (Agarwala, 1962:p4, as cited by Sattar, 1978:p54-5), child marriage is followed by a “second” marriage called Gauna or Vida, after which cohabitation is enacted. Ramadas (1928) wrote that, at the time of writing, child marriages were common, but the ceremonies observed in these marriages were “merely a pretense that the small boys and girls are husbands and wives; the real nuptial marriages are put off until they reach the age of discretion”. “Given that girls married before reaching menarche are not physically mature enough to consummate the marriage, customarily Gauna (beginning of effective married life) is performed sometime after the girl has reached menarche”. In rural villages, in up to 5.8% Gaunu was held between ages 6 and 11; in some further 50% it occurred before age 16. According to Joseph (1911:p54-5), until puberty a child bride stayed on with her natal family; muklawa, which customarily took place several years after the wedding ceremony, was the entry and establishment of the wife in her husband’s house when the marriage was consummated.
In contemporary South India, menarchal girls usually undergo seclusion until their newly acquired fertility can be properly controlled by means of rites which often mimic marriage (Good, 1982). The arrow marriage, in which a girl is formally associated to an arrow, sword, or branch of a tree, is a token pre-puberty marriage and an important socio-religious rite among some aboriginal tribes of India (Dube, 1948, 1953; cf. Yalman, p47-8). The occurrence of menarche, or any sexual transgression, prior to this rite is viewed very seriously and brings social disgrace to the girl and her parents. After the rite is performed the parents are no longer considered responsible for lapses on the part of the girl and certain liberties are condoned. Seligman: “Among the Oriya, in all castes except the Brahman a girl is married to an arrow if a suitable husband has not been found for her before she reaches puberty, while among the cultivators of Ganjam if a girl cannot find a husband before puberty, a “nominal marriage [...] is performed with a bow in the place of a husband”.
“Child marriage is plainly intended to ensure that a girl is married before she is sexually active. Marriage, as Somvaru put it, is ‘for lifting the weight of virginity’ (kunvar bhar utarne ke liye) – which bears principally on the parents, who must make reparation to the caste panchayat if their daughter elopes. It is a ‘liberation from (the) bondage’ (bandhan se mukti) of parental responsibility. In parts of ‘traditional’ Chhattisgarh a pre-pubescent girl was married to an arrow or rice-pounder. Only after maturity was she given to a human husband. The token pre-puberty marriage was essential to ‘ripen’ and ‘de-sacralise’ her body. If she menstruated or had sex before it she was permanently defiled, and was unable to marry with full rites or participate fully in community ritual. But after the mock marriage, her sexual lapses were treated ‘as those of a married woman’ – that is, as peccadilloes (Dube 1953; cf. Hira Lal 1926[])”.
Despite these customs, defloration used to be customary in the prepubertal (ages 7 to 12) Tāli rites (Stone, 2000:p140). The ritual known as Tali-Kettu Kalyanam (Yalman, 1963:p33-9; Dumont, 1964; Rigby, 1967:p441-2) included the tying of a tāli (a gold ornament) by the groom round the girl’s neck. Gough (1955:p62-3) wrote that these rites always include a (at least) symbolic defloration. “This is most clear in the royal lineages, where the bridegroom actually deflowers the girl”. Among the Nayar, this once widespread custom declined under the British rule in late 18th century. According to Gough (1952:p79): “The pre-puberty tāli rite lost much of its significance, and the tāli-tier was no longer required to cohabit with his ritual “wife” ”. Gough (1959:p25): “I was told that traditionally, if the girl was nearing puberty, sexual relations might take place. This custom began to be omitted in the late nineteenth century, but from some of the literature it appears to have been essential in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”. This literature may be illustrated by the observations by the Portugese traveller Duarte Barbosa in the beginning of the 16th century discussed by Peter (1963:p170-1). He insists that a girl after the Tāli has been tied on her, she should be deflowered before puberty by a specially assigned man “for amongst themselves they hold it an unclean thing and almost a disgrace to deflower women” (cf. Battacharyya).The tāli rite did not confer sexual rights (Gough, 1965). Speaking of the Tāli tying rites Panikkar (1918:p267,n3) notes: “Among the Nayars social puberty differs considerably in point of time from physiological puberty. It is a matter of great importance that the former should precede the latter. Any family in which a girl attains her physiological puberty, as evidenced by her first menses, before she had attained her social puberty, is socially outside the pale” (see also Yalman, 1963:p34).
