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Cross-Border Intimacies: Marriage, migration, and citizenship in western India


This article examines intersections between sexuality, migration, and citizenship in the context of cross-border and cross-region marriage migration in Kutch, Gujarat, to underscore that women's mobility across borders is one site on which national cultural and political anxieties unfold. It argues that contemporary cross-region marriage migration must be located within the larger political economy of such marriages, and should take into account the historical trajectories of marriage migration in particular regions. To this end, it examines three instances of marriage migration in Kutch: the princely state's marriages with Sindh, nineteenth-century marriages between merchants from Kutch and women from Africa, and contemporary marriage migration into Kutch from Bengal. The article asks whether the relative evaluation of these marriages by the state can be viewed in relation to the settlement policies undertaken after partition, where borderlands were to be settled with those who were deemed loyal citizens. Finally, by historicizing marriage—as structure, but also aspirational category—it seeks to move away from the singularity of marriage as framed in the dominant sociological discourse on marriage in South Asia.

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*I am grateful to the Indian Institute of Technology's IRD grant for supporting fieldwork related to this work. I thank Arudra Burra, Radhika Gupta, Ravinder Kaur, and Simona Sawhney for discussion on a draft of the article.

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1 See, for example, Gellner, D. (ed.), Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia: Non-State Perspectives, Duke University Press, Durham, 2013; van Schendel, W., The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia, Anthem Press, London, 2005.

2 See, for example, Andrijasevic, R., ‘Beautiful Dead Bodies: Gender, Migration and Representation in Anti-Trafficking Campaigns’, Feminist Review, vol. 86, 2007, pp. 2444.

4 This is the case not just in Kutch, but also in the other parts of India where Bengali women have married local men, such as Uttar Pradesh. See Blanchet, T., ‘Bangladeshi Girls Sold as Wives in North India’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 12 (2&3), 2005, pp. 305–34.

5 While marriages from Bengal and Africa are more correctly ‘cross-region’ marriages, those from Sindh are more properly ‘cross-border’ marriages, as they do not involve the kind of cultural adjustments that women from Bengal or Africa would have encountered.

6 Alexander, C., Chatterji, J., and Jalais, A., The Bengal Diaspora: Rethinking Muslim Migration, Routledge, London and New York, 2016, pp. 131–60; Charsley, K., Transnational Pakistani Connections: Marrying ‘Back Home , Routledge: London and New York, 2013.

7 Kaur, R., ‘Across-Region Marriages: Poverty, Female Migration and the Sex Ratio’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 39 (25), 2004, pp. 25952603; Chaudhry, S. and Mohan, T., ‘Of Marriage and Migration: Bengali and Bihari Brides in a U.P. Village’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 18 (3), 2011, pp. 311–40.

8 Constable, N., ‘The Commodification of Intimacy: Marriage, Sex, and Reproductive Labor’, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 38, 2009, pp. 4964. However, technologically saturated marriage scapes do not necessarily lead to more ‘modern’ types of marriage; see, for example, Kaur, R., ‘Surfing for Spouses: Marriage Websites and the ‘New’ Indian Marriage?’, in Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalising World, Kaur, R. and Palriwala, R. (eds), Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 271–92.

9 In fact, marriage is almost the opposite of mobility, as daughters are sent ‘back’ as marriage migrants, to more or less close the circle of mobility. Ho, E., The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006.

10 Tagliacozzo, E., Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005. Women appear here primarily as those trafficked into brothels.

11 A recent article discusses the emancipatory potential of emigration for Dalit women: Gupta, C.“Innocent” Victims/“Guilty” Migrants: Hindi Public Sphere, Caste and Indentured Women in Colonial North India’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 49 (5), 2015, pp. 1345–77.

12 This is also the case for the Bengali women migrants in Delhi discussed in Chaudhuri, M., ‘Betwixt the State and Everyday Life: Identity Formation among Bengali Migrants in a Delhi Slum’, in Transnational Migration and the Politics of Identity, Thapan, M. (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 284311.

