The trouble with arranged marriages
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?
Posted on July 10, 2013, in Dowry, Feminist, husband's name, oppressive customs, tradition and tagged Arranged marriage, India, Love marriage, Marriage, Matrimonial. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.