Ploß (Die Frau, I) mentioned that Nayar cast girls are pubescent between 13 and 15th year, while many have intercourse with men at age 11 (cf. Ronhaar). Yalman denies sexual intercourse as part of the Tali rite at least for the Northern Tiyyar (Irava) (p35).
The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) targeted Tali tying. “The Guru [Narayana, 1854-1928] exhorted his disciples that [certain] festivals and ceremonies [incl. talikettu] have no vedic sanction, but were introduced by the priestly class to perpetuate their hegemony. The people were convinced of the force of sincerity in his arguments, and it was resolved in 1905 to abolish these customs, wherever possible, or simplify them, where a symbolic retention of the custom is called forth. A new liturgy for the marriage ceremony was drawn and a beginning was made for the first time to hold marriages in a simple way in temples or before priests with prayer and worship”.
“Most women do not know about the physiology of menstruation and therefore the first experience of menstruation is filled with fear, shame and disgust. […] Elaborate rituals are performed in south Indian states-as well as in many parts of north India-at the onset of menstruation. The onset of puberty is traditionally viewed in terms of the girl’s emergent sexuality and prospective motherhood. The pubescent girl is given an elaborate ritual bath, after a massage with turmeric and vermillion”.
Data from the writings of Indian legislators during the period between ca. 500 B.C. and A.D. 500 have been used to study menarchal age among girls born in classical India (Datta and Gupta, 1981). As these legislators were concerned mainly with the upper-caste population, it can be presumed that the recordings obtained are only from upper-caste Hindu girls. Throughout the period the age at menarche was about 12 years. A number of legislators considered the best age for conception to be around 16. When these data are compared with those obtained from classical Greece and Rome, the Indian age is found to be about 1-2 years earlier. Comparison of the data from the 19th century and present-day India reveals that the older data are about 0.8-2.2 years earlier when various areas are considered.
A selection of contemporary studies indicates mean figures of 13.6 +/- 0.83, 13.5, 15.4, 15.2, 12.6, 12.7, and 13. In one study, the mean age of menarche was 12 years and 12.8 years for USES and LSES. The development of breasts was first to appear at the age of 8.25 years, being followed by pubic and axillary hair development. Studies suggest a decline in menarchal age. In one study on Fijian Indians, Indian menarcheal age appeared to be extremely low, with a median value of 11.80.
A note is in place about adolescent infertility. In the data discussed by Mandelbaum (1954), the average age of puberty (actually the consummation of marriage) was 13.7 (Madras), and the average age of first birth 17.4 (Mysore).
In the “apple belt” of Shimla hills, the major reaction to first menstruation was fear (98.5 per cent); 21.3 per cent of girls were not touching anything before having a bath and sleeping separately during periods. Only 41.1 per cent girls knew that menarche means the beginning of reproductive life (Gupta et al., 1996; cf. Narayan et al., 2001).
Tokita-Tanabe, Y. (1999) Women and Tradition in India: Construction of subjectivity and control of female sexuality in the ritual of first menstruation, in Tanaka, M & Tachikawa, M. (Eds.) Senri Ethnol Studies [Japan] 50:193-220
Hinduism and Sexual Socialisation
Francoeur (1990:p103-6) provided a baseline sketch of Hindu sexuality. “In the traditional type of orthodox Bengalee-Hindu community the conscience-keeper parents prefer to keep their children in a sexually spoon-fed stage by tabooing sex until they attain marital maturity. As a result, lacking any formal scientific training or sex education, after marriage they suddenly have they opportunity to satisfy their sexual urges according to what they may have heard and master the techniques by a trial and error method” (Burman and Bose, 1980). Nevertheless, Mayo complained that Indian mothers habitually masturbated their sons (cf. Rotter, 1994:p534-5).