13 In the immediate aftermath of the partition in 1947, Constituent Assembly debates already reveal an inherent bias in attempts to keep out Muslims, with Hindus regarded as ‘natural’ citizens. See Gopal, N. J, Citizenship and Its Discontents: An Indian History, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2013, Chapter 2.

16 Women's mobility for sex work has for a long time been termed ‘trafficking’ due to a long-standing moralizing tendency to collapse prostitution with trafficking, thereby not only ignoring other instances of exploitation and potential trafficking of women in factories and domestic work, but also assuming that sex work is ‘immoral’ and that, as such, no woman would willingly choose sex work as a form of labour. See Vance, C., ‘Thinking Trafficking, Thinking Sex’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 17 (1), 2011, pp. 135–43; Kempadoo, K., ‘Abolitionism, Criminal Justice, and Transnational Feminism: Twenty-first century Perspectives on Human Trafficking’, in Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work and Human Rights, Kempadoo, K. (ed.), Paradigm Publishers, Boulder and London, 2005, pp. vii–xxxv; Rubin, G., ‘The Trouble with Trafficking: Afterthoughts on “The Traffic in Women”, in Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2012, pp. 6686; Shah, S., Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work, and Migration in the City of Mumbai, Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2014.

19 Jayal argues that, although not explicitly written as such, the debates within and outside of the Constituent Assembly clearly indicated some partiality towards the more restrictive principle of jus sanguinis (blood-based descent) over the officially espoused citizenship criterion of jus soli (birth). Heated debates over what eventually became Articles 6 and 7 of the Constitution reveal that ‘the question of citizenship remained deeply imbricated in religion . . . . Discouraging the putative (Muslim) citizen from returning was thus a dominant theme in the formulation of Article 7’, Citizenship and Its Discontents, p. 61.

20 Ibid., p. 14.

21 The Indian Express, New Delhi, 23 February 2014,, accessed 13 April 2018, emphasis added.

22 The Indian Express, New Delhi, 4 May 2014,, accessed 13 April 2018, emphasis added.

23 As van Schendel argues in The Bengal Borderland, p. 198, the contemporary language of infiltration goes back to the 1940s and 1950s when it was developed to deny citizenship and land rights to immigrants coming in from East Pakistan.

24 Jayal, Citizenship and Its Discontents, p. 62.

25 R. Kaur, ‘Across-Region Marriages’, pp. 2595–603; Mishra, P., ‘Sex Ratios, Cross-Region Marriages and the Challenge to Caste Endogamy in Haryana’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 48 (35), 2013, pp. 70–8.

26 Blanchet, ‘Bangladeshi Girls Sold as Wives’.

27 Chaudhry and Mohan, ‘Of Marriage and Migration’.

28 Blanchet, ‘Bangladeshi Girls Sold as Wives’.

29 Chaudhry and Mohan, ‘Of Marriage and Migration’; Kaur, R., ‘Marriage and Migration: Citizenship and Marital Experience in Cross-Border Marriages between Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bangladesh’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XLVII (43), 2012, pp. 7889.

30 Mishra, ‘Sex Ratios’.

31 Kaur, R., ‘Bengali Bridal Diaspora: Marriage as a Livelihood Strategy’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XIV (5), 2010, pp. 1618.

32 T. C. Del Rosario, ‘Bridal Diaspora: Migration and Marriage among Filipino Women’, in Marriage, Migration and Gender, R. P. and P. Uberoi (eds), Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 80–1.

33 Rates were higher for fair-complexioned women.

34 All names from interviews are pseudonyms.

35 The uncle of the last crowned Maharao, whom I last interviewed in 2003, had a wife from Kathiawar; the Rao of Sirohi (1925–46) married a daughter of the Maharao of Kutch, while the Kutch ruler married the Rao of Sirohi's sister; Plunkett, F., ‘Royal Marriages in Rajasthan’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 7 (1), 1973, p. 72.

36 Clark, A., ‘Limitations on Female Life Chances in Rural Central Gujarat’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 20 (1), 1983, p. 15.

