ARRANGED MARRIAGES IN INDIA

ARRANGED MARRIAGES IN INDIA

It is estimated that 80 percent of all marriages in South Asia are arranged by the bride and groom's parents. Many future spouses in India have never met one another before they are introduced by their parents. Even so arranged marriages have a very high success rate. There are fewer divorces with arranged marriages than with love marriages based on the fact there are relatively low divorce rates in countries with arranged marriages and high divorce rates in countries with love marriages.

Marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents of the same caste in different villages between young people who have never met. In the old days parents had more say over their children's future spouse than their children did. Once a couple decided that they wanted to get married they were not allowed to date or meet each other between the engagement and the wedding day. Even today romance plays little part in selecting a mate, many young people say they are opposed to courtship and they trust their parent’s judgment rather than their own when it comes to selecting a mate. [Source: Molly Moore, Washington Post]

Almost all Indian children are raised with the expectation that their parents will arrange their marriages, but an increasing number of young people, especially among the college-educated, are finding their own spouses. So-called love marriages are deemed a slightly scandalous alternative to properly arranged marriages. Some young people convince their parents to "arrange" their marriages to people with whom they have fallen in love. [Source: Library of Congress]

The days when arranged marriages involved parents decreeing who would marry whom and then haggling over the dowry are largely gone among the middle class. Prospective mates generally have the power to accept or reject the choices made for them. Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Although the tradition of arranged marriages has a practical value in preserving family traditions and values, it encounters some opposition as young Indian men and women learn of the Western tradition of romance and love. Urban middle-class Indians are most affected. Most Indian men and women attending college outside India are careful not to compromise their prospects back home by letting their family or parents know they have dated a foreigner. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]

Reasons for Arranged Marriages in India

Indians are very practical about marriage and the union of bride and groom is often seen as a merger of business and family. Caste, income levels, education and astrology are all taken into consideration. Astrology is given a lot of weight. Indians believe mismatched stars can cause a lifetime of trouble.

In much of India, especially in the north, a marriage establishes a structural opposition between the kin groups of the bride and groom--bride-givers and bride-takers. Within this relationship, bride-givers are considered inferior to bride-takers and are forever expected to give gifts to the bride-takers. The one-way flow of gifts begins at engagement and continues for a generation or two. The most dramatic aspect of this asymmetrical relationship is the giving of dowry. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The wedding is regarded as the beginning of a relationship rather than the culmination of one. Couples look forward to the future as an opportunity for their relationship to grow and love to develop. Partners are not expected to be great lovers and soul mates but rather people who are reliable and complementary. Parents are often regarded as better judges of character, common interests and comparability than the prospective partners themselves.

This process has long been possible for Indians from the south and for Muslims who want to marry a particular cousin of the appropriate marriageable category. In the upper classes, these semi-arranged love marriages increasingly occur between young people who are from castes of slightly different rank but who are educationally or professionally equal. If there are vast differences to overcome, such as is the case with love marriages between Hindus and Muslims or between Hindus of very different caste status, parents are usually much less agreeable, and serious family disruptions can result.*

Sentiments About Arranged Marriages in India

Explaining why he entered a marriage arranged by his mother, one Indian-born, American-educated Rajput man living in New York, told the New York Times, "I had mixed feelings with the concept. I didn't think I would necessarily go through with it. But my reservations got pushed to the side when I met her. I had an incredible feeling that this was the right thing to do."

Explaining why she would entered an arranged marriage Indian-born, American-educated Shalmali Pal wrote in Newsweek, "In the end I'm just lazy. Marrying an Indian means a lot less explaining...Marriages strike me as stressful enough...Fitting in to a family with ties that are several time zones away could be to much to ask." One young Indian-American man told Newsday, "My parents are the two people in the world who know me best, both my strengths and weaknesses. Why wouldn't I want their input in the most important decision in my life."

One woman told The Times, “Marriage is a lottery, whether it is a love marriage or arranged. All you can do is get a ‘sense’ of what the person is like and a gut feeling for whether you want to give it a try or not. I met my husband alone only once and agreed to marry him. I trusted my parents.”

Love Marriages, Honor and Dating in India

Although the vast majority of Indian marriages continue to be arranged by parents, Westernized "love" marriages are on the rise. At the same time although love marriages are more common that they once were, young couples make sure their unions fall within the bounds of caste and religious propriety.

For both males and females, free association with the opposite sex is limited, and dating in the Western sense is essentially limited to members of the educated urban elite. Dating is still considered taboo by many Indians. Casual sex is very rare, even in the hippest of crowds. Most couple have not even held hands before they are married. To some extent pre-marital sex is tolerated among boys but is not allowed from girls.

Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The marital bond involves a social sanction generally in the form of a civil or/and religious ceremony authorizing two persons of the opposite sex to engage in sexual relations and assume the consequent and correlated socioeconomic relationships and responsibilities society maintains for a married couple. Under the kind of social structure that caste has given rise to in India, there are certain restrictions in the limits beyond which the parents, in the case of an arranged marriage, and a man and a woman, in the case of a love marriage, cannot go in choosing a spouse; he/she must invariably marry outside his or her own gotra. (Gotra is the name of the ancestral head or father of the family.) A decision to marry is usually marked by an “engagement” where the elders of both the parties announce their intention to conduct the marriage to their family and friends. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]

On the expectations of Indian parents of their teenage children, Sailesh Muki posted Quora.com: “1) "Study hard now so you can enjoy life later" Later: "Work hard now so your children can enjoy life", And the cycle goes on... 2) "This is not the time for love. There is plenty of time for that after marriage". 3) Girl gives a boy her class notes near canteen in college. Dad sees it. Dad: "Who is that boy and why were you talking to him". Terrified Girl: "My classmate. I was giving him notes". Dad: "How can you talk to boys alone? You will lose your honor!" Dad gets her married in a few months and tells her only a week before the marriage. 4) A girls parents looking for alliances for their daughter see a not good looking but fair guy: "What a handsome boy!" Same people see a good-looking but dark guy: "We don't want a black son in law". 5) Many parents make their daughters study only because the girl will have better chances of getting a better husband. Because the "new trend" is people like educated girls. \*/ [Source: Sailesh Muki, Quora.com, April 18 2013 \*/]

After Hindu children reach puberty, the sexes are separated so there is little interaction between teenage girls and boys. According to one survey in the 1990s less than nine percent of all newlyweds have had premarital sex and less than a third do it on their wedding night. However, premarital sex does occur. Although the male may escape social repudiation if such liaisons become known, the female may suffer lasting damage to her own reputation and bring dishonor to her family. Further, if a woman is sexually linked with a man of lower caste status, the woman is regarded as being irremediably polluted, "like an earthen pot." A male so sullied can be cleansed of his temporary pollution, "like a brass pot," with a ritual bath. [Source: Library of Congress]

A girl’s honor is held in high regard. Wolf whistles can result in a prison sentence for "outraging the modesty of a woman." In the 1990s six people were murdered after a boy reportedly made a lewd remark about a girl at a wedding. The boy was beaten to the death by members of the girls family. Members of the boy's family retaliated by beating to death five members of the girls family.

Indian Arranged Marriage Process

Tejasvita Apte wrote in Quora.com: “ Arranged marriages in India are like family approved / arranged dating. You search for profiles through marriage bureaus or websites and you select a person based on your likes and interests, much like how dating works in other countries. Your family (mainly your parents) also play a role in this (That's what's different!). You call your choice and arrange to meet in a public place, a restaurant or a coffee house. You meet a couple of times and if you like each other, you get engaged. There is generally a gap of 6-8 months between marriage and engagement in which time you get to know the other person better.” [Source: Tejasvita Apte, Quora.com, November 19, 2014]

Anjishnu Kumar posted on Quora.com: “This is how an arranged marriage happens in modern India. 1) Man decides he wants to get married. (Possibly because parents start blackmailing him about grandchildren as he reaches age 30). 2) Woman decides she wants to get married. (Possibly because parents start blackmailing her about grandchildren as she reaches 25). 3) Both put out feelers in their social networks. They may put up a profile on an online matrimonial site. [Source: Anjishnu Kumar, Quora.com, June 2, 2014 |=|]

“They find each other. Extremely deep background checks happen. Possibly going back 2 generations or more and covering all relatives up to second-cousins of the potential candidates. Parents are somewhat protective. On one hand you may not know the person, er, personally. But you would know if his second cousin was an alcoholic or if his family had a history of male pattern baldness. |=|

“Guy and Girl meet. After this is a disconnect. Some families are overly eager and try to force them to make a decision as early as possible. Increasingly however, would-be couples spend months getting to know each other before taking such a big decision and make sure they get to know each other well. Marriage Happens. |=|

Choosing an Arranged Marriage Partner in India

Finding the perfect partner for one's child can be a challenging task. People use their social networks to locate potential brides and grooms of appropriate social and economic status. Increasingly, urban dwellers use classified matrimonial advertisements in newspapers. The advertisements usually announce religion, caste, and educational qualifications, stress female beauty and male (and in the contemporary era, sometimes female) earning capacity, and may hint at dowry size. [Source: Library of Congress]

The arranged marriage process usually begins when word is sent out that a family is looking for a rishta (union or alliance). Uncles, aunts, grandparents and family friends are often as active as parents are in the search for a mate. Chitra Divakaruni wrote in Newsday, family members "consult extensively with the bride or groom to be and find out what they would like in a partner...Then, keeping in mind their offsprings; interests, temperament and family background, they sound out feelers into the community.” Height is an important consideration. Sometimes as important as income.

