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A British reality TV show which arranges marriages

November 28, 2007

It was amusing to read of a reality television show called Arrange Me a Marriage, a new show on British television. The presenter of the show (Aneela Rahman) is attempting to match couples – sub-continent style! Similar backgrounds, income, education levels and all the rest of the baggage that we in India are all too familiar with.

I am not at all surprised that the British are aghast. The show seems to be re-enforcing all the stereotypes about arranged marriages. That arranged marriages are not based on chemistry, or love and that partners are selected on the basis of race, caste or that your ‘mom’ arranges it all for you.

Here’s what one reviewer (Gerard O’Donovan) says:

After all, this is the show that insists that you shouldn’t select your spouse for yourself. That your soulmate must be the choice of family and friends…of course, apart from public humiliation, there was nothing really at stake here…

Another (Nirpal Dhaliwal) says

The pilot show in March showed the presenter, Aneela Rahman, castigating a 39-year-old (woman) for dating men she fancied who showed her a good time rather than blokes with money…”Arranged marriage to me is all about class,” Aneela proudly stated. I wonder if she’ll also apply the Asian “no blacks, infidels and untouchables” rule to her arranged marriages along with the “no deadbeats” one. Money is a prime consideration for a lot of Asian parents arranging their children’s marriages, because their children are their pension plans. They don’t care if their kids never have sex again so long as they can retire early and put their feet up watching Bollywood cable channels, knowing their offspring are all working their butts off as one half of a high-earning power couple.

This was said by someone I presume to be of Indian origin. And I also presume that many British people of Indian origin would think this way. Well, if one grows up in a society where one is free to mix and find one’s own partner and also remain unmarried until then (without society pointing fingers at you)…I guess you’d hate the arranged marriage system and see nothing good in it. In fact I wonder why anyone from such a different culture would even want to participate in such a show to arrange herself a partner. Makes one sort of suspect whether it’s all a set-up. And in any case one cannot discount the fame and name that the participants will garner…

Arranged marriages have been demonized
Having said that, I cannot help feeling that arranged marriage have been demonised in the west. The first reviewer I quoted – Gerard O’Donovan – goes on to say (as a reaction to the participant in the show admitting to liking someone as a result of personal chemistry:

As for Rahman (the presenter), well, she seems the sort who shakes a stick at a forest during a storm and claims credit if lightning strikes. For her all this was proof positive that her method works.

But ‘chemistry’ happens all the time in arranged marriages in India, and it’s quite amusing to read that if there is ‘chemistry’ it means that the arranged marriage system is not working! Love/chemistry/passion and arranged matches are not as disconnected as westerners like to believe. In my post on how it is possible to find love in an arranged marriage I have written about how arranged marriages in urban and modern India are neither forced nor loveless.

The perception in the west seems to be that arranged matches are all about money and caste/class. Well, surely this happens in ‘love’ matches too? There is the phenomena of gold-diggers in love matches and frankly I feel the chances of a rich man marrying a gold-digger are fewer in an arranged match as both are likely to come from the same social class.

No, I am not advocating arranged matches but at the same time I don’t think anything is wrong with an arranged match as long as it’s not forced. And today in modern India arranged marriages are not forced. In fact even when arranged marriages which happen the old-fashioned way (where brides and grooms do not know each other), the ‘victims’ are happy with the arrangement and most do find love. However today in urban India this is changing and couples tend to meet a few times before they decide to take it further, and ‘chemistry’ is certainly a big part of the decision. Also there are umpteen instances of engagements breaking (almost every family will have some such incidents to relate) and it can happen when an engaged couple cannot get along or there is a falling out amongst the families. This doesn’t mean the arranged marriage system has failed…it shows how flexible it is.

Are arranged matches in Britain are forced?
The aversion of westerners to arranged marriages could be because arranged marriages within the Indian (or Pakistani) diaspora are forced. I don’t know, I am just guessing. In fact it seems logical to assume that a person born and brought up in Britain would revolt against an arranged marriage.

But this is not how arranged marriages happen here. Most people are not forced, they welcome the idea…either because they know they cannot do it on their own, and/or because of the faith they have in their elders, and/or because they are confident of finding love and happiness even if they are introduced to a future partner by family.

Are such TV shows a good commerical bet?
‘Arrange Me a Marriage’ managed to get about 1.8 million viewers on the night of 22nd November, and an 8 percent audience share between 8-9 p.m. That doesn’t sound like a lot…but it’s quite impossible to guess how audiences will react. Could they be glued to the television show out of sheer curiosity?

In India such shows have not done well at all. There was this show called Kahin naa Kahin koi hai (There’s someone for you somewhere) on Sony TV which flopped even though it was hosted by a very popular star at the time – Madhuri Dixit. Another similar show Swayamvar by Doordarshan also didn’t make as much of a splash as it expected to, and today Indian TV has no such show running. It is likely that these shows failed here because Indian TV viewers found them fake, being all too familiar with how the arranged marriage system works. It’s not easy to find a match and at times can take months and even years.

