"Should we change our tradition just because times have changed?" a local Thakali man thunders at a closed-door meeting presided over by the village mukhiya to discuss the aftermath of Bir Kaji's (Dayahang Rai) failed attempt to capture his maternal cousin soltini Maiya (Rishma Gurung) for marriage.
This culturally charged scene from the recently released Nepali movie Kabaddi depicts the way of life and culture of the Thakalis, an ethnic group indigenous to Nepal's Mustang district.
Hauling off women
Set in the predominantly Thakali village of Naurikot in Mustang, Kabaddi presents a rare glimpse into 'capture marriage', where marriage is basically secured by the boy's abduction of the girl. Dor Bahadur Bista, in his book People of Nepal, mentions that the boy, along with his friends and relatives, abducts the girl and takes her to the house of his relatives until an approval for marriage is obtained from the girl's parents.
In case the girl's parents have already consented to the marriage, Bista writes, "The girl may find herself dragged from home." He, however, notes that the actual marriage can take place only after the boy's parents beg for forgiveness for all the trouble caused and win the approval of the girl's parents.
In the film, Bir Kaji has long been smitten with his cousin Maiya, whose parents have given their word that they would marry off their daughter to the former. Bir Kaji, by virtue of being a cousin, apparently has undisputed first claim to marry her, according to the preferred cross-cousin marriage tradition observed by the Thakalis, like some other non-caste ethnic communities in Nepal. Maiya, however, has her own plans.
She is ambitious and has a desire to pursue further studies in Kathmandu. She hates Bir Kaji for his wayward ways. Nevertheless, there are several moments in the movie when Bir Kaji is exhorted by his relatives and friends to whisk away Maiya if she does not relent to his proposition. Kaji, for his part, waits patiently and only acts when he feels threatened by the entry of a city-boy (Nischal Basnet), who eventually goes on to foil the capture plan set up by Kaji and his two friends.
Capture marriage is different from elopement. Marriage by elopement is commonplace in almost all societies. Elopement is a secret marriage, usually based on mutual agreement between the boy and the girl, done in haste without giving prior notice to the partners' respective parents and relatives. Elopement, however, may invite several complications if the caste/ethnicity/class/race of the partners is incompatible.
Nevertheless, the notion of elopement as such doesn't court controversy the way capture marriage does. Capture marriage is no doubt ungentlemanly and may be unwarranted for many of us if we look at it from the perspective of human rights as the girl's will is almost never taken into account. It is therefore punishable by law. But traditions often override laws and most conflicts that arise from capture marriage are settled within the community itself by the mukhiya before any legal recourse can be taken.