37 Chatterjee, I., ‘Introduction’ in Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia, Chatterjee, I. (ed.), Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 1213.

38 The nature of the Bengal and Sindh borderlands is quite different; thus, even women who are technically from Bangladesh are able to travel back home. Partition did not seal off the Eastern border as definitively as it did the Western one. Agricultural labour, weekly markets, and marriage networks all involve continuous crossing of the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh, sometimes on a daily basis; van Schendel, W., ‘Working through Partition: Making a Living in the Bengal Borderlands’, International Review of Social History, vol. 46, 2001, pp. 393421; Cons, J., ‘Histories of Belonging(s): Narrating Territory, Possession, and Dispossession at the India–Bangladesh Border’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 46 (3), 2012, pp. 527–58. Marriage networks had always linked the two Bengals and, after partition, it was these networks that enabled East Bengalis to migrate to the West. Since East Bengali men tended not to migrate for work, these affinal networks became the central nodes of migration patterns to the West, upsetting long-entrenched patrilocal, patrilineal settlement patterns and giving women's status a boost, as her marital home could become a refuge for her natal relatives; Chatterji, J., The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947–1967, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 124–6.

39 I subsume under this a range of intimate relationships that were forged between men of Kutch and African women, even though I am aware of the fact that not all of these relationships were necessarily ‘marriages’ in the legal sense of the term, nor that ‘marriage’ itself is necessarily the most appropriate term for the entire set of relationships that it usually seeks to contain. See Chatterjee, I., Gender, Slavery and Law in Colonial India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999.

40 For a meticulous account of the Kutchi merchant diaspora across the western Indian ocean, see Goswami, C., The Call of the Sea: Kachchhi Traders in Muscat and Zanzibar, c. 1800–1880, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd, Hyderabad, 2011.

41 Sheriff, A., Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar, James Currey Ltd, London, 1990, p. 84.

43 MSA, Political Department, 1868, Vol. 135, ‘Zanzibar Slave Trade’, File No. 478, ‘Regarding the Abuse of British Laws for the Suppression of the Slave Trade by Her Majesty’s Indian Subjects Established in the Dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar’.

44 Goswami, C., The Call of the Sea: Kachchhi Traders in Muscat and Zanzibar, c. 1800–1880, Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2011, p. 244.

45 For example, MSA Political Department, 1857, Vol. 131, File No. 453, ‘Relative to the Adoption of Measures for Preventing the Traffic in Slaves between Zanzibar and Kutch’.

46 Political Resident of Kutch in 1832, quoted in Goswami (2011: 244).

47 MSA, Political Department, 1850, Vol. 153, File No. 1101, ‘Regarding the Purchase of a Seedee Female at Muskat by a Native of Kutch’.

48 A Political Consultation of 1868 asked pertinently: ‘Slaves to the extent of 1200 are held in Zanzibar by natives of India, who although not HM's subjects may yet be under the jurisdiction of the British Government. The persons in this anomalous position are the subjects of the Rao of Kutch. Hitherto the privileges only of these persons have come under consideration; and it has been held that as the Rao of Kutch has no external relations, his subjects in foreign countries are morally entitled to all the privileges enjoyed by natives of British India in the same places. But now has arisen a question not of their privileges but of their liabilities. May the natives of Kutch hold slaves, and thereby commit what would be an offence against British laws if committed by natives of British India?’, MSA, Political Department, 1868, Vol. 135, ‘Zanzibar Slave Trade’, File No. 478, ‘Regarding the Abuse of British Laws for the Suppression of the Slave Trade by Her Majesty's Indian Subjects Established in the Dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar’.

49 In 1860, the Fateh-ul-Khair was apprehended by the British on suspicions of its being a slaver. A woman was found on board and—it being assumed that she was a slave—was taken into custody. She was identified as Hasina, an Abyssinian woman bought as a slave by the ship's nacoda (captain), Haji Ahmed Ali, at the port of Hodeida in Yemen for 70 dollars. Much later, upon direct examination, Hasina denied the marriage, stating that she wished to remain with her present husband, whose child she was carrying at the time. MSA, Political Department, Vol. 105, Persian Gulf, File No. 349,

‘Relative to the Captured Slaver “Futteh-el-Khair” with a Female Slave’.