Indian women regard men who are chartered accountants, managers and company secretaries to be good catches. The status of software engineers rises and falls with the tech economy. One astrologer told Newsweek, "The father of the bride considers the bridegroom's education and earning potential, the mother considered the groom's manners, the groom ponders the bride's beauty and charming personality—and the relatives just want to enjoy a nice dinner." Indian Newspaper Marriage Notices

The pages of major urban Sunday newspapers are filled with hundreds of matrimonial advertisements used by young men and women, and their parents, to search for the prefect mate. Parents are usually the ones that take out the ads and respond to them.

The matrimonial listings in The Times of India are organized according to caste, language and religion, with special categories for "Doctors," "Working Girls," and "Defence" (army families). They also have their own special nomenclature. "Homey" means a good housemaker; an "innocent divorcee" is someone from an unconsummated marriage. "Wheatish" is a skin color, "doshas" are weak star positions. "Caste no bar" means that caste is not a concern although in reality it usually is.

A Catholic education is so prized that "convent educated" is listed in matrimonial ads as a virtue highly sought after by well-to-do families. Women over 25 have traditionally been considered over the hill. Admitting that a woman is that old is accompanied by assertion that she looks younger than her age or has been spending her time getting educated.

Some typical arranged marriage ads: 1) "Parents of extremely beautiful, very fair, homey, talented Hindu Khatri girl, 21, MA fine arts, invite correspondence from smart, highly educated officer or professional status businessman from highly placed family. Only cultured, respected, educated and well placed families need correspond." 2) “Fair handsome sincere Punjabi Brahman Bank Manager seeks well educated employed partner having strong family values. Issueless widower having curable accidental burn marks on forearms but no concessions offered." [Source: Molly Moore, Washington Post]

3) Really beautiful very slim tall BE/ME (Comp/Electronic) MCA girl from reputed Hindi family...for Vaish (Madheiya), very fair handsome boy 29/180/65 M. Tech Software Eng. in USA on H-1 visa coming to India next month. Early marriage. [Source: Chitra Divakaruni, Atlantic Monthly, March 2000]

Over the years the ads have changed quite a bit. A typical 1970s ad might have said “Brahma girl, 21, homely, knows cooking, sewing, knitting. Cheerful personality.” Ones today feature young ladies with an MSc., MBA and a position at a respected multinational firm looking for "software professionals, doctors, MBAs with six-figure salaries” and "modern with a traditional touch," and "dowry seekers excused" [meaning not wanted]. [Source: Amit Pasricha, The Times, October 3, 2004; Chitra Divakaruni, Atlantic Monthly, March 2000]

Meetings for Arranged Marriages in India

In rural areas, matches between strangers are usually arranged without the couple meeting each other. Rather, parents and other relatives come to an agreement on behalf of the couple. In cities, however, especially among the educated classes, photographs are exchanged, and sometimes the couple are allowed to meet under heavily chaperoned circumstances, such as going out for tea with a group of people or meeting in the parlor of the girl's home, with her relatives standing by. Young professional men and their families may receive inquiries and photographs from representatives of several girls' families. They may send their relatives to meet the most promising candidates and then go on tour themselves to meet the young women and make a final choice. In the early 1990s, increasing numbers of marriages arranged in this way link brides and grooms from India with spouses of Indian parentage resident in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.*

Sometimes there are hundreds of answers to ads run in newspapers and families carefully sift through them and select maybe 25 or 30 of them for quickie meetings. “Once they locate likely prospects, they create a venue (often a party at a common friend's home) for the young couple to meet informally." Sometimes they meet at a local restaurant or Internet café.

The meeting are often set up by an uncle or aunt at their house and lasts less than half an hour. Often the meetings seem more like an audition or a job interview than a social occasion. Sometimes a suitor shows up with a large entourage of family members. These meeting usually begins with interviews of the potential suitors by the parents. The young woman pours tea and offers sweets while the prospective lifelong partners make awkward conversation. Sometimes the families sit together and chat while the potential suitors simply eye each. If they like what they see a meeting is arranged for them alone.

There are also arranged bride viewings. Sometimes prospective grooms and brides are chosen at gatherings with thousands of families at indoor stadiums. At these young men and women line up on opposite sides of the stadium and introduce themselves in front of a microphone one by one. Sometimes, after that mates are selected right then and there on the spot, usually by the parents.

