Sometime in 2002-2003
I was in junior high school in the United States. The English literature class was going on. I do not remember the exact context, but the teacher was asking for the “Reasons why people get married.”
The creative class was coming up with all kinds of reasons – procreation, money, security, pregnancy among others. One guy said “for love” which was followed by a mocking “Aww!” in chorus. One girl said, “Pressure.”
The teacher’s eyes brightened, as this seemed the most interesting and novel reason so far.
“That’s right.” She said. “In medieval times, some people were forced to get married.. Sadly, it is still happening in some parts of the world. It is called arranged marriages.”
I was completely offended. I wanted to raise my hand and correct her. No. Arranged marriages are not forced…. My parents, uncle, aunts, cousins are happily married. All arranged.
But I did not have the courage to speak up. I was afraid everybody would make fun of my accent, or even worse, my thoughts.
After the class ended, I brought up the topic with one of my classmates who was of Indian origin. She was the closest to a “friend” to me. She ensured to tell everybody that she was born and brought up there and was “one of them”. Although, her looks gave away her roots. She never seemed too pleased when I tried to associate herself with India. This time was no exception.
“Arranged marriages are ******. How can you marry a stranger?”
I tried to explain to her that all my relatives had arranged marriages. They are happy. Ultimately, marriage is about committing to each other and making it work. Every marriage is a risk no matter how long you have known each other. I also brought up the low divorce rate in India as a testimony to our wonderful marriages.
“Well, you don’t even belong to our generation.” She snapped.
In my defense, I was only thirteen.
Cut to 2015.
I am now a writer. I am having a discussion with one of my closest friends (also a writer) on how arranged marriages have ruined our society. Our personal experiences, and that of many close to us have completely transformed our fundamentals. We are together working on an article titled, “Why arranged marriages should be banned in India?”
We ask some men who are in their late 30s, early 40s. They got married early in life, when their personalities had not even evolved fully (in their own words). Their wives are of their parents’ choice, who take care of the family well. But, they badly regret their decision. They were too young to know what they wanted then. Over the years, they have realized that they don’t have much intellectual compatibility with their spouse. (They don’t mind discussing other compatibilities / lack of it but we restrict the conversation. This is from the men’s point of view, I am sure their wives would have their side of the story. Or maybe they are too busy taking care of their kids and in-laws to give their views on marriage to random women…).
Some excerpts from the draft of our article:
1. Arranged marriages promote the archaic caste system. One of the main reasons parents want to arrange their children’s match is to ensure that they marry someone from a similar culture background – caste, community, language.
2. Arranged marriages do not leave any time for people to date and get to know each other. Some arranged marriages may work. But is that logic enough to do something as illogical as marrying somebody you barely know?
3. Do arranged marriages actually work or people stay in them because they are stuck and have nowhere to go to? The reasons these marriages work may be the same for which they happened in the first place – social / family pressure.
We even thought that just like dowry, there should be stringent laws that punish people who arrange marriages.
At this point we realized maybe we should not publish this article…
Dating is on rise in India like never before. In my previous office, I hardly knew anybody who had an arranged marriage. On the other hand, there are others who want a love marriage, but cannot find anybody. Or their relationships don’t work out and they get tired of trying.
Relationships not working out or not finding anybody is nothing shameful. Rather, something natural and universal. I remember the episode from Friends, where Rachael turns 30. She is already depressed because she is getting old and still single. To add to it, Chandler gives her a card calling her grandma. She then decides that all she needs is a plan, and comes up with a reverse calculation:
“I should have the first one (kid) by the time I’m 35.
Which gives me five years.
If I want a kid when I’m 35, I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34.
Which gives Prada four years to start making maternity clothes.
But I want to be married for a year before I get pregnant.
I don’t have to get married until I’m 33.
That’s three whole years.
Wait a minute, though.
I’ll need a year and a half to plan the wedding.
And I’d like to know the guy for a year, year and a half before we get engaged.
Which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m 30.”
We Indians take this calculation pretty seriously. While Rachael had calculated the age where she wants her first child to be 35, we probably take it at 25. And the countdown begins…
The other view – in support of arranged marriages
Why wait for something that may or may not happen when we can arrange our destiny? What if it gets “too late”? Too late meaning inability to have kids. What if there would be a dearth of single people in the opposite gender as we age – so we may lose out on that precious chance of finding any companion. Plus, who will remain single in India after a certain age? Only people with previous marriages?
So, in order to prevent such a “disaster” in the lives of their loved ones, well-wishers arrange their matches. Compatibility, attraction (What’s that got to do with marriage?) are theoretical concepts that anyway fade with time. It is all about compromise, right?
(PS: I do not support this view)!
Dating and arranged marriages
Modern India seems to be enjoying both sides. People are dating. If it doesn’t work out, there is always have a “back-up” option.
Dating is complicated to begin with. We don’t know where it is going. But in India, to add to the uncertainty of the relationship working out is the possibility of the boyfriend / girlfriend conveniently getting into an arranged marriage the moment clashes / boredom creeps in.
A man may allegedly dump his girlfriend to marry someone who is a more appropriate “caregiver” fit to his family, caste and language compatible. A woman may find an arranged match who may be better suited to make her more secure financially. These are ofcourse stereotypes. Sometimes, people just don’t have the heart to go through the pain of another break-up so they just give up on the thought of “looking out” completely. They want to make sure this time around marriage happens. Either way, modern day arranged marriages do involve some amount of dating, and getting to know the person. A lot of them are facilitated through matrimonial websites.
Can I really judge them, in the age of dating apps?
How do people in other parts of the world survive without well-meaning family members, distant relatives and neighbors finding them a match?
If as a culture we were into dating (and not arranged marriages), wouldn’t we end up finding someone or another? Or atleast continue to look? If only there was no make-believe time bomb ticking away…
I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I did not publish my original article “Why should arranged marriages be banned in India”, as I felt it was too prejudiced, and offensive to most people I know. Plus, if something is working for someone, do I have a right to judge?
I just wonder sometimes, how our society would be without it..
Where we are not told that we will end up alone and miserable, if we don’t marry ASAP..
Where we could date, with no age barriers and judgment…
Where companionship is not about producing healthy children together…
Where we are given time to really figure out what we want from our lives…
© 2017, Tanvi Sinha. All rights reserved.