50 See, for example, Farasho's statement, taken in Muscat, 1860: ‘My name is Farasho daughter of Salmeen. I was sold last Suffer (September 1859) by Khodaida walad Yousif, a Biloochee, to Solaiman, a native of Kutch. He kept me as his Concubine, and in the course of time I became pregnant. Seven months ago, he got sick, and died. A relative of his, named Kadoo, took possession of all the property of my late Master, and he only gave me enough to live upon. Two months after, Mohammed Ali (Defendant) brother of my late Master, arrived from Kutch, and took possession of all my late Master's property, and two months after that I was delivered of a son. I knew that I was then a free woman according to the Mohammedan law’ (emphasis added). MSA, Political Department, 1860, Vol. 95, File No. 48 (Secret), ‘Report on the Circumstances of a Suspicious Case of Slavery against a Native of Kutch and Resident at Muscat’.

51 MSA, Political Department, 1857, Vol. 131, File No. 453, ‘Relative to the Adoption of Measures for Preventing the Traffic in Slaves between Zanzibar and Kutch’.

52 MSA, Political Department, 1868, Vol. 135, File No. 478, ‘Regarding the Abuse of British Laws for the Suppression of the Slave Trade by Her Majesty's Indian Subjects Established in the Dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar’.

53 MSA, Political Department, 1869, Vol. 152, File No. 121, ‘On the Subject of the Traffic in Slaves by Kutchees in Zanzibar’.

54 ‘Afterwards, as a settlement of certain vexed questions connected with the slave trade, each Kutchee was allowed to elect his protecting State, and HH [the Sultan of Zanzibar] by holding forward the Arab privileges of buying and selling slaves, . . . secured every new arrival from Kutch to himself, and confidently looked forward to the time when British influence would be reduced to an equality with that of France and other foreign powers having no material stake in the country. During the past four years registrations at the British Agency, have become almost unknown’, ibid.

55 ‘All traders or others, subjects of the Rao, who are proceeding to Zanzibar, or who are actually residing there, should be warned that though mere domestic slavery by Kutchees may be tolerated for the present, the British Government will take steps to interfere with any prosecution of the traffic in human beings and that no claims for loss or compensation, in the event of the release of any number of captives, sold or being hurried into slavery, will be tolerated for a moment’. MSA, Political Department, 1868, Vol. 135, File No. 478, ‘Regarding the Abuse of British Laws for the Suppression of the Slave Trade by Her Majesty's Indian Subjects Established in the Dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar’.

56 McDougall, E. A., ‘Discourse and Distortion: Critical Reflections on Studying the Saharan Slave Trade’, Revue Française d'Histoire d'Outre Mer, vol. 89 (336–337), 2002, pp. 195227.

57 MSA, Political Department, 1847, Vol. 115, File No. 1345, ‘Number of Slaves Seized and Brought to Bombay, Disposal of Them’.

58 MSA, Political Department, 1856, Vol. 93, File No. 335, ‘Relative to the Suspected Traffic in Slaves in the Territories of His Highness the Imaum of Muscat by Banians of Kutch’.

59 ‘I have frequently been told that if the Banians were obliged to enter into engagements in Cutch, before coming to Zanzibar, not to engage in the slave trade, under certain penalties, that they one and all would abstain from this traffick [sic] even such men as Ebjee Sewjee, and other influential and wealthy individuals who have derived great profits from the slave trade to the southward of the Imam's territories. They have ways and means to convey slaves from the ports in the Imam's dominions to the different parts on the coast of Madagascar, where the Brazilian and Portuguese slave agents are always ready to receive them. The Banians certainly would not do this were they afraid of evil consequences to their property and persons in Cutch. . . . if some measures were taken to deter the subjects of the protected states in India from entering into this traffick [sic], it would wonderfully assist HH the Imam in meeting the wishes of Her Majesty's Government and the people of England’. Major Atkins Hamerton, Consul and Agent at Muscat to A. Malet, Secretary to Government of Bombay, dated Zanzibar, 14 May 1853. MSA, Political Department, 1853, Vol. 92, File No. 1028, ‘Relative to the Projects of Kutch Banians Connected with the Reestablishment of the Slave Trade in His Highness the Imam's Dominions to the Southward’.