Dating Among Prospective Mates for an Arranged Meetings

After a potential mate is selected a meeting is arranged. A young man who met his future wife after meeting 15 women told the Washington Post she was "a balance of everything I wanted—education, family, background, looks and personality...Love? The attraction was there. In a semi-arranged marriage there is no question of love."

Often a young woman picks the first man she feels at least semi-comfortable talking to. A young woman told the Washington Post she chose her future husband after 30 potential suitors because he was “the first one I had a descent conversation with...We had things in common....He was honest, which was nice...I thought, ‘OK, this could work.’”

Some suitors are like nightmares from hell. One woman told the Times, “We had one guy coming with an army of relatives. He was working in Dubai and wore tight nylon trousers and a gold chain. His hair was oily. I wasn’t in the least interested. I rushed in the kitchen where the maid was getting a big spread ready. I told her serve only half because I wanted him out of here real fast.”

"If the 'couple' like each other, they are encouraged to meet again—on their own or with groups of friends—so they get to know each other. The final decision—to marry or to look further—is theirs to make." A typical married couple has a formal first meeting and then go once together to a movie and once on boat ride in lake, after which time a decision is made and meetings are held with families for approval of the wedding. The whole process from first meeting to wedding takes about seven or eight months.

Astrologers, Matchmakers and Detectives

A sakhi is a go between. They are often relatives who offer help making selections, make arrangements for the parents to exchange photographs and talk on the phone, and arrange meetings between the prospective partners. Sometimes the prospective groom or bride are engaged in process. If a young man likes a girl, for example, he may lobby the sakhi to persuade his parents to select her.

Sometimes professional matchmakers are sought out. One problem matchmakers face is exaggeration. Mothers say their son or three inches taller than they really are and say their daughters are prettier than they really are. Another problem is the relationship between mother- and daughter-in-law. One matchmaker told the Washington Post: "After meeting the girl, we meet the boy's mother to see her temperament. The main wars will take place between the wife and mother-in-law. We make sure they are compatible." [Source: Molly Moore, Washington Post]

Astrologers are consulted. Parents supply detailed birth-star and subcaste information. They sometimes consult celestial records inscribed on birch bark strips for auspicious days and times for weddings and other events. Rich families are often suspicious of suitors and their credentials. Sometimes they call their employers to see if their claims are for real. Detectives, investigating the social and financial backgrounds of the family. Sometimes detective are even hired to find out whether a prospective bride is a virgin. Sometimes they accompany the inquiring family posed as an uncle. "I can afford to put the penetrating questions to them," one detective told the Washington Post. Even so he said he learned the most by visiting the bathroom. "You can read a lot about a family by visiting their toilet," he said. [Ibid]

Changes in Indian Arranged Marriages

Molly Moore wrote in the Washington Post: "In a society that is becoming increasingly mobile, more urbanized and better educated, the centuries-old science of arranged marriages is undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis. With more families migrating from the familiar social circles of ancestral villages to anonymous urban centers, classified ads have replaced parental networks, professional matchmakers have supplanted socially connected relatives, and detective agencies have overtaken village word-of-mouth to verify family background." [Source: Molly Moore, Washington Post <<<]

"Indian society is in the midst of a social transition," a scholar told Moore. "With the spread of education and westernization of society, change is taking place in the family and in social customs. No institution has shown more change and strains than the system of marriage." A New Delhi yuppie told the Washington Post, "My father and mother got married after meeting only once. A lot of my generation would laugh that off completely today. In urban areas, things have changes. You're exposed to more people, you interact outside the family more freely. It enables us to judge for ourselves who would make a good life partner. Now we believe in 'semi-arranged' marriages." <<<

Internet matchmaking services have revolutionized arranged marriages. Families use the Internet to find prospective partners. The listings are not unlike those found in newspapers with prospective mates demanding “guileless, clean habits” and “glasses-if at all—with negligible refractive errors.” Studies have shown the Internet has allowed young people to play a more active role in finding a partner.

Criteria for Choosing an Indian Arranged Marriage Mate

One woman, who told her parents "I wanted to choose my husband myself" and refused to meet men recommended by her relatives, finally married a man her mother selected from a newspaper ad. The couple never dated before they were married. Some weeks before the wedding she said, "I don't have any sense of who he is—he's not even totally a friend yet...I was a bit of a coward...It's less dangerous this way."

