Among the many questions that overhang married life in India, the one that most intrigued me for a while was on a government document. It asked whether my husband and I were “spindas” (sic). Being of the rootless heathen persuasion, we had no idea what the word meant but decided that it had what can only be called a droll ring. Why look it up and leach all the fun from it? So we closed our eyes, pinned the donkey’s tail on the answer ‘No’, and kept the word. We got a kick out of ambushing each other around a corner and hissing: “Are you or are you not my spindas?” so the other person could reply, for instance, “On Tuesday if it’s raining”; or we might say, as we left the house, “Keys, wallet, phone…oh hang on, I forgot to turn off the spindas.”
Well, perhaps you had to be there.
Anyway, over time I forgot about the spindas, until I came upon it the other day in a newspaper article related to the recent spate of reported honour killings in Haryana and elsewhere. Turns out that “sapinda” (‘spinda’ being, I assume, the pronunciation of whichever Punjabi wrote the form) is a blood relationship of a certain order: five generations of ascent on the paternal side, three on the maternal side. Turns out they were asking, on that government form, whether ours was an incestuous relationship, as defined by a very complicated set of Hindu social rules. It’s a good thing we ticked ‘No’, though until we start having Incest Pride parades I imagine that honest-to-goodness incestuous couples will also tick ‘No’, as will most people at airports when they’re asked if they are vicious international terrorists armed to the teeth and wanted by Interpol—but that’s government bureaucracy for you, imaginative as sofa stuffing.
The other word that popped up from time to time was “gotra”. The priest at our wedding asked us what our gotras were; neither of us knew, though I assume someone older and wiser on both sides dealt with that one. Some years later, when some maintenance men came to fix our inverter while I was alone at home in shorts, they asked me my gotra. I said it was none of their business but that as it happened I had no idea, which they clearly didn’t believe.
But that’s me, the rootless heathen who has done an abysmal job of integrating into India. If I were more in sync with our incomparable 5,000-year-old traditions, I’d know that not being my spouse’s sapinda, and being of compatible gotra, has kept the blood coursing through my veins as opposed to spouting across the floor. Thank you, khap panchayats.
A khap panchayat, for those of you other rootless heathens who may have been living under a rock, is a council of clan elders that governs the affairs of a group of several dozen villages. Among other things, they subtly or unsubtly encourage families to hack to death any of their offspring who might go and marry a gotra or sapinda non-compliant person. They also make life hell for any family that refuses to snuff the life out of their children. The khap panchayats submit that we have them to thank for the fact that we aren’t a nation of cross-eyed, drooling retards with terrible immunity (although a few here and there got away and now work in telemarketing). And some of our young parliamentarians agree.
MP Naveen Jindal is either a snivelling suck-up to his constituents, or a truly principled guy who would uncomplainingly submit his own children to this form of justice—who knows? What I do know is that when he tells them “You deserve praise for promoting Hindu values, culture, tradition and beliefs”, it makes me feel like emigrating instantly. Because those khap panchayats really get my gotra.