Why Arranged Marriages are Still the Norm in India
As a free bird without any romantic entanglements at the moment, I may not be the most authoritative person to talk about marriage and relationship. It is a little disturbing, even to me, how rabidly fascinating I find the entire setup of weddings and all related activities. Maybe it comes with being born in a society, which magnifies this pious ceremony as the ultimate validation of a man’s claim on a woman. Maybe it is just the irony of how we preach of development, progress etc., while still being tangled in a vicious web of discrimination and disparity. Or maybe it is just another topic that I find interesting enough to write pages about.
Marriage is usually the communion of two individuals who swear an oath to be caring and loyal towards one another till death does them apart. Today, this is a skewed version of the reality that this communion implies. Since times immemorial, one has viewed marriage as the necessary institution or legal binding contract giving the children born of the union, legitimate legal and social rights. Does this ideology mean that a child born out of wedlock is obliged to be an outcast? Not in today’s world, no. With liberalization comes relaxation of primordial norms that now seem ludicrous. But, and that is a big but, not all cultures or civilizations approve of the practice of non-marriage or live-in relationships or children born to single mothers. This hub, however, will not delve into the pros and cons of marriage. That shall be left for another lengthy article for another day. What intrigued me enough to begin typing, is the practice of arranged marriages, which surprisingly enough, are still predominant in numerous pockets the world over. Since I’m not really aware of the system in other regions, I’ll stick to my own country, India.
Boy (girl) meets girl (boy), they develop a healthy rapport, have sizzling (or adequate) chemistry, get emotionally attached (love, trust everything grows) and get on famously. In due course, they decide to spend the rest of their mutual lives together. That would be ‘love marriage’ in a nutshell. Now, its counterpart ‘arranged marriage’, as the name suggests, is a much more complex entity. Surprisingly enough, even in this age of gender equality, women empowerment, economic stability and high education levels, arranged marriages outshine love matches by a large margin in the country. Traditionally, India is a nation where a love interest or courtship before marriage is frowned upon. Many of the orthodox clans (no matter what religion), are still adamant and passionate about their children being married to people they handpick and deem worthy. There are no set statistics to prove whether an arranged or love marriage would be more successful. Nevertheless, in a country that upholds moral values and culture above all else, arranged marriage is the way to be. Why? Here’s a list:
i. No Love Foundation: There is no fairytale setting to be expected when one engages in an arranged setup. True, this idea may be a horrifying prospect for many, as spending eternity with someone you have no clue about, sounds daunting. Primarily, such marriages are based on lust, which nurtures in time to become affection and in some cases, love. Why lust? Because it’s expected. A physical intimacy is no problem here, as those involved are quite clear on what to expect of the relationship. There is security (which is another important point), and no scope for doubt. When elders in the family have chosen, they’d have chosen well, because they have seen more Diwalis (or Christmases) than us.
ii. Equal Stature: Love marriages often have a major drawback of involving individuals who may not always be of equal social, educational, ethical or economic standing. This is intolerable for the staunch supporters of cultural and familial values. Marriage between a Brahmin girl and a Muslim boy or a Punjabi girl and a boy born and brought up in Tamil Nadu will never be prearranged. There needs to be equality at every stage. A well educated girl with a sound paying job can expect a partner of equal station (of similar religion, caste, financial status and demography). This eliminates the ego issues which might crop up. Not that couples in an arranged marriage have no ego issues; still a wedding conducted with pomp and show underlines a thicker net of troubles should one try to free himself/herself based on petty emotional outbursts.
iii. Familial Moral Support:Since arranged marriages are conducted under the watchful eye of both families, any disputes between spouses, directly involves their respective families. Instead of dragging in outsiders, the family silently and effectively patches up the couple. In cases where the duo is adamant of never reconciling, family courts are brought in. Divorce isn’t a conducive course of action for any marriage in India. More often than not, families easily settle things outside the courts. Why? The children, of course. Relationships are strong bonds in the country, and those of the blood relation type are never to be tampered with. If not for his/her self, the person compromises with the other party for the sake of the children; since children are the worst hit in a divorce or separation.
iv. Non-Violence: A few months back, the newspapers in India reported of “honor killings” in Haryana (an Indian state). What are honor killings, one may ask. This innocent expression refers to the brutal murder of the man and woman, with them belonging to different castes, involved in a romantic relationship. Usually, it is the girl’s family that carries out the ‘honor’ of eliminating the lovebirds. This is done to preserve the ‘honor’ or good standing of the family in the society. The option of arranged marriages does not involve such harsh reactions from one’s relatives. If not killing, there is at least the problem of disownment or total indifference by those close of kin should one decide to renounce age old traditions common in the family.
v. No Character Defamation: It is a universally acknowledged fact that women are never at par with men. They continue to remain the weaker sex, not just in the Indian, but many other world cultures. In such a scenario, a girl bold enough to choose a partner for herself is instantaneously defamed by the society at large. I realize that in my generation, maybe the constraints aren’t as stringent as they once were. Nevertheless, a woman who parades her love interest before the family or skips from relationship to relationship or talks of giving up her virginity to the current boyfriend, is never openly welcomed in any house, not even her own. In most cases, nobody thinks of these decisions as serious. They are usually dismissed as a case of infatuation overruling reasonable thinking. Even after having her fill of romance, the female is expected to be coy enough to take up the strenuous responsibility of marriage to somebody else, not of her choices.
It surprises me still, how arranged marriages are predominant in India today, even though our youth boast of liberalization and being at par with western giants. It is impossible to be self-sufficient in a place where moral values and the strength of family are priced above all others. I do not condemn the act of a pre-arranged marriage. In fact, today the customary practice is to love someone whom the family approves of. Thus, is born the culture of ‘arranged love’ marriages. They are here to stay, and a modern Indian woman can now dream of a Prince Charming, who, the parents would just be too happy to include in their Sunday brunches and family portraits.
A poem to accompany this issue for the philosophically inclined
- Beyond the Veil of Scarlet
Events that transpire before a helpless girl who has no control over her choices.