An auto-lamp dealer who chose a bride for his son at a gathering of thousands of families at an indoor stadium told Newsweek, "I liked her face so I selected her for my son. I wanted a decent girl who could manage my home affairs. My wife has died: have no daughters. Now I have her." A young woman from a well-to-do Bombay family told the Times, “I’m clear about one thing. I want a guy with a good income, an investment banker or executive.” One Muslim college graduate told Newsweek, "In an arranged marriage you expect nothing and you are mentally poised to adjust to life with a stranger. In a love marriage you enter with high expectation, and if they are not fulfilled the marriage shatters."

Monisha Pasupathi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah wrote: “In a study of thirty-seven cultures, male and female college students reported the qualities of (1) dependability, (2) intelligence, (3) kindness-understanding, and (4) emotional stability as most important in a prospective mate (Buss et al. 1989)... Respondents from Asian countries (particularly Pakistan, India, and Thailand) reported a willingness to marry a person they did not love, but who possessed all their desired qualities in a mate. They were also unwilling to consider divorce when love is not maintained, in contrast to Western and South American countries. Thus, Eastern/Asian respondents view love as somewhat less important at the beginning of a marriage and regard the absence of love as a less adequate criterion for divorce. One explanation for such findings could be that Eastern/ Asian respondents believe that love develops during the course of a marriage, a view that would be consistent with existing evidence (Gupta and Singh 1982). But, as Hazan and Diamond (2000) point out, self-reported preferences are an inadequate source of information regarding actual selection criteria. For actual selection criteria, looking at the procedures for arranging marriages or the characteristics of mates that have been selected is more revealing. [Source: “Inside the American Couple: New Thinking/New Challenges” edited by Marilyn Yalom, Laura L. Carstensen, Estelle Freedman and Barbara Gelpi, University of California Press, 2002 *+*]

“In Kerala, India, the criteria for marriage partners are multidimensional and include (1) religion/horoscope matching, (2) character, (3) education, (4) dowry, (5) appearance (girls/women), (6) employment, (7) caste/subcaste, (8) geographic distance between families, (9) financial status, and (10) family status, tradition, and reputation. A minimum of five characteristics must be of a suitable nature (i.e., similar across both parties or acceptable given that family's expectations) for a match to be considered by the parents (Yelsma and Atthappilly 1988). My own relatives, from the state of Madras, report similar considerations: educational background, social background, and family qualities of the prospective bride and bridegroom are all at issue. These considerations are important in many countries other than India where parental or matchmaker-driven arrangement of marriage is practiced. *+*

“The result of these criteria is that arranged-marriage practices tend to pair spouses who are similar in terms of major background characteristics like class, economic status, and education. Arranged-marriage practices also take into consideration character and physical health, perhaps particularly so when the new couple will live with the entire family. On first glance, such criteria seem far removed from romantic love and mutual attraction. However, as discussed earlier, those from cultures where love marriage predominates also consider character when choosing marriage partners. The desirable character qualities such as kindness or a considerate nature tend to be similar across cultures.” *+*

Do Arranged Marriage Work?

Anjishnu Kumar posted on Quora.com: “No one knows the statistics. Marriage is too personal for anyone to conduct research on the issue. There are enough arranged marriages that work, and there are enough love-marriages that fail- for people not to be convinced by the argument. Up till the last generation or two- almost 100% of marriages were arranged. I know of several good and terrible marriages of both kinds and its difficult to find a pattern of 'arranged-bad'/'love-good'. [Source: Anjishnu Kumar, Quora.com, June 2, 2014 |=|]

“The mechanism for failure exists in both cases. In arranged marriages its somewhat obvious- prospective mates often have a superficial understanding of each other, parents look at 'correlatives' to success- and ignore important things. If the guy is from a well off family, has the equivalent of an Ivy education and works for some big investment bank- they might have enough stardust in their eyes to ignore the fact that he's an asshole and may be viewing the marriage as a transaction. Love-marriages fail, on the other hand, because they are reactionary to arranged marriages, and do not take into account the very factors that arranged marriages love to dissect (income, education, family background, religious and caste identity etc), and then some of these factors actually turn out to be important in the long run. |=|

Tejasvita Apte wrote in Quora.com: “Looking at the divorce rate of India, marriages do work. Most of them do. Arranged marriages in India (and obviously there will be exceptions to this) are moreover like family approved / arranged dating. The most important reason for marriages (whether arranged or love) to work in India is: Indians on the whole respect marriage as an institution. No matter, how wealthy or how successful both men and women are conditioned to safeguard the marriage. People divorce only as a last resort after they have exhausted all other solutions. In my opinion, this is a good thing.[Source: Tejasvita Apte, Quora.com, November 19, 2014 ^^]