DuBois ( 1959:p308) stated that
“[…] subjected as they are from their earliest youth to influences which prematurely develop the latent germs of passion and vice, the knowledge of evil always comes before the first dawnings of reason. At the time of their lives when, according to the laws of nature, the passions should remain unawakened, it is not at all unusual to find children of both sexes familiar with words and actions which are revolting to modesty. The instincts that are excited at an early age by the nudity in which they remain till they are seven of eight years old, the licentious conversation that they are always hearing around them, the lewd songs and obscene verses that their parents delight in teaching them as soon as they begin to talk, the disgusting expressions which they learn and use to the delight of those who hear them, and who applaud such expressions as witticisms; these are the foundations on which the young children’s education is laid, and such are the earliest impressions which they receive”.
In this context, it is reasoned that “[i]n order to prevent the consequences of this precocious sensuality, parents must hasten to marry their children as early as possible”.
“Sexual health is very often considered a taboo subject in Indian families. Parents might foster their children’s educational pursuits, but issues related to sexual health are often not discussed at home and believed to be important only “when the time comes.” Asia’s religions focus on female purity. A central religious tenet is that a family deliver a virginal bride. In Indian culture it is believed that prepubertal or pubertal girls do not have sexual impulses. The girls are secluded from nonfamilial men or are tightly chaperoned. On the other hand, it is thought that most men are not virgins at the time of their marriage and have had premarital sexual encounters with widows and deserted wives.
Many, if not most, families believe that married couples will learn through experience or discuss sexual issues with their friends. In one study, Indian medical college students had learned their knowledge of sexual practices mostly from friends, pornographic books, films, and magazines. Only a small percentage of the students reported feeling comfortable talking about sex with their teachers, parents, or persons of the opposite sex. Students from one US medical school reported that 85% had read some literature on human sexual behavior.”.
For a note on modesty training of Hindi 7- to 8-year-olds, see Joshi and Tiwari (1977).
Current Age of Consent
The legal age at which a person is currently competent to consent to sexual intercourse is currently eighteen. The legal age of consent for marriage is eighteen years for male persons and twenty-one years for female persons. Rape is punished severely but less so when the woman raped is his own wife and is not under twelve (Section 376, Penal Code).Sex with a female under fifteen years of age is considered rape, even if wedded. Graupner speaks of a minimum age for sexual relations of a girl with a “man” of 15/16.
Village Life: Some Authors on Sexual Climate
With so much attention paid to age-stratified marriage, little is written about children’s sexual get-togethers. In his psychoanalytic elaboration on childhood and sexuality, Kakar (1978, 1990)  provides little substantial material on sexual development. Krishna and Nayar (1997) only make general remarks on childhood sexual behaviour.
“Present-day children in India are more exposed to new areas of knowledge than their parents were. As a matter of fact, young people are simply deluged these days with movies, magazines, and books – all prime sources of sexual information and stimulation. […] Though parents have the primary responsibility of imparting sex education to their children, it has been found that a majority of young people in India derive their information about sex and sex behavior largely from companions, street-corner conversation, movies, and magazines. […] Many have inhibitions about discussing sex with their children; others admit that they do not have the technical knowledge to answer all the questions their children ask. In this situation, the teacher is a major factor in determining the success of any sex-education program”.
“Masturbation is generally unacceptable among girls. For boys however it is considered a preparation for mature sex life. Though boys at the younger ages may masturbate together without shame, at little more mature ages, they all give it up. This seems to be particularly so in the case of married men. In recent years, the availability of sexually explicit books, magazines, and videos has also acted as major contributory factor for male autoerotic activities”.
