Courtesy by: dnaindia.com
Marrying a member of your family may not sound appealing to some, but for others there are no complaints, even though medical issues linger
Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Franklin Roosevelt and HG Wells share a common link, one that goes beyond the obvious fact that these men were exceptional in their respective fields. They all married their first cousins.
And that’s the path 23-year-old Ayesha Riyaz Nadaf’s family chose for her. Her parents were elated when she consented to marry her father’s sister’s son, the reasoning being that she would be well-looked after in her new home.
“When I was single, I received plenty of marriage proposals, but my parents accepted my husband’s offer immediately. My parents knew that I would be happy living with my aunt’s family, and that they would take care of me,” says Ayesha. And unlike other brides, there was little adjustment post-marriage. Ayesha is very attached to her in-laws; she knows their likes and dislikes, and has interacted with them all through her childhood and teenage years. “They’re not strangers. This wouldn’t have been the case if I had married someone outside the family. My parents also live close by, and that is an added advantage,” she says.
While many cultures, especially in the West, baulk at the thought of marrying within the family, the situation is slightly different in India. Our law accepts unions between first cousins, if the family and community members have given their consent.
But keeping it in the family is a risky business, and comes with its share of medically-related problems, say doctors. Children of non-related couples have a two to three per cent risk of birth defects, as opposed to those of first cousins, where the risk is as high as six per cent.
“If there are any genetic disorders existing in the family, then it is not advisable to marry within the family,” says Dr Anshu Kulkarni. She says that there may be varied disorders involved in the progeny of first cousins who get married, such as medical illnesses, colour-blindness, haemophilia, and thalassemia, to name a few.
Dr Nikhil Datar, a consulting gynaecologist at Nanavati Hospital, concurs. “On one level, it is a union no different from other unions. But from the medical perspective, there could be an increase in the genetic abnormality of the offspring,” he says. Due to inbreeding, two autosomal recessive traits come together; they become dominant. In short, they can be easily transmitted to the next generation. “The chances that the offspring will suffer from genetic abnormalities are high,” says Datar.
Ayesha and her family are aware of these problems, which is why she consulted a doctor, and later a gynaecologist, who gave her the go-ahead to start a family. “I have a four-year-old daughter, and a four-month-old son. They’re healthy children, and there’s nothing wrong with them,” she says proudly.
While Ayesha’s parents approved the match, it was a different story for 28-year-old Pushpasheel Thakar, a practising lawyer. He fell in love with his first cousin, and married her despite opposition from the families. “Initially, our parents didn’t agree to our marriage, but they had to give in. We didn’t face any problem from society either,” he says.
For Thrity Dadabhoy, head of corporate communications at WLC College, marrying a first cousin was no big deal. “As our community is small, unions with first cousins are quite common. In fact, my grandparents were also first cousins, and were the children of twin brothers,” she says. “Though we were cousins, we did not correspond much as our families were not very close to each other. We met in Delhi because we both worked there, and we fell in love. The rest, as they say, is history,” she says.
But unlike in South India, and matrilineal communities, where inter-family marriages are accepted, in the North, these are rare occurrences. “In Delhi society, this is rare, and I faced a lot of censure,” says Thrity. “When I was engaged, people would pass comments and say: ‘How can you get married to your cousin?’ They didn’t take it
But despite being happily married for 28 years, with three healthy daughters, Thrity does not recommend people marrying within the family. “In those days, there was little awareness. Now that it is a known fact that one’s offspring might suffer from medical complications, I’d advise against marrying your first cousin.”
Rhea Pravin Tembhekar, a clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor, feels that if both parties are educated, and are aware of the risk their children face, it will have a negative psychological impact on the couple, more so the woman. “Sometimes, if two cousins love each other, their families frown upon their relation and may not want them to get married. If they still continue the liaison, they will carry with them a feeling of guilt and shame,” she says.
She cites an example: “I handled a case where the cousins were secretly involved in a sexual relationship, and the girl was very nervous at the time of Rakshabandhan. She was very embarrassed and didn’t want to present her cousin with a rakhi. When the family is against it, and if the cousins do not confide in each other, it may lead to complications.”
Such issues, she says, have to be handled sensibly and tactfully. In some pre-arranged unions, accepting a cousin as a spouse, takes a lot of adjustment. Dr Kulkarni says,
“One is born and brought up in the same family as the cousin, and both parties have to be mentally prepared for a major shift in family roles.” But Rhea says that she had noqualms about her life-partner being a close family member.
Family conflict, of course, will always exist, and marrying within the family may lessen it — but only up to a point. Says Thrity: “Getting married to a cousin also calls for a certain amount of adjustment. It is like any other marriage, compromise is a part of it.”
Love, understanding, adjustment and compromise — these facets of a marriage — within or outside a family, will always remain constant.