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Kudimaari in Punjab during mid-1800’s

March 15, 2008

The following is an excerpt from the book written by Harjot Oberoi and titled “The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity.” I am still reading the book so do not have complete comments on the same. Meanwhile, here is a section from the book that throws more light on kudimaari in Punjab in mid-1800’s:

“Among the Sikhs, the practice of female infanticide was most widely practiced among the Bedis, the descendants of Sikh gurus. Many of the Bedis occupied prominent positions within the guru lineage, but they ended up paying very dearly for their high social and ritual standing. Due to their extraordinarily high status they found it difficult to find biradaries of higher status from which to draw husbands for their daughters. It was considered shameful to marry among biradaries of a lower status. Being exogamous, they could not marry among themselves. Also, the Bedis reasoned that because of their position as gurus among the Sikhs, they could not marry their daughters to their followers. To solve this problem they borrowed a solution which had been used by the Rajput landed aristocracy in various parts of India: they killed female offspring at birth, thereby avoiding the humiliation of finding a match within lo ranking castes. Female infanticide secured their izzat (honor) and maintained their superior status …” [pg 228].

On some of the steps that British took to curb this practice.

“Lieutenant-Governor Donald McLeod launched the idea of essay competition in which the best entry to how to curn infanticide would receive an award. Forty essayists responded to the call. … In 1852 Major Edwardes, the deputy commissioner of Jalandhar district, carried out a census in a tract with a large Bedi population. He discovered that out of the 70 births in the year (38 boys, 32 girls), 33 boys and 16 girls were alive. … When a somewhat similar survey was conducted at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district (a territory with one of the heaviest concentration of Bedis in Punjab) the returns indicated 61 female and 450 male Bedi children.” [pg 229].

Harjot Oberoi. 1994. “The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity.” Published by University of Chicago Press.

Update: Subsequent to posting the above material, I have discovered that the above-mentioned work of Dr. Harjot Oberoi has come under intense criticism by Sikh scholars and intellectuals, so much so that Dr. Oberoi had to resign as the Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia. I intend to read more about this work and the controversy surrounding it. Will post a link here when I write about it. Meanwhile, here is a critique by Dr. Baldev Singh.

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