“Before puberty, a natural approach to sexuality and nudity prevails, especially in rural areas. Daughters and sons are carefully prepared for their future domestic roles as mothers and fathers. Women are considered to be much more skilled than males in love and sexual pleasures. At puberty, most boys and girls are segregated. In some regions of India, pubescent girls are not even allowed to enter a house where a single young man is present. Sexual views and behavior are somewhat more natural and less inhibited in India’s rural villages, according to Dr. Promilla Kapur, a research psychologist and sociologist at New Delhi’s India International Center. Some tribal groups practice totally free sex among adolescents. Nowadays, with the advent of various satellite television programs, children are exposed at their early ages to various programs, including considerable sexually related material. This exposure often results in conflicting responses for girls raised in a society that represses or ignores female sexuality. In rural areas, adults sometimes talk loudly about their sexual experiences in the presence of children, and this provides opportunities for the young men to think more about sex. In urban areas, especially cities where housing shortage is very acute, adults in public places like parks and cinema theaters generally satisfy their sexual feeling through hugging or other noncoital sexual practices. These acts also provide learning opportunities for the younger ones. Sexual play, such as looking at another child’s buttocks or genitals, genital touching games, sharing a bed with a child of the opposite sex, etc., likewise provides children with opportunities for sexual exploration; the parents would not necessarily be aware of these acts of their children”.
Alex (2001), drawing on material from fieldwork in Tamil Nadu, South India, states that
“[o]n the one hand are kinship relations between affines learnt and expressed by sexual speech. On the other hand is the play of sexuality between children, a quite common phenomena [sic], and as long as it takes place before the onset of sexual maturity, so that it can’t lead to pregnancy, it is more or less tolerated. […] Chastity and virginity are the ultimate values regarding unmarried women. Being raped or having intercourse after the onset of puberty but before marriage decreases the status of a young woman and complicates the finding of a husband immensely. But the disgrace is not so much concentrated on the individual woman, but more on the results it has for further social relations. Sexuality between children, who are still sexually immature, has not the same consequences. Because it is not linked to fertility it is seen as very different from adult sexuality. This difference leads to the question how sexuality constructs a person’s identity in different cultural contexts”.
“Sexualität in der Kindheit wird in den westlichen Gesellschaften in der Regel tabuisiert, denn sexuelle Beziehun-gen erfordern die Zustimmung eines Individuums und diese Zustimmung kann, so wird argumentiert, von Kindern nicht gegeben werden. Sexualität gehört in der westlichen Welt zu den Bereichen des Lebens, die vom Individuum autonom verwaltet werden. In Gesellschaften in denen Sexualität nicht primär als individuelle Angelegenheit gesehen wird, ist Fruchtbarkeit oftmals wichtig in der Definition der sexuellen Beziehungen. Mit einem ethnographischen Beispiel aus Südindien soll gezeigt werden, dass Sexualität auch in einer anderen Beziehung zum Individuum, bzw., der sozialen Gruppe stehen kann. Diese andere Konstellation gibt auch Einblicke in die Art und Weise, wie Kindheit und Erwachsensein konzeptualisiert werden”.
Sinha (1977): “Although babies in these families are handled and dressed in ways that act as genital stimulants, the stimulation is such that most of them are likely to adjust quickly to it. Opportunities for the children to witness parental coitus do occur, but such experiences are not likely to cause undue disturbances”.
As for the Bhils: “Customs […] to train the young in […] sex control […] do not exist […]. There are no puberty rites for boys and girls” (Hyppolytus). Carstairs (1957:p72) states that in the studied Hindu families, “[…] sex is never discussed between parents and children. The latter learn the facts of life, and the pleasures of erotic stimulation, from each other at an early age. My informants agreed that most children masturbate, and indulge in heterosexual and homosexual play for years before puberty; but they know that this is disapproved of by their elders, so it is done secretly. Masturbation and homosexual practices among children were condemned as “weakening” (although [one informant] maintained that the passive partner would thrive, being enriched by the other’s semen) but they did not give rise to strong feelings of antipathy. […] In general […] masturbation in later childhood […] was vehemently condemned”. [“Almost all boys [13-15 year-olds] shared the perception that semen discharge leads to weakness and less blood in the body. Overall, it is clear that information is largely derived from misinformed sources -movies, sex books, friends, magazines, relatives”]. Later, Poffenberger (1981:p87-8) found much controversy among parents interviewed. Especially, the use of fire (burning sticks) and, more rigorously, hanging by the hands are mentioned as means of punishment.
