I wanted to find out if Sikhs could marry their own cousins and if so, was this based on religious ideology or cultural influences. Many other religions do have a large proportion of inter cousin marriages and seeing if this was reflected with Sikhism too is explored further in this article.
Can Sikhs marry their cousins? Some Sikhs do marry their cousins but this is still quite a rare occurrence as inter-cousin marriage is still considered taboo with many Sikhs. Some Sikh castes are more tolerable to cousin marriage but other reasons such as dowry, lack of education may contribute more to cousin marriage.
Marriage between Sikh cousins can take place for the following reasons:
- To differences in caste system values
- To keep dowry payments within families
- Unable to pay for marriage due to poverty
- To retain power in the family
- Due to a lack of education
The 5 reasons why Sikhs marrying their cousins still take place, albeit in a minority is discussed in the following sections.
1. To differences in caste system values
During my investigation, the first point of call was looking at whether the Sikh caste system made any differences to the tolerance of inter cousin marriage.
Sikhs observe a hierarchical caste system and it’s quite ironic they do this, especially as the Sikh gurus denounced the caste system. Guru Nanak advocated equal treatment of everyone (which would not be possible in a hierarchical caste system), however, this has not been the case in practice. With distinct caste groups developing which tend to conform to the historical trades.
The main Sikh castes are:
- Choorahs; and
Khatris and Arora Caste
Sikhs from the Khatris and Arora caste tend to be from non-rural areas like big cities. With the Khatris and Arora Sikhs being involved in the business.
Their views on inter cousin marriage in the main do not allow it but there are some members of these castes, albeit a small minority who have allowed it.
The Khatri and Arora Sikh castes have equivalent castes in Hindus where it seems inter cousin marriage is not allowed. This would mean the Sikh Khatri and Arora castes would follow suit. However, this is not strictly the case and there are instances of inter cousin marriage in these castes.
This could mean these Sikh castes may have been more influenced by Islamic tradition, from Khatris and Aroras who emigrated to the big cities in India to evade persecution after the British left India after partitioning it into India and Pakistan.
Sikhs of Khatri and Arora cast also do not seem to go to the lengths of Jatt Sikh families in marrying out of the locale, that is as Jatt Sikhs choose sons and daughters of other villages and not from their own for suitable matches for their own sons and daughters.
Sikh Khatris and Aroras will allow marriage between members of families in the same city, even down to the same locale or district.
By far the largest caste is the Jatt Sikhs and this caste evolved from the farming and rural communities of India. Members of the Jatt Sikh caste have strictly made inter cousin marriage a taboo subject and actively discouraged it. This doesn’t mean it never happens in the Jatt Sikh community, it just means it’s incredibly rare with a few isolated cases.
It’s fair to assume overall inter cousin marriage in Sikhs is rare because a large proportion of Sikhs are from the Jatt caste and they have made it taboo and enforced customs to make it extremely difficult for inter cousin marriage to occur.
Jatt Sikhs in India have strong customs to ensure marriages:
- must not be between members of the same family (including extended families); and
- must also be arranged between families from different villages.
This practice was to ensure that no marriage can take place between two related people and two families of the same village. This type of custom is known as exogamy and has been taken by Jatt Sikhs from India across the world, where Jatt Sikhs have emigrated from their rural lands in India.
Sikhs in the UK, Canada, USA and other jurisdictions outside of India, have followed this continued custom of marrying their daughters and sons to non-related partners and ensuring prospective son and daughter-in-laws are from families who originate from different villages in India.
In many countries like the UK, related family members will find suitable matches for family members that not only originate from different villages in India but also from different cities in the UK for instance, where the families reside.
Leading to a situation where many daughters from Jatt Sikh families in the Birmingham area, for example, marry sons of Jatt Sikh families in London. With the reserve holding true for daughters of Jatt Sikh families in London marrying sons of Jatt Sikh families in Birmingham.
Why do Jatt Sikhs not allow inter cousin marriage?
There are thought to be two reasons for this:
- Jatts Sikh’s view all members of their village as being part of their own family even if they aren’t related. So villagers would consider all the children in the village in the same light as their own nephews and nieces irrespective of whether they were related or not. They would consider other adults as their brothers and sisters, with older members being considered uncles and aunts;
- By marrying the daughters outside of the village, the Jatt Sikh daughter’s family are able to exonerate all responsibility for their daughter. She would become the responsibility of the son in laws family and by doing this, the daughter’s family would protect the male lineage on the daughter’s father’s side, so all inheritance would go to the sons.
