Incest a taboo?
It is important to question why beliefs came to be. Rather than a knee jerk reaction born out of psychological conditioning and societal acceptance, we ought to subject every belief that we hold to scrutiny.

A few days back, on the day of raksha bandhan, a popular festival in India celebrating the brother sister bond, Harper Collins India, sent out a tweet asking how many sibling pairs from literature the readers could name. The answers were many. They ranged from Hansel and Gretel to the Weasleys in Harry Potter series, the Finchs in To Kill a Mockingbird and the Goldsteins in Fantastic Beasts.

I decided to be cheeky, and tweeted a reply saying that, at the moment, I could remember only Jamie and Cersei Lannister, from the Game of Thrones. For those not familiar with the books by George RRMartin or the show, this sibling pair stirs up quite the controversy as they are in an incestuous relationship.

When I mentioned this tweet to an author friend of mine, she said she found the whole concept of an incestuous relationship revolting and completely unacceptable. Majority of humans would find an incestuous relationship appalling, disgusting and immoral.  You would get strong reactions, if you were ever to raise this topic. Incest is a big taboo in most cultures.

It is interesting to see the responses when you quiz people about why they think it is a taboo. The responses range from “a high possibility of giving birth to children with defective genes” to “it is forbidden in the scriptures” to “it’s just plain wrong.” But to be truly open minded, I think it is important to think beyond what you have been “told.” It is important to question why these beliefs came to be. Rather than a knee jerk reaction born out of psychological conditioning and societal acceptance, we ought to subject every belief that we hold to scrutiny. After they have been thoroughly examined, discard them as unacceptable, if you are convinced in the demerits of a concept.

I am not for a moment, defending incest. (I personally find it revolting when it is an incestuous relationship between a parent and a child, even if both are adults) But I also do believe that if two consenting adults decide to have sex, in the privacy of their homes, it is nobody’s business but theirs. In many countries incest is a crime and people can be arrested for having sexual relationships, which are consanguineous.  The Indian Penal code does not specifically prohibit it, but has provisions for preventing child sexual abuse by their custodian.

Let’s take the main argument that people give against incest — that of giving birth to deformed children — what if the both people in the incestuous relationship are sterilised and have taken an informed decision to not have children? Would that make an incestuous relationship okay? 

We could argue that an incestuous act is an unnatural act  — but then homosexuality was considered (and is still considered) unnatural and repulsive by many.

If there was rape involved, or if there was non-consent or paedophilia involved then the law and society have every reason to punish the guilty. But if there was no rape involved and both are consenting adults, then the decision is theirs alone.

Many quote scriptures saying that let alone incest, the ancient sages prohibited marriages even within the same gotra in order to preserve the male lineage (as women have the xx chromosome, and men have the xy chromosomes. The Y chromosome in a male can come only from the father). But this theory of preserving the lineage has been debunked time and over, by rationalists, scientists and researchers as the ancient rishis could bestow the gotras on chosen disciples and adopted sons. Also, the sanctioned custom in many South Indian communities is to marry one’s own maternal uncle.  Marriages between cousins are also not frowned upon in many communities as long as the couple about to be wed are children of a brother and sister. (A woman can marry her father’s sister’s son, as her father’s sister is from a different gotra as her gotra changes after marriage). But the biological fact is that he still shares your gene and is a blood-relative! Therefore, it appears as though these rules were made just as a means to ensure that the wealth was kept within the family.  There was no knowledge of genetics till Gregor Mendel discovered it in the 19th century.

Hence it can be safely concluded that it is the psychological conditioning, which prevents most of us from having incestuous thoughts or relationships. To have sex with one’s sibling is completely unimaginable for most of us.

Yet, to imprison someone or condemn someone for doing so — is that okay, just because a majority of us finds it unacceptable? It is something I leave you to think about. Meanwhile, I just can’t wait to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones to find out what happens to Jamie and Cersie!

(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)

Columnist: 
Preeti Shenoy