Luschinsky (1962, I:p253-6) found that women denied the necessity of sex education: “they know everything from birth. This is kaliyuga [today’s age, according to Hindu cosmology] […] Instead of teaching them, they teach us”. Children listen to sexual conversations. From age 4 or 5 to eight, they may be sexually teased by elders, verbally and physically: “In lower-caste groups, elders may bring small boys on the verse of tears by roughly handling their sex organs and threatening to cut them off” (p254). Prepubertal girls might be told about pregnancy (but not menses), boys are not. Attempts at sexual intercourse and masturbation were punished physically (including tying by the wrists and ankles) and by ridicule. In a report by Dube (1955 [1961:p194-6]) it is stated that children join play-groups, where, by observation of elders and oral instruction,
“[s]ex knowledge and sex experience [...] widens considerably [...]. Masturbation is now stealthily practised. Elders do not take an indulgent view if they find grown-up boys manipulating and rubbing their penes. Ridicule and threats are often employed to cure the habit. The threats commonly given are: “If you persist in this habit your organ will not grow”; or that “It will become crooked and you will be useless” ”. The play-groups states the opposite, so the practice is continued in private. Among boys, there is joint masturbation, mutual masturbation (less frequently), and coital imitation without penetration. “Homosexuality” is confined to preadolescent and adolescent groups: “A boy persuades a smaller boy to lie down with him and just rubs his organ at his anus- only in very rare cases is any anal penetration effected. A popular game with the boys is to make a female figure in dust and play at copulation. In the three instances observed by us the imitation was perfect, and resembled normal coitus in all its essentials. Boys and girls play at marriages, which in a few cases culminates in the act of “sleeping together [which in a few cases] reaches the point of rubbing genital organs. Girls masturbate either by pressing and releasing their clitoris with their fingers or by rubbing their thighs”.
In adolescence, masturbation is gradually given up as being unmanly, and pubic hairs and genital organs are “closely watched and compared”.
According to data provided by Kurian (1975:p77) 61.8% of respondents felt that sex education is the responsibility of parents and schools, a progressive argument in a society “in which sex is still not discussed in public”. Among adolescent boys in Gujarat District, the first sexual “partner” was a prostitute for 87.6%, an older woman for 8.4%, and a girlfriend of the same age for only 2%. “Apart from the age and physiological factors that bring a new awakening to their own sexuality, students very often discussed the role of Cable TV and local video parlours which screened X-rated films, in accentuating their curiosity about sex”.
Singh, S. & Man, A. de (1989) Attitudes Toward Childrearing among Indian Women: A Structural Analysis, Int J Comparat Sociol 30:231-4 [examines but does not concludes separately on the measure of “suppression of sexuality” by Indian mothers of 5- to 7-year-olds]
Some data on Delhi medical students are given in a study by Aggarwal et al. (2000), who review a contemporary coitarche taking place at ages 15.1 to 19.1. In a study by Tikoo (1997) on New Dehli grade students, the “average age when the students learned about human sexuality” was 10.9 years, with a range of 3 to 26 for the “beginning” of “sex education”. The averages of the latter variable’s initial timing were significantly different for both genders, though not wide apart (girls: 14.99, SD=4.63; boys: 15.55, SD=4.28).
Kishore et al. (1978) Street Love
Abhraham (2000, 2002) and Ramakrishna et al (2001) sketch how Indian street youth negotiate heterosexual affiliations within diverse categories, including Bhai-behen (“a ‘brother-sister’ like relationship, platonic in nature and explicitly signifies a friendship devoid of any sexual involvement”), “true love” (“pursued with the implicit or explicit intention of marriage”), and “time pass friendships” (“a transitory relationship with a girl of their age, characterized by sexual intimacy that may lead to sexual intercourse”)
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