The trouble with arranged marriages

V.V.Pukirev - The Arranged Marriage

V.V.Pukirev – The Arranged Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are about to enter dangerous territory. Please strap on your helmets and ensure your seat belts are pulled tight.
Arranged marriages are the norm in India. Parents of children of marriageable age(here I’m not referring to the legal age of marriage but some imaginary cultural norm) start trawling the Matrimonial pages of newspapers if they can read. If not, it’s the good old word-of-mouth route used since time immemorial. They put the word out. What is marriageable age? This could be anything from age 6 to 16 in villages and around age 30 in urban India).

In keeping with the times, they also use the internet to husband hunt (or bride hunt) – as a nod to modernity! The criteria for finding a spouse for your offspring are status, caste, looks and economic background. The in-laws need to be ‘as good as us, or better’. It’s all very cut and dried – somewhat like going to buy tomatoes. Mates are chosen on superficial grounds that don’t take into account the uniqueness of each human being, leaving no room for a personal connection. The relationship begins on a much more shallow note than when two people decide to take the momentous step of marrying each other because they like each other so much. Instead, the fertile are grouped like cattle by gene, height, colour, caste, linguistic similarity and other charming categories as though the only function of marriages is to produce children. There’s no understanding, spark or common ground between the two who are being yoked to each other by the elders of the family. Some city Indians do try to inject a little romance but it’s all well supervised and permitted by all the parents concerned.
Till-death-do-us-part is a very serious business in India. In fact, if you’re Hindu your wedding ceremony is part of a ritual that has you married to the same person for seven lifetimes.  If your parents don’t choose carefully, you’re done for. Not only for this lifetime, because divorce is unthinkable, but for seven long lifetimes.
Since marriage is primarily a business transaction between two families they bargain about marriage gifts – some people call it dowry, but they’re the insensitive variety who call a spade a spade – after all, they’re just prezzies,. They also negotiate, often with posturing and threats to call the whole thing off – who will pay for the wedding itself and all the attendant partying. The  primary aim of both ‘sides’ is to inflate the bills of the opposing party, sorry,  in-laws, and outdo them in inviting guests.
It’s a fact that many families, whether rural or urban middle class, use up a lifetime’s savings and go broke paying for these weddings – which are usually nothing less than a week’s wasteful carousing. After all the over-the-top shenanigans are over, the prince and princess of the show (mute puppets dolled up for their ‘happy’ occasion) the benighted couple are left  alone with each other, each eyeing the other with suspicion and the horrid realization that they have to have sex with this stranger. Despite being bribed with honeymoons in exotic locales they are wary and less than delighted. It’s not a wonder that most people have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the holy fire that will bind them for seven lifetimes. Tradition always wins and argument will not be brooked. Marriage is about families not two individuals.
After this debt-inducing performance and the marathon hunt for the perfect partner it’s hard for the poor bride-to-be ( or even the groom) to say –
“But I have nothing in common with him.”
Some people do say this though. They are met with a barrage of semi sympathetic, soothing monologues that is basically bullying in the guise of much faux understanding.
A typical speech will go something like, “Love grows after marriage. He’s from the same background. Culture and background are much more important than liking the same music. This is how your father and I did it. Do you see any problems in our marriage?”
“Yes, I do. Many problems. But everything SEEMS fine because you never object to any of his nonsense.”
Mother/aunt/grandmother smiles. “ Yes. “ Proudly. “You will learn to do it too. That’s how you make a happy marriage.”
“Mama – a happy marriage is about both people adjusting.”
“I see. So you know more about marriage than I do?”
“I give up.”
“Don’t worry dear. You will be very happy. He comes from a very good family. His mother is very nice.”
“I’m not marrying his mother.”
“Shh. shhh. Don’t say things like that.”(“Girls these days…”) mother mutters to herself
Arranged marriage conversations that invariably take place. After the wedding they may be happy. And they may not. Nobody will ever know though. The dice is loaded against women and it’s the rare brave one who speaks up, tries to work out compromises with this man she doesn’t know but must now sleep with, cook for, bear children with and holiday with. He doesn’t have to try at all because traditionally there are huge expectations of Indian wives/brides and none of husbands/grooms. And so he doesn’t bother unless he’s an exceptionally idealistic individual. Anything that goes wrong in the marriages is attributed to her – for not being ‘adjusting’ enough. This is my biggest problem with arranged marriages – the furthering of patriarchal mores that stifle a woman’s voice. Her parents help lock her in the jail her in-laws make for her. She has no support, not even from a spouse who doesn’t relate to her except as a provider of creature comforts.
What do you think about arranged marriages?

About Kalpana

Trying to change the world one blog post at a time. I write. It's the best thing I can do. I am the Hanged Man, the Fool, the sometime Magician. Whether I travel in my imagination or in real life I write about it and show you pictures either through my photography or through the pictures I paint with my words. I read books and write fiction. During working hours I teach English as an Additional Language. I edit.

Posted on July 10, 2013, in Dowry, Feminist, husband's name, oppressive customs, tradition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Marriages in India are the most memorable event of one’s life. In INDIA, Almost all marriages are arranged. Even among the educated middle classes in modern, , marriage is as much a concern of the families as it is of the individuals.