“There were times when people didn't take a divorce because it was socially unacceptable, but those days are gone. Indians don't take a divorce because we firmly believe in family system. We believe in the institution of marriage. Most people who divorce also re-marry. Marriage (whether love or arranged) is a serious business in India. We are conditioned to give it our 100%. People are conditioned to let go off the small differences. In my case for instance, me and my husband belong to different states and don't speak each other's languages. The only common language is English and that's how we communicate. We are very different people and that difference is both respected and well as admired. Marriage means a lot more than mere sexual relation or having children. It is seen as life long companionship. I have seen couples make so many sacrifices for each other as well as their children. And this applies to both men and women.This is why marriages work. Both love and arranged.” ^^

Argument for Love Marriages in India

One 18-year-old young man posted on Quora.com: “Dating isn't for the weak. It takes courage to go down a knee, it takes bravery to face rejection. It takes character to be someone more than the colleges you attend and spirit to be someone who isn't only breathing but is also alive. While their European and American peers are risking heartbreak and growing emotionally, Indian men are cosseted in their parent-regulated cocoons waiting for their wives on a platter. The low divorce rates stem from this very cocooned upbringing. Divorce is a big big decision and if you've never had the guts to date do you think you can find the strength to fight a divorce, that too when your parents and everyone you know will disapprove of it? [Source: Quora.com September 20, 2013 />/]

“I've been in love. It is a wonderful wonderful feeling. It cannot be simulated or faked or arranged. An arranged marriage is a feeble shot at some watered down version of love. You simply cannot throw two supposedly "compatible" individuals together and tell them to fall in love. Love is a spontaneous reaction. And some basic chemistry will tell you that chaos-creating spontaneous reactions tend to be exothermic. />/

“I'm sure love is possible in an arranged marriage. But why take a chance when you can start off a marriage from scratch being in love? Why take a chance to live a loveless life? You risk to lose more than you will ever gain. When you marry someone, you forge that ONE relationship that you get a say in. You get a choice. I couldn't choose who gets to be my parents, who gets to be my brother. It was all a 'default' setting. But when it comes to my wife, that choice is all me. The very nature of the choice puts that relationship on a different level--it exists because it is ALL me, I initiated it, I worked on it, I willed it into being. And this one girl destined to be my wife is too special to be picked out in a cattle-fair. />/

“People aren't sheep to be traded based on set factors like the color of their fleece, the family they were born, the meadows they've been made to graze on--things that they had no control whatsoever of. Most arranged marriages stand on fickle earth. Caste. Religion. Family-background. Nationality. Occupation. Labels. You're marrying labels. Stop marrying labels, start marrying people.” />/

Impact of Arranged Marriages on India

Anjishnu Kumar posted on Quora.com: ““On the whole- I feel that arranged marriages have a detrimental effect on Indian culture (By culture here I mean not the traditions of the past, but the values inherent to the equitable, secular, tolerant and responsible society we claim to want to become) . Arranged marriages are often steeped in casteism and deleterious tradition and the majority have some kind of passive-aggressive coercion going on, the woman often feels pressured- indirectly if not directly. A big chunk of Indians are socially inept and would find it awkward to enter into a relationship- these guys actually look forward to arranged marriages as it takes the onus of success off them. They can solve well defined problems- "get into a good college", "get a high paying job", "be respectful to women", but dating and relationships are not well defined problems- you can do everything right and still end up in a bad shape, and you need to work hard to develop the social skills needed to succeed. [Source: Anjishnu Kumar, Quora.com, June 2, 2014 |=|]

“To some extent I'm in this group (the difference being that I don't WANT to have an arranged marriage). Scoring 99+ percentiles on standardized tests, studying my ass off, making lots of money, music, art, are all things I can do quite easily, I can even be extremely charming around the opposite sex on occasion- but I find it difficult to maintain steam after a couple of dates and avoid slipping into friendzone-land. Learning a new programming language or some financial analytics tool is much easier than figuring out how to build a relationship and make it last. There are no set rules, and if you don't have an instinct for it, you're sort of screwed. |=|

“This situation is exacerbated by arranged marriages- we don't, in general, know how to date, and the only way to learn is by doing it until you start getting it right. But there is a social stigma against dating much (being labelled a whore in 'modern' India is as easy as having 2 boyfriends within the span of a year, really) which leads to a rather unconducive environment to any kind of progress. This stigma, combined with the vilification of divorcees and unmarried individuals, is probably a major reason for our low divorce rate, and honestly, I am not convinced that it is something to be proud of. |=|