60 After partition, official attempts were made to cleanse Indian districts on both the eastern and western borders of Muslims, following the perception that they were unlikely to remain loyal to India during a crisis.

61 See, for example, Sarkar, T., Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2001; Gupta, C., Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims, and the Hindu Public in Colonial India, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2001; Chatterjee, Gender, Slavery and Law in Colonial India; Mody, P., The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi, Routledge, New Delhi, 2008; Kapur and Cossman argue that the boundaries between the public and the private are constructed by law, for example, in its definition of legitimate and illegitimate sexuality, but this boundary is a constantly shifting one; Kapur, R. and Cossman, B., Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1996. Also see Berlant, L., ‘The Intimate Public Sphere’, in The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship, Berlant, L. (ed.), Duke University Press, London and Durham, 1997, pp. 124.

62 Uberoi, P., ‘Introduction: Problematising Social Reform, Engaging Sexuality, Interrogating the State’, in Social Reform, Sexuality and the State, Uberoi, P. (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1996, pp. ix–xxvi; U. Chakravarti, ‘Wifehood, Widowhood and Adultery: Female Sexuality, Surveillance and the State in 18th c. Maharashtra’, in Uberoi, Social Reform, Sexuality and the State, pp. 3–21.

64 Kapur, R., Makeshift Migrants and Law: Gender, Belonging and Postcolonial Anxieties, Routledge, New Delhi, 2010.

65 As P. Mody argues, even when the law permits choice-based marriage between consenting adults, the social acceptance of such marriages can lag far behind the legal framework: ‘what the law allows is not the same as that to which society assents’, Mody, The Intimate State, p. 144.

66 Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation.

67 Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community.

68 Ibid., p. 40.

70 Berlant, The Queen of America, p. 57.

71 Muslim brides from Sindh do not possess this capital, but neither are they the subjects of the ‘trafficking’ discourse. One reason for this is the cultural contiguity between Kutch and Sindh, making it easier for Sindhis to ‘pass’ as locals. As I have argued above, ‘marriage’ as a status protects them within the community. In 2003, a number of Hindu migrants from Pakistan were able to acquire Indian citizenship; in 2015, a Home Ministry notification stated its intention ‘on humanitarian considerations, to exempt Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals belonging to minority communities . . . from the relevant provisions of rules and order made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946, in respect of their entry and stay in India without such documents or after the expiry of those documents’, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, 7 September 2015,, [accessed 16 April 2018], emphasis added.

72 Soon after partition, it was recognized that something needed to be done to Hinduise, the police force in Kutch, which had too many Muslims for a strategic district bordering West Pakistan. ‘It has been admitted that Kutch is in a strategically important position and the communal composition of the Police force is deserving of attention especially in view of the fact that there is a preponderating element of Muslims in the force. It may be considered desirable to rectify this position when there is a convenient opportunity like the present when the expansion of the force could be effected by recruiting persons of the other community to make up for the lack of balance now existing’, National Archives of India (NAI), Ministry of States (Secret Branch), 1948, File No. 31 (15) E. Similarly, ‘in 1951, [the West Bengal] government began to “cleanse” the border zones of Muslims’, Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition, p. 176.

74 Andrijasevic, R., ‘Sex on the Move: Gender, Subjectivity and Differential Inclusion’, Subjectivity, vol. 29 (1), 2009, pp. 389406.

*I am grateful to the Indian Institute of Technology's IRD grant for supporting fieldwork related to this work. I thank Arudra Burra, Radhika Gupta, Ravinder Kaur, and Simona Sawhney for discussion on a draft of the article.

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