  2. subzeroricha

    I agree with Swati. It depends what card was dealt. And yes sometimes an okay card gets dealt and one needs to turn it around. All the things though you mentioned are definitely true and as per indian society they are here to stay 🙂


    • Umm, why are you so happy that all the things that the post listed are here to stay?

      It appears to me that you see no harm in women being forced to stay in marriages where they have little freedom and no voice.

  3. I guess it depends on the person.
    Personally, with no offense to anyone – I don’t understand arranged marriages!
    The whole concept of marrying someone I don’t know, respect or love is beyond comprehension!!

  4. How difficult this must be to face!! I just can’t imagine how this would be even if you were used to it being the norm. I really enjoyed reading this. It is interesting to learn how others in the world approach things like marriage.


    • Many Indian women are raised to believe that marriage is the be-all and end-all of life.
      Once married, women are expected to make the marriage work, no matter what.

      I have an aunt who endured physical and emotional abuse for 30 years but believes that she did the right thing. She stayed because she didn’t want her son to grow up as the child of a divorced woman, stigmatised by society and the extended family.

      Indian society is quick to ostracise people who break social rules no matter how unfair these social rules are.

  5. Hi Mystic,

    After being in one for 10 years and continuing I think Arranged Marriage is a deck of cards dealt by the human hands. A good card (read good husband) can make your life pretty interesting, fun filled and lots of love, on the other hand a bad/mediocre card (read a husband with bad habits/ mama’s boy) can make your life an everyday struggle. I have been dealt with a mediocre card and believe me life is a roller coaster ride with more downs than ups.

    Coming to the point I won’t be going for an arranged marriage for my son. Aah! As for my marital family they are a confused lot. They were ready to accept a girl from any backgrounds for their sons but when the younger son did take the bride of his choice, every second or the third day he is criticised for his choice. Why? because the girl is fiercely independent and does not take any nonsense from MIL because she is confident of her spouse’s support, whereas the elder DIL has no choice but to argue for sometime and then let the matter rest because she does not enjoy same privilege with her husband — who invariably supports his mother (mama’s boy).

    I know arranged marriages are all about control especially by MIL over DIL because she doesn’t have anyone else to have control over and besides she was controlled by her MIL.

  6. To me such kind of marriages sound like a Diwali bumper sale…here the buyer is the groom’s side and the seller the bride’s side not only gives their daughter but alongwith that goes a lot of guranteed free gifts and bumper prize…and it is not only in arranged marriages even in love marriages when both sides consent for marriage then slowly the sale talk progresses.

    And after living in Europe and having friends from almost 38 countries I can definitely say that this problem is not only in Indian cultures but in cultures all over marriage ceremonies are a major point of arguments….whether it is a simple wedding or a fat indian wedding…. a drama is inevitable…

  7. It’s hard for me to fully understand since I’m from such a totally different culture. I do feel sad that many times though, the women are not regarded as having a voice to share what they want. I realize that it’s still being done in some places and not everywhere. Yes, traditions are important but should also be reviewed to see it they still make sense.
    This is a good post to help us see what’s going on elsewhere and help change perspectives and hopefully make a better world for all.

  8. Stopping by from UBC…I once worked with a woman from India who was in an arranged marriage; she loved it, but I’ve also had a student — at the age of 13 — promised to a man in India who was nearly 3 times her age…she was frightened about it, and after being in the States and tasting the freedoms our country offers, she refused to go back. I don’t know what happened to her though.

  9. My thoughts about arranged marriages: if you have a family that is thoughtful and knows you well, they may do a better job of picking a suitable mate than you . . . but choosing your own mate leaves only you to blame if you do a poor job of it. In other words . . .. it’s a mixed bag, to be sure!

  10. I found this article very interesting. I have always felt sorrow for people who have to endure this type of marriage. In the past, I wasn’t always good at picking out perspective life-partners, I can’t imagine how worse it would have been if my parents have chosen. I have read several books, however, where the idea is romanticized.

  11. I read a book called The History of the Wife… it talks about the history of marriage from an European point of view. Interesting read… marriage has been seen as a business throughout history everywhere. This whole romantic .. getting married for love is pretty new. So interesting.

  12. What a thoughtful post! There is a part of me that wishes there was something like arranged marriages in my culture…. I mean, there are times where it seems that it would make life easier when it comes to finding a mate. I know marriage is a transaction in many cases all over the world – but I have been single for years and each time there is always some nonsense. So there are these fleeting and naive moments where I think, my life would be so less complicated if my parents or elders chose a man for me. Then I would have these broken hearts, or misleading men whispering lies to get something from me. I would have someone constantly to share my story to and life to.. But this would never ever work. I want the spark and that spiritual connection that exists between souls that recognize each other.
    Now with regard to arranged marriage as discussed in your post, I am against it completely. Freedom to choose is one of our most glorious rights as human beings – even if it does lead to a life of less ideal… we have the ability to choose.
    I am also a bit of a feminist in that I think the world would be better off with matriarchal societies so when I read about arranged marriage I see it as another way “man” is being destructive… but that’s another story 🙂
    How does YOUR family view arranged marriage?

  1. Pingback: Would You Consent to an Arranged Marriage? |

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