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A Westerner Ponders Arranged Marriage

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One of the most interesting things I read in the newspaper while in Delhi was the matrimonials in the Sunday Times of India.  The section consisted of page after page of personal classifieds by families unapologetically seeking the perfect made to order husband or wife for children whose time has come to make a love connection. Some of the ads were very specific.  They spelled out criteria of caste, looks, religion, region and education.  Some ads were placed by families that spent a fortune sending children to the finest colleges and universities in India and abroad.  On the market were Drs., MBAs, and Ph.Ds who studied in prestigious schools in the U.S.A. and U.K. and now were ready for a mate.  Some families who were shopping for love were less particular.  Caste no bar meant that a boy or girl would marry outside of the caste.  In several ads families were requesting “homely” girls.  “Why would anyone want a homely girl?” I asked.  “In America a homely girl is plain and unattractive.”  “No,” my friends informed me.  “A homely girl is one who wants to stay at home.  Not a career woman.”  Do people really meet their soul mates through these ads or is it just families marrying other families, putting medieval rituals ahead of the happiness of their children?  “It is a tradition,” a young man I met in Jodphur told me.  “Those are for people who are desperate,” one of my colleagues said.

Finding a mate in India is definitely a family affair and most marriages are still arranged.  It is easy to impose our western values on India and decry this practice, but India is a country where family comes first and that means who children spend their lives with seems to be everybody’s business.  So in a country with 1.2 billion people it might just be more practical to launch a marketing campaign, especially when you consider the drama involved when young people try to find Mr. or Mrs. Right or Singh or Patel themselves.  Names are not included here to protect the innocent.  Some of the people I spoke with are hiding things from their parents (and as I’ve found out people actually do find and read blogs.)

A young army captain I met on a train told me how he found his wife escorting a friend’s sister home on a bus from the south of India.  They fell in love and wanted to wed but her parents refused to have her marry a man in the military.  Mind you this was a charming, intelligent, handsome man who wrote poetry