Recently medical reasons for not allowing inter cousin marriage have also been stated as a reason not to allow such marriages to take place. This is where Jatt Sikhs have viewed the increased likelihood of birth defects in inter cousin marriage as another reason why it should remain forbidden.
However, the Jatt Sikh custom of not allowing inter cousin marriage predates the medical research, so this reason is only strengthening the historical assertion of why marriage outside of cousins is the right approach.
It would be difficult to ascertain that all Jatt Sikhs reject inter cousin marriage as a small minority may still allow it, for reasons listed later in this article.
The Ramgarhias also are known as Dakhaans show a very low incidence of inter-cousin marriage and seem to have adopted the ways of rural Sikhs like the Jatts to keep family members apart when it comes to marriage.
2. To keep dowry payments within families
To keep any dowry in the extended family, instead of this money, land or property going out to non-family members, some Sikh may resort to inter cousin marriage. In their eyes, it’s better to pay a dowry to a brother and get their child to marry their cousin than to pay the dowry to an outsider.
Dowries are illegal in India under the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) and it is illegal to give any dowry to secure a marriage. A dowry is typically a payment from the bride’s father to the groom’s father. However, the act of paying a dowry may still continue illegally with families not only making payments in monies but also property, title or goods.
Families may elect to keep the illegal dowry payment within their own family, albeit extended family by allowing marriages between cousins. This practice is especially prevalent in the lower Sikh castes such as the Choorah and the Chamaar castes. These Sikh castes are considered the lowest Sikh castes and originate from Dalit Hindu castes.
3. Unable to pay for marriage due to poverty
Families may not have enough money to marry off their daughters thereby not being able to pay any dowry (illegally) to prospective families.
In such circumstances, the families may elect to allow their daughters to marry their cousins who may equally as poor themselves.
Limited social standing can also play a part in limiting the options of arranging marriages, leaving very little manoeuvrability in the choices of potential suitors available.
4. To retain power in the family
On the flip side of keeping dowry payments within the same extended family as a driver of inter-cousin marriage, there are also keeping power within the family by inter-cousin marriage. Whereby, by marrying offspring to cousins consolidates overall power of a family instead of dispersing the power to other families.
In instances where powerful Sikh families want to ensure their business empire isn’t diluted going forward, they will keep the power within the family by allowing inter-cousin marriage.
5. Due to a lack of education
Unfortunately, some Sikhs may not be as educated as other Sikhs and will see nothing wrong with the inter-cousin marriage.
There seems to be limited religious text that outlaws inter cousin marriage however this does not mean that inter cousin marriage is an accepted religious truth for Sikhs.
Maybe the practice of inter cousin marriage was not widely practised in the Sikh community when the religious texts were compiled so there was no taboo about it being acceptable.
Or maybe as technically most of the Sikh Gurus were of Hindu extraction with the conversion of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind to Sikhism as we see today, the taboo of inter cousin marriage amongst Hindus was so strong, that it was expected as the norm. Leading to the assumption that it just doesn’t happen and culturally it wasn’t acceptable, so there was no need to document it.
Just because forbidding inter cousin marriage isn’t in the religious texts, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable on a religious level.
Why do a small minority of Sikhs still marry their cousins?
In conclusion, there seems to be a number of reasons for allowing the marriage between cousins with the commons ones being:
- Cultural influences from pre-partition times of the Indian sub-continent, where Sikh caste members have adopted cultural traditions of their Muslim neighbours;
- To retain power in the same family without relinquishing it to other families.
- To keep any dowry in the extended family, instead of this money, land or property going out to non-family members, some Sikh may resort to inter cousin marriage;
- The lack of education in some cases has also been cited where in recent times, where the risk of deformity from inbreeding has been largely ignored.
- Lack of money to marry a Sikh daughter to suitors outside of their own family.
Whilst some Sikhs do tolerate Sikhs marrying their cousins, other Sikhs have evolved customs to make it very difficult for marriage between cousins to take place.
Generally, marriage between cousins from the same Sikh family is frowned upon by many in the Sikh community but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen.
Do Sikh have arranged marriages? In India arranged marriages are still the norm with the parents finding prospective partners. Across the rest of the world, arranged marriages are also popular but there is a growing number of ‘love’ marriages where the prospective partners meet themselves.
Can Hindu and Sikh get married? Yes, Hindus and Sikhs can get married but there may be issues with getting married in a Sikh temple as some Sikh temples have restrictions on Sikh to non-Sikh marriage.