Old traditions captured in language

How economy and societal trends give birth to relationships, and how those are evaluated by the larger societal mind
"At present, Ghar Jamai is found mostly in rural rich families with huge assets of land & property. In cities, it is not generally found."
"At present, Ghar Jamai is found mostly in rural rich families with huge assets of land & property. In cities, it is not generally found."pixahive [Creative Commons]

This Kashmiri idiom of Ghar Zaamtur means that a Ghar Dammad (Urdu) or Ghar Jamai (Hindi) or a son-in-law who lives in his wife’s house, with his in-laws, is like a dog at the door with no self-respect.

There is no equivalent idiom in English probably because as there is not & nor was in the past the custom of husband living in his in-laws’ home, except in some highly aristocratic families with huge wealth and assets; sons-in-law were , in a sense, “bought” to live within their in-laws big mansions, in Europe.

Among Hindus of India, the custom was well prevalent among rich, wealthy families, in North and South. Everywhere, I mean. Munshi Prem Chand has written a classic novel on Ghar Jamai.

At present, Ghar Jamai is found mostly in rural rich families with huge assets of land & property. In cities, it is not generally found.

In Kashmir, in olden days, the custom of Ghar Daamad or Ghar Jamai or Ghar Pith Zamtur was prevalent among rich local Pundit/Batae families. Only few rich Muslim families existed in Kashmir those days & Ghar Pith Zamtur was a rare thing among them. The parents & other close relatives of the bride visited her Sasuraal regularly.

However, among the wealthy Pundit/Bateh families, who were in good numbers those days even, as I say, sons-in-law were invited to live with their parents-in-law under the same roof. Almost every wealthy family had a joint family tradition who had good number of Ghar Zamturs.

On the one hand, the rich Pandits/Batas could not bear separation of their daughters after marriage. But, on the other hand, it was draining the income of the parents of the bride besides it gave rise to many “bad practices” in their families as the sons-in-law were generally spending their whole time in eating, drinking, smoking and sleeping in their in-laws’-homes, sometimes making good jokes with sisters-in-law.

It was precisely in that scenario, that Ghar Jamais or Ghar Zamtur earned a scorn and reproach by all right-minded people of the community. It is how the idiom developed in Kashmiri society with its genesis in wealthy Pandit/Bateh families.

Ghar Pith Zamtur, in olden days, was, in a way, treated like a ‘bonded labour’ in the house of in-laws and & would be extended the same hospitality alike by all members in that house. Mostly - as can now we understand - the person would accept to go as Ghar Pith Zamtur who would normally belong to a very poor family whose father had many sons & daughters to take care of at home.

So, he (groom’s father) would happily & readily accept the proposal of sending his one or even two sons as Ghar Pith Zamtur to two different houses if he got like proposal & thus feel a little relieved financially at home.

There was nothing like ‘social restriction’ or ‘taboo’ for a family which would give their son as Ghar Pith Zamtur. This Ghar Pith Zamtur tradition which must certainly have travelled through generations without any restriction, and thereof accorded a sort of moral acceptance in the society.

Further, there was also nothing like ‘non acceptance’, in other words ‘looking down upon’ this man by mohalla or village residents of either mohalla or village, and so by the society. May be such ‘niceties’ had not then come into the minds of the people as would one react to it in present times- if not openly - but in murmuring fashion certainly; albeit now this tradition has gone with the passage of time. This is the opinion of one of my learned friends.

The essay at hand stresses on the cited idiom’s explanatory note why Ghar Pith Zamtur earned notoriety in Kashmiri linguistic tradition, of which phrases and idioms are a part. Practice of Ghar Pith Zamtur was most prevalent among rich Pandits or Bataas, as mentioned above.

As Muslims were by and large poor, I think, for this reason, the practice of Ghar Pith Zamtur among them was not found much. The practice was more among rural Muslim families for the reasons mentioned.

But poverty of boy, or sonless parents-in-law, helping hand to them, parents old aged or sick, etc. These may have been reasons wherever custom was found among Muslim families. I don’t think there was /is any religious edict against the practice as long as free mixing between Ghar Pith Zamtur & other females like sisters- in-law is avoided.

In revenue records of the State, the girl who was married to a Ghar Jamai or Ghar Zamtur is/was recorded as Dukhtare Khana Nasheen, which is a Persian word. Since Persian was the official language of the State for centuries. And, the son-in-law was called Damad Khana Nisheen. The revenue records carry such entries.

The families without sons or male issues preferred it mostly in rural areas. Some land owning families sometimes didn’t want to lose a helping hand or domestic help or Mohniv or dignifiedly Ghareloo Mulazim [home-employee] in the farming work? So, they would prefer taking him as Ghar Jamai.

They were always from less fortunate families, and it was done to add to the work force at home. It has to be noticed that resident-sons-in-law, if we can name or translate them into English, would lose their honour in the in-laws’ homes as they were, those days, treated like servants or “bonded-labour”.

Sometimes they had to work wageless for years at in-laws’ home till finally one day they would be approved of for marriage with a daughter. There does not seem to have been any religious edict against the custom of taking a boy as son-in-law as long as free-mixing-interacting between Ghar Damad & sisters-in-law was avoided, as Ulema put it. The practice of Ghar Jamai or Ghar zamatur has died down with change in times, thoughts and life style of people in Kashmir.

Also some farming & land owning families sometimes didn’t want lose a helping hand in the farming work and would rather prefer Ghar Zamtur from a less fortunate families to add to their work force. The families who had no male child would also arrange a Ghar Pith Zamtur but the times have changed & now except in some rural belts, I don’t think, Ghar Damaad practice exists in Kashmir.

There are instances where a boy who lives in a house of uncles & cousins without a personal house may be tempted to allow himself to be a Ghar Zamtur of a family where well salaried wife owns the house in her own name & the wife does not have brothers & even one or both parents.

The boy in such situations obviously wants to secure his future financially by opting to live in wife’s owned house & if so lucky, other assets of the wife will enhance the temptation of the boy to live as Ghar Zamtur with his in-laws; though it is an obsolete practice.

Some say that it was an abhorrent custom sans any dignity. Though exceptions are there where well off families would invite the groom to live with them as a son. Being abhorrent practice must have given rise to the idiom “Ghari Peth Zamtur Gov Bar Tallukh Hoon.”

Tailpiece:

A Kashmiri friend of mine who lives in England told me that in contemporary English culture son-in law is not even recognised as a relative, and is seen as the last person to deserve any special status/ respect particularly by the mother-in-law.

However, he does enjoy sympathy in abundance of his father-in-law, traditionally total contrast to being married in Kashmiri Pandit family. The friend has shared a real story of an English youngman, non-Muslim, who had stayed with his prospective in-laws for couple of days & then, he was pleasantly surprised to receive itemised bill for his stay; nothing had gone amiss not even an extra glass of wine. Everyone had just a good laugh including his fiancée!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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