(All photos have been linked to the originals)

Related Reading: Arranging love
Divorce rates of the world
Causes of the increasing divorce rate in India
Dating and pre-marital sex happens in secret
For Indian teens marraige and dating often go together
Internet marraige bureaus thriving in India

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2007 11:19 am

    Nita: Despite my curiosity I could not get myself to watch this show. I watched the last series for 1 or 2 min and the woman is so bossy that I do not know – barring the desire to be on TV – what makes the show’s subjects tolerate her.

    The arranged-forced dichotomy is likely to be blurred further thanks to this woman’s terrible approach to it. I would however not take Nirpal Dhaliwal’s views on the show seriously – some here would say he epitomises “deadbeat” so he is hardly a person who should comment on deadbeats! (He was married until recently to an older, well-known fashion journalist, not Asian, where she was the high-earning one and he was, er, the deadbeat – now re-read his view again and you will see a whole lot more going on there!)

    (There is a show on TV about Mark Philipoussis trying to land a girlfriend. I thin it is an American show. I am aware of it in passing but yesterday my trainer mentioned it, saying “has he no self-respect”? I would ask that of all reality TV contestants in general.)

    Rant over, some more comments:

    The upper classes/ landed gentry always have had and continue to have – in some shape or form – a version of arranged marriages. Eligible men and women are introduced either through society events or through friends (of similar class – Nirpal Dhaliwal take note) and then if it works out, it may end up in a marriage. The class barrier is very hard to break.

    To go to a bar to get drunk and land a temporary or permanent lay prospect is quite a downmarket practice and although people do not frown on it, it is considered a shorthand for certain regional stereotypes (back to our diversity discussion) here. Friends do in large numbers set up friends on blind dates and if one has read Emma, one will know that “arranged marriages” are not an Indian concept alone.

    I regret such reductionism based shows – almost always some ullu will reduce it to crap. However unlike many Asians here, I do not think it brings shame to me, personally, whatever she does. ;-)

  2. November 28, 2007 11:29 am

    @Shefaly:

    Thanks. Now that you told me about Nirpal Dhaliwal his rant makes sense!
    And I agree that even the English have their version of arranged marriages. Wasn’t diana’s marriage to prince charles ‘arranged’? By Indian standards it would be considered arranged. But if it didn’t succeed it doesn’t mean that arranged marriages can be trashed though. And I am glad you brought up this point. ‘Arranging’ marriages is not as bizarre a concept as westerners like to think!

  3. November 28, 2007 1:55 pm

    @ Nita: I think all marriages are a calculated gamble taken with some degree of sincerity and intent to make it work. Some succeed, some do not.

    Some of the success is down to effort being made every moment by one (though not always the same one) or both people; some of it in some cases is down to inertia. None of the failures is down to a third party. In my view, it almost does not matter how people got married/ committed, it is what they do afterwards that counts.

    And like all else, bilateral volition plays a key role. If one is not willing to keep up, it will break down no matter how many relatives or members of the family intervene. It does not have to divorce to be seen as breakdown; in the absence of a formal divorce, it is like holding pieces of a crushed earthen pot in a piece of cloth tied at the top. It does not make the pot whole any more than holding such broken relationships together by a piece of paper makes them a real relationship. A bit like Charles and Diana’s.

  4. November 29, 2007 11:12 am

    Nita, this issue came up on a forum once, and I think most of the Westerners who responded confused “arranged” with both “forced” and “loveless”.

    Since I’m a Westerner myself, it might surprise you to learn that I think arranged and unarranged marriages are overall equally valid ways of going about getting a good, happy and loving marriage. That’s to say, neither system is anywhere close to perfect, and their success rates seem to be about the same, so far as I’ve heard.

    In my own case, I would have been well advised to have had my family arrange my marriage. Time has shown they had much better taste in partners than I did. But I say that with the perfect vision of hindsight. It never occurred either to me or to them for them to lend a hand in selecting a partner for me.

  5. November 29, 2007 11:19 am

    @Paul:

    well, that’s like a breath of fresh air to me! Well it’s not too late you know! There are matrimonial websites, in case you are interested in marrying an Indian! :) I mean only someone Indian would agree to an arranged match I guess… :)

  6. November 30, 2007 1:29 am

    At 51, I think I’m a little too set in my ways for marriage. Nothing frightens me more than the prospect of having to “clean up my act” and behave myself! :)

  7. November 30, 2007 10:34 am

    @Paul:

    That’s what they say…until they meet the one they are destined to spend the rest of their life with! I think you can get someone who doesn’t ask you to behave yourself by making the terms clear before marriage…that’s the beauty of arranged matches! Uh….I’m joking Paul…don’t take this too seriously. :)

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