This discourse is not to justify the notion of arranged marriages. I have gone from being flabbergastingly against the concept to feeling more ambivalent about it in recent times. So, I want to examine the rubik’s cube of this centuries old concept that still exists in India to see what the society, parents and families were thinking about.
1) The dating scene
To know why and how arranged marriages came about, one must understand India and its landscape culturally a little more than from the heights of the Taj Mahal.
Until recent years, kids in India did not date. It was frowned upon, the girl was especially seen as a sleaze and the very act of dating and spending time together was seen as something wrong.
I was travelling in Europe 15 years ago when I told an American woman that there were no malls where we lived, she said ‘Really? Where do kids hang out?’ I could argue that malls are not the only place that kids should hang out, but there were also no parks to boot or another place where kids could actually just hang.
Cell phones were not common until about 10 years ago, not every kid had their own and texting was not second nature to kids.
So, hindered by such factors, I don’t know..how else would you meet someone!
2) Marriageable age
The society in India has this theory and expectation – that everything should be done by a certain age in your life.
Which translates for men to find a job and with some leeway get married. For the ladies, you need to be ‘settled down’ and on your way to making babies. I would say, at about the age of 23 is when parents start going into panic mode for their little girl to tie the knot. And god forbid, if you haven’t had kids by the ripe old age of 30. Then, you have problems. It’s just assumed.
Practically in a way, there is some sense to it. A woman’s biological clock is ticking and the more they delay the process of conceiving a child, the more issues they and the baby could experience as time goes on.
On the other hand, one is not mature to even know themselves at 23. You may not know what you want from life, much less what you want from a life partner. And settling for someone because the clock’s ticking is not what is going to keep a marriage afloat for the next 50 odd years.
If you have met someone early on in life, then it’s great that you are able to travel together and spend some quality time together before kids arrive on the scene. But again, you just can’t do it because the time is right with a person who’s not right for you.
3) Social strata
Apart from the class system there are also different social strata that are based on your lineage and how much money your father makes. Arranged marriage is society’s way of ensuring that the daughter will we ‘well looked after’ and her way of life will closely mirror her life before she got married. That all her financial needs will be met and money will not be a glaring issue in their marriage.
On the son’s side, it hopes to ensure that their wife was brought up in similar social circles and has the same mannerisms as are expected of women in his family.
Of course, the husband or family having money does not ensure that she will have the financial freedom to spend it and that will not have to justify each purchase. But, one hopes that with enough money in the family, this will not happen.
Being as culturally diverse as India is, every state speaks a different language, eats different food and sometimes even prays to a different god.
Arranged marriage is their way of ensuring that along with adjusting to a new home and family, the woman will additionally not have to go through the effort of learning and changing the very basic that makes up the fabric of her system.
In modern times where joint families are not as commonplace, two people from diverse backgrounds can come together and make it work if they both make their way toward each other and not cling to all they have known their entire lives up until now and try to create an amalgamated family and future together.
This one has a few facets.
With not much else to go by, the first impressions are definitely based on looks. Many a photo is passed upon because the girl or guy doesn’t meet the criteria of good looks. Some factors here are just impressed upon people’s minds, the girl has to be ‘fair’, short enough to be shorter than the guy but tall enough to be about 2-3 inches within his height, thin and just generally beautiful. No matter that she is never going to see the face of a runway and strut her stuff down it, but she will most definitely be showed off to friends, family and foes – that you can be assured of.
The guy’s looks are sometimes compromised upon if he has a lot of money. Sometimes, parents actually recognize that their prince or princess is not all that and go for someone with similar looks too.
If a girl is beautiful, a guy will compromise on money/education or the other umpteen factors to bring her home.
You only have to read one of the many matrimonial advertisements in newspapers or online today to get a laugh out of people’s requirements of looks!
Arranged marriage thought about the fundamentals of marriage and tried to take care of those. But, that’s all these are – fundamentals. And this is where the system can be seen as flawed, especially given today’s lifestyle and generation.
It may be seen as a way for protective parents to ensure that their child has a great married life ahead but when based on a mere set of shallow factors, it is really not perpetrating the elements that a marriage is made up of in reality.
Arranged marriage can be a way to introduce two young people if they so wish, but parents and families need to realize that the pressure that ensues thereafter to sign the dotted line is not going to do anyone any good in the long run.
There are strong undercurrents in each marriage that cannot be signed through a pre-nup, that have to be lived through and worked upon to make things work. And that is something no one can do other than the two people that make up the marriage.