Successful Arranged Marriage of an Indian Professional

Monisha Pasupathi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah wrote: “My cousin told her parents she wanted to complete her MBA and work for one year prior to considering potential marriage partners. She wanted to enjoy some time as an independent woman without domestic pressures, although she always knew that she eventually wanted to get married. Her parents (my father's brother and his wife) were quite comfortable with this request. When the time came to search for a husband, my cousin contributed some criteria for the search process, stipulating educational level, asking for someone who would be flexible about whether she worked or not, someone easygoing with a sense of humor, who was vegetarian, and did not smoke. As is quickly evident, these kinds of criteria would not look out of place in an American personals advertisement, which supports the idea that most people seek someone nice as a spouse (Zeifman and Hazan 1997; Hazan and Diamond 2000). [Source: “Inside the American Couple: New Thinking/New Challenges” edited by Marilyn Yalom, Laura L. Carstensen, Estelle Freedman and Barbara Gelpi, University of California Press, 2002 *+*]

“My cousin also met each candidate and spoke with him about her own preferences and expectations and about his. When the two prospective spouses found their views were incompatible, the matter of a potential match was immediately dropped. Eventually, one candidate was found, living quite far away (in the United States) but with a suitable horoscope. Due to the distance, my cousin spoke several times by phone with the prospective groom, and cousins living in the United States made an effort to speak to the groom by phone and to meet with him personally as well. In India, my cousin and her parents were able to meet the parents of the prospective bridegroom. When the match appeared potentially good, the prospective groom made a trip to India and after some meetings, he and my cousin decided to marry. My cousin reports being quite content with her decision, and her summary of her first months of marriage as requiring “adjust[ing] to each other's idiosyncrasies” also does not sound particularly different from any other new marriage in the United States. *+*

“Had my cousin met someone and fallen in love, her marriage choice would probably not have been opposed by her parents, according to both herself and her mother. When this did not happen, she chose to go with a modernized version of the traditional practice. Her situation is not unusual in India today and probably not particularly unusual in other cultures either. *+*

“My cousin's marriage is very new, less than two years old... But her mother, whose marriage was also arranged, wrote me that “whether it is an arranged marriage or love marriage, when two individuals with…different backgrounds start living together, many situations will arise where each has to make compromises and adjustments.…The definition of a perfect marriage is: living together in good and bad times, providing children a good education, and raising children to be good citizens.” Such a marriage, my aunt suggests, requires the husband and wife to understand and respect one another without being excessively selfish. My cousin similarly notes that “any marriage calls for lots of adjustments by both the husband and the wife.” *+*

“Clearly, arranged marriages in my family have been successful, at least if marital longevity and the apparent happiness of participants are any indication. Further, within my family, practices of finding spouses for children are largely similar for female and male children and in their modern form do not involve practices such as bride-viewing or child marriages (my paternal grandmother was probably betrothed prior to puberty, consistent with the practices of her generation, although exact knowledge of her age at the time of the betrothal is hard to obtain).” *+*

Escaping from an Indian Arranged Marriage and Finding Happiness with a Poor Man

One 18-year-old young man posted on Quora.com: “Had my Punjabi mother, daughter of an Indian Navy Admiral picked out a photograph from a dossier of research on 'compatibility, taste and education', would she have ever married a Telugu clerk's unemployed son? Would he have even made it to round-1 of "back-end work and filtering"? When my parents 'ran away' to escape my mother's impending forced arranged-marriage to an IAS officer, between the both of them they had a couple of M.Coms and a single job. My mother married a jobless, penniless, part-time crossword-setter (cruciverbalist, he will insist) who wrote her off-the-cuff poetry on restaurant napkins with a crazy glint under his tousled hair. [Source: Quora.com September 20, 2013 />/]

“Everyone predicted with the air of a Divination Professor that they had destroyed their once-promising academic lives. Her parents, his parents, their friends, every single person they knew--"objectively" told them this was a bad idea. Everyone seemed to 'know' that, it was certain, they were 'too different'. Everyone other than my parents. They coached each other to clearing the M Phil entrance. She taught him Statistics, he taught her Math. And then came the Ph.D entrace at one of India's top universities. My mum never intended to do a Ph.D ("too much effort for two letters in front of your name"). She sat for the test purely because "I am smarter than him, and he be called Dr? Kabhi nahi". There were two seats in their Department in the Open Category that year. Out of the few thousand unmarried, undistrtced, not-in-love applicants who sat for the test , my mother ranked first and my father finished second. />/

“I have seen first hand what my parents have and I can't settle for anything less. I want those random dreamy-loved-up looks across the room, I want to not hang-up on the phone 20+ years into marriage, I want framed restaurant napkins with poetry, I want 'I'll-carry-you-up-the-stairs', I want Saturday-night movie-watching/cuddling and I want mock super-competitive Scrabble. I refuse to believe that this zing, this spark, this twinning of souls can be "gamed" or "matched".

