Intermarriage and Matrimonial Practices in Kathmandu
This presentation proposes to shine light on the anthropology of kinship in Nepal in a globalised context, with a specific focus on inter-caste, inter-ethnic or inter-religious marriages. Our research object, “the transformations of the matrimonial practices of urbanized populations in Nepal”, falls within the wider field of marriage or alliance. Literature is abundant on this subject and scholarly references relating to ancient as well as contemporary traditions abound, but the analysis undertaken here is resolutely directed towards understanding the field as it presents itself. Classical anthropological texts describe the matrimonial practices of Nepal as strictly following the principles of endogamy of caste or exogamy of clans in ethnic groups. This essentialist readings of the kinship system, which focuses on the perpetuation of the caste system or on the elementary structures of kinship in ethnic groups, is discussed throughout this papers in many aspects.
Methodology: This research was carried out using a simultaneously ethnographic, ethnological and anthropological approach. Using a method based on ‘grounded theory’, the issue was addressed through multiple research methods, such as participant observation, undertaking interviews with couples that are engaged in intermarriage, or through the analysis of data concerning court marriage collected at the Court District of Kathmandu.
Outline/structure: This paper presents how the observation of intermarriages in Kathmandu has allowed to discover a theory that can explain the transformation of matrimonial practices in Nepal, by exploring many aspects such as the history, the political, social, economic and religious context.
Desire in love, physical and mental agreement, satisfaction of personal pleasure but also of vital economic needs: these are generally the elements that the couples interviewed for this survey on intermarriage put forth to explain their choice of spouse. All this remains that love is not at random, even for couples who have freely chosen each other in Nepal: the observations show that spouses often choose each other within similar groups (homogamous) in terms of material wealth, formal education and social prestige.
Belonging to the new Nepalese middle class, which is not a homogeneous entity, is somewhat reassuring for a wide variety of social groups that are affected by the transformations of social dynamics, even if there is no genuine class reality: people, knowing that they no longer obey the traditional habits and no longer belong to the ‘true’ traditional communities, can nevertheless imagine that they are part of a kind of middle class. In terms of choice of spouse, this analytic framework shows that there is a gradual substitution of private arrangements, within the framework of domestic groups, castes and clan groups, in favour of ‘public’ arrangements of marriages, in the framework of, for example, ‘secularised’ and commercial agencies (like marriage agencies or wedding planners). This leads us to reconsider the place of the couple and of love in Nepalese marriage. The practices of mixed couples, which are often defined as ‘love marriages’, are often based on a reification of cultural or religious elements, but also on a form of rupture and invention of new ways of defining oneself.