It is possible to arrange love
A half hour documentary which busts some myths about arranged marriages (Arranging Love) in the minds of westerners, has been written and directed by Indian Australian Sheila Jayadev. Its made a small splash, and has been invited to be screened at several important film festivals. The film tries to show that arranged marriages are not as bad as they have been projected by the western media. As the filmmaker points out, the idea of what arranged marriages are all about has been influenced by films like Bend it Like Beckham.
I remember when I saw Bend It I was quite intrigued. No family I knew was that conservative. It was as if the Bend It family had arrived from the hinterlands of India…or I had got into a time machine and gone back to a India of a fifty or a hundred years ago. It all seemed sheer melodrama and then I thought, maybe I was wrong, maybe I only knew the modern urban India, and maybe these things happened with the Indian diaspora. After all, when people leave their native land, they can lose touch with the changes that are happening in society back home and can cling on to imagined values.
Arranged marriages lead to as much love between couples as ‘love’ marriages
But coming back to arranged marriages: It is true that those from a different cultural background tend to equate arranged marriages with forced marriages or loveless marriages.
But even as a starry-eyed teenager it never occurred to me that love and arrangement didn’t go together. Being set-up was more like a ‘blind date.’ And I, like everyone else, knew that Bollywood films which told the story of girls and boys who were forced into marriage were few and far between. They were stories were fit for juicy melodramatic plots.
Real life was different. More than 95 (or is it 99?) percent of girls and boys in India get married the arranged way and they are not forced into it, and neither do they not love their spouses!
Finding the right person isn’t easy!
How else can they find a life partner? The society frowns upon free mixing and dating, although dating is rapidly catching on in cities today. And amongst the modern lot, it is not even as clandestine as it is for some. Unfortunately dating is not as widespread as it should be, and that is what compels youngsters to depend on their families to assist them with finding the right life partner.
Personally speaking, if I had not happened to fall in love at 18 and if it had not worked out, I would have accepted an ‘arranged’ match. I never doubted that I would love my future husband and he, me.
We have a large extended family on both sides (21 cousins on one side and more than a dozen on the other) and all but one have had an arranged marriage. And they all wanted it. And why not? An introduction by the parents is not such a bad thing…eligible bachelors from a similar background are short-listed and a meeting arranged. I am not saying there is no pressure to marry a particular person…what I am saying is that the forcing that is shown in Bollywood movies is uncommon in urban India. I firmly believe that forced marriages were uncommon even a hundred years ago and I believe they are uncommon even in rural India! That is because this was and is the only method of getting married for those who don’t date. A hundred years ago, the concept of dating didn’t exist. Only a moron would refuse assistance from family. Generally parents looked for someone from a similar background, and someone who was ‘suited’ in looks to their son or daughter. My mom ‘rejected’ a suitor before she married. She said she fell in love with my dad (the second ‘boy’ she met) at first sight.
Inter-community marriages are discouraged, yes
A good friend of mine was discouraged from marrying a person of another religion…but finally when she did get married, she voluntarily opted for the arranged match. After discussing (with her parents, friends) the pros and cons of marrying someone from another religion, she, a mature 25 year old agreed (the boys’ parents had opposed the marriage as well) that the chances of her being happy with him were not too good. In India, families generally ‘interfere’ in a married couple’s life and if the parents of either party oppose the match, it can make the life of the couple quite miserable. A couple who marries against the wishes of their family usually moves away, and reduces contact with family. She also suffered from guilt because she would be driving the boy away from his family and she too was upset about hurting her parents, whom she believed had her best interests in mind. Even then I did not support my friend’s decision as I believed she should marry the man she already loved. But when she didn’t, I thought she did not love him enough. In urban India, a lot of couples do marry inspite of their parents’ disapproval.
But surely in western cultures as well, if friends and relatives think that a match is not suitable they try to persuade their friend not to take the plunge?
So does an arranged marriage mean marrying a stranger?
While some couples get time to know each other, others don’t. But more often than not, the chemistry exists. That is the important point. Doesn’t something similar happen in a love match too? Two people instantly hit it off and the chemistry between them encourages them to meet again. True, they don’t have marriage on their minds. But they can fall deeper in love, and that is because the chemistry exists in the first place. In an arranged match, the fact that background checks have been done by families protects the couple from the insecurity of being duped. The duping can still happen, but it can happen in a love match too.
And in India, an engagement is not as sacrosanct as marriage. Engagements do break.
The point I am trying to make is that generally it’s rare for people to be forced to marry anyone. The movie The Namesake is one of the more realistic movies about Indian life, and explains how love between a couple develops, and how inevitable it is. A reviewer of this movie wondered why the protagonist (played by Tabu) is shown agreeing to marry a man who is almost a stranger. I found this observation rather funny because the truth is that girls and boys in India are both quite amenable to being ‘set-up’ by their parents. This can happen in western cultures too, only it’s not the parents who set them up, it’s friends.
And the option to reject is a given, specially amongst urban families. I know friends who have ‘rejected’ as many as 20 boys and I know a boy who has ‘rejected’ 100 girls!! In our family it was the norm to meet a guy at least 2-3 times before agreeing to an engagement. The engagement itself could last for weeks or months…enough time to get to know each other. In more conservative families, the girls and boys accept their parents’ choice and they do not get much of an opportunity to get to know their future partner – but this is usually not out of coercion, but because they trust their parents’ judgment and/or are too shy to go out on their own unless they are married.
There is a lot of pressure to get married in India
The main difference is that western society will exert less pressure on a boy or girl to get married. Here, in India, there is a lot of pressure to get married…and have kids. Family is all-important and the relationship of the couple just one component of it. That is why an arranged match, where families try to ensure that the families of the couple also match, becomes all-important. Unfortunately it can become far too important…that is why a lot of youngsters today are seeking their own partners, by dating.
Earlier, the chances of boys and girls from the same community getting along well were very high. Today, girls and boys have developed a strong identity of their own, an identity very distinct from their parents and their community stereotype, and therefore they need a partner who understands this. And it doesn’t matter which community he or she belongs to.
Not that much of a difference between arranged love and just love
This may be anathema to all those who strongly believe in being deeply in love before marrying, but I feel that there isn’t that wide a gap between an arranged match and a love match. When two people marry in the throes of love, what is now called ‘romantic love’, it is not based on very deep feelings. It is also known that romantic love fades away and needs to be replaced by a deep love and this is what makes a marriage work. It is very rare, even in a love match, for this deep love to exist before marriage. If it did, then there would be few divorces!
So, whether a couples’ meeting is arranged by family or friends, or whether they meet on their own…the reality is that they meet and they love each other. Thats the important part.
(Pics copyrighted to me)
Related Reading: Divorce rates of the world
Causes of the increasing divorce rate in India
Can kids save a marriage?
Dating and pre-marital sex happens in secret
For Indian teens marraige and dating often go together
Internet marraige bureaus thriving in India