Arranged Marriage Horror Story: Husband Bets Wife’s Virginity on a Soccer Game

One woman posted on Quora.com: I was born and brought up in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. I had just completed my B.Sc from Agra when my parents decided to get me married. I was okay with it, since I had lost 2 years after my 12th standard in pursuit of getting a medical seat. I had to reject the first two suitors because of various reasons. The third rejected me because he thought I was too short for him. The fourth was the best. He worked in Bangalore, was from Allahabad and hailed from a good family. He was too busy with his work, so we met on Skype for the first time. We liked each other. [Source: Quora.com, January 6, 2015 ***]

“But there was one big problem: I had to tell my decision right after the chat. I asked for time and I got one full night to decide. Ironic isn't it: you just get 8 hours to decide your future life partner, whereas you get 2 full years just to try for an entrance exam? My gut said that he was good. I had just read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist then, so I thought the less time available was a good omen and was directing me to take the right decision. I agreed. Both families discussed and our engagement was set in Allahabad, one month later. He used to call me regularly during this period. We both got involved in each others lives. On the E day, I met him for the first time and damn!, he was taller than his parents mentioned. But he looked like a movie star. I fell in love with him that instant! Alas, he had to go back the same night. ***

“Our marriage was fixed four months later, on Septrmber 12th. His calls were increasing, I just loved it. I also got to know of his severe alcohol problem! But he promised he'd quit after marriage, so it was fine. But, suddenly in the middle of July he started avoiding me really bad. He used to switch off his phone, cut my calls and never reply on WhatsApp. I got tensed. I wanted to inform his parents, but was too scared. I get a text at 3 a.m. on July 29th. The text was this: "Are you a Virgin?" I really did not know where that came from, but I was scared. However, I gathered my courage and replied, "Yes, but what happened? Why were you avoiding me? Has anybody told anything against me?" He did not reply. He started picking my calls, but never spoke wholeheartedly. Even upon repeated questioning, he never told me the reason for his behaviour. I was really depressed and worried. By then, my parents had already spent so much for marriage, so I didn't want to do anything that would hurt them. ***

“Finally we got married. And he was gloomy throughout the occasion. As per our tradition, the bride should go to the groom's place after the marriage. We went to their house. The bed in our room was really decorated, like the one you see in movies. Finally we got to bed around midnight. He did not talk. I was shy too. I do not know if it's appropriate to mention here, but I craved for physical intimacy that particular moment. I asked the reason for his weird behaviour. He didn't speak a word. Suddenly he started crying loudly. He said he had committed some grave mistakes. I told him that we could solve it together. He mentioned that he needed a favour but he would ask for it after going to Bangalore. ***

“We left for Bangalore on September 20th. All these days, we never had sex. Finally, I was told that he had bet huge sums of money on football matches after getting drunk. The amount was around 35 lakh rupees. That is a really huge amount, even for both our families put together. But then, the next thing he told, was the worst thing I had ever heard in my life. He had bet my virginity. He had bet my virginity against 2 lakh rupees! I did not understand, I did not want to believe. He said that there was a guy, named Aamir and he just wanted me to sleep with him and lose my virginity to him. I was devastated. ***

“I did not know anything. I wanted to go back home and cry. But then, family, my sister, everything came to my mind. But, have sex with a stranger, because my fiancé thought he owns me? NO. I told him that I wouldn't have sex with a stranger whatsoever. He told me that he would try to sort the matter out. I was completely broken. My first day in Bangalore gave me the worst news of my life. I just cried and slept. Two people arrived in at the evening. I was under my blanket. Suddenly I felt someone entering. Then a guy put in his hands in my blanket. I shouted loud. They got a bit scared I guess. Those people were having an argument with my husband. I don't remember a single word of it, but they finally left after 20 minutes. I was still in a state of shock, holding the room door closed tightly. I never let my so-called husband in that night. ***

“I called my parents and told them everything at 3 a.m. They contacted one of our relatives in Chennai who came the next morning, picked me up and took me to their place. I stayed there for 5 days and now I'm back to Agra. We have filed a police complaint, formally filed for a divorce and I have still not recovered from my Bangalore horror...Even though we were poor, I grew up with respect. My father spent almost 70 percent of his savings on my marriage. Now, lawyer fees and other expenses...I might be considered as a 'witch' now. Why? I don't know. Other people and the police say that I am doing this for his salary. Would I risk the respect of my parents, my sisters marriage and my entire life for a software engineer's half salary?” ***

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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