Like I said I had to write up a new post to keep people from reading about my weirdness. I was reading this
post and wanted to comment, but realized that I had so much to say regarding this matter that it warranted a separate post by itself.
Wikipedia defines marriage as "a committed relationship between or among individuals, recognized by civil authority and/or bound by the religious beliefs of the participants." Arranged marriage is the same except when dictated by parents, family and social pressure. One of the most frequent questions I get from my US based friends and co-workers is whether as a girl raised in India I had to go through an arranged marriage. And they seem quite surprised when I tell them that I never had to face any kind of pressure from my family when I decided to get married. And honestly I don't entirely blame them. Even in a time when India is poised at the helm of a global economy with so much new information and interest in the country, its culture and traditions, there are still questions in people's minds about "elephants" and strange "Hindoo" practices. It probably seems unreal for them to accept that coming from India I may have had a childhood and upbringing that is not so dissimilar to what they had in the US. And yes when it comes to making choices and taking decisions about my own life I do have the freedom to do what I think best.
It seems to me that more and more people from the Indian subcontinent are taking their own decisions when it come to tying the knot. Most of my friends and cousins have had the so called "love marriage" where they were allowed to decide on who they would marry and spend their life with. When I look at the generation that preceeded mine I can count on my fingers the number of couples I personally know who were allowed to marry person's of their own choice and still be left with fingers to spare. On the same hand. And if I look at the generation that preceeded that......well, some things are better left alone. So honestly yes, things have come a long way from what they had been a few decades back. And yes, society is learning to accept and even embrace the "love marriage" concept.
But inspite of all the changes there are still certain taboos. For example things like caste and religion. When my great-grandfather was getting married, his family not only made sure the bride would be from a traditional bengali brahmin family but also that she had to be part of the "kulin" section which allowed him to marry into the same strata of social heirarchy. Decades down the line when my cousins and I were getting into the marriageable age, no one really cared much for what caste we were marrying into as long as we ended up marrying a decent person. But I know people who have met with resistence from family because of caste issues which still mean a great deal to a lot of families. Religion again is a whole different ballgame. I know a handful of people who have married outside of their religion and each one of them have had a hard time getting their family to accept the fact.
As I said most people I know are taking their own decisions for marriage these days. The key word here is "most'. What happens to the ones that are unable to find their mate? B has a cousin who is about 26 years old, finished her Masters degree and teaching in a college. Her parents have been trying to find her a groom for the last couple of years. Unfortunately it appears all the good men folk have been taken during their academic years and the ones that keep coming up are total jerks. Like the one who declared that he had a large family and required a certain amount of dowry. Or the one who refused to let her work once she got married. Or the one who had a history of mental illness. Whats irks me to no end is this endless search for a groom is leaving such a debilitating effect on the poor girl. She is pretty, she is smart, and she is a genuinely nice individual. She would make a wonderful wife for anyone. Yet, she is paraded in her finest to anyone who wishes to "see" her, made to sing so that some weirdo can judge whether she can sing him a lullaby when he goes to bed, bring in a tray of refreshments so her potential in laws can visualize her in the kitchen, show off her artwork and needlework and handcrafted items so people can say whether she is good with her hands. I guess the only thing that she is unable to show her future husband and in laws is whether she is good in bed. Which judging from the men that are stopping by I would imagine was the only thing that they care about. And everytime a family stops by and passes judgement it leaves the girl with her self-esteem a notch lower and feeling less wanted than ever before. And it makes me want to throw up. I ask her parents as to how they can do this to their own daughter and why they let her be humiliated publicly. And they say to me that their hands are tied and society dictates that their daughter should be married off by a certain age and as legal guardians this is the best they can do.
So what is it about a "certain age" that society feels should be binding when it comes to getting married? I remember getting my first marriage proposal when I was fifteen. Some "friend" of my Dad suddenly decided that I would be the perfect wife for his seventeen year old son and wanted to make sure that he "booked" me in advance by having us engaged. Needless to say my parents were shocked at the idea and turned him down on the grounds that it was way too early to be thinking about my marriage and they would let me decide when the time was right. The strange thing was both me and the other guy were still in school and people were already thinking about marriage! All through college I have been faced with situations where people have tried to set up alliances. Any social gathering is fair game. Especially weddings and Pujas. They are the holy ground for people to single out prospective brides and grooms and figure out who they are, what family and caste they belong to and try and set up some sort of connection to get the ball rolling. Two months before I got married I was at a friend's wedding when a rather enthusiastic lady came up to my Mom and introduced herself as Mrs so-and-so. She went on to say that she had found me very attractive and having found out that I had just completed medical school she thought I would be an ideal bride for her nephew who was a doctor. Before we could say a single word she added her nephew had finished his FRCS and was returning to India to set up his own practice and needed a wife who would understand the call of his profession and therefore it would be good if she was a doctor too. However the family was not too keen on a careeristic woman because she would not take care of the family and would I be okay with not pursuing any post-graduation but staying at home. I almost thought that I was having a nightmare. First of all here's this woman who we had not ever seen or heard of until like two minutes back. Then she was standing there trying to set up an alliance with someone I had no clue about. And most importantly she had the audacity to propose the most ridiculous offer I could imagine. Could this woman be for real? Before I could say anything my Mom told her that I was getting married in less than two months and wheeled me away from the woman. I was almost on the verge of asking her how she proposed to find such woman for her nephew. Till this date I wonder whether that family found a suitable bride for the guy, someone who would be so enthralled by the offer of being his wife that she would be more than willing to stay at home and give up her career.
This is turning out to be one of the longest posts I've done and I think I shouldn't torture anyone who has had the patience to read so far, anymore. My whole point was not trying to say that arranged marriages are bad and don't work. That is generalizing. There are probably more examples of people in arranged marriages who have held on than people who had love marriages and broke up. But that would probably be due to other reasons. Expectations for one. People who fell in love and got married have a certain amount of expectation from their partner as opposed to an arranged marriage where you go in blindfolded not knowing what to expect. And when a partner falls short of expectations that's when things start looking a little rough. Another reason why arranged marriages in the past fared so well was because women were dependant on their husbands and the family. With more women working and financial independence comes self-esteem and the knowledge that one can get out and still survive. In today's world I guess that point would be evened out.
I am not passing judgement on anyone here but personally I would never go the "arranged" route. I feel the whole procedure of the "arrangement" is demeaning to the girl and her family. People should be encouraged to take decisions about their own lives and allowed to live with their decisions. And if it happens to be a mistake, then what the heck.......you only have your ownself to blame.Update
: Found this
really nicely written post on the matter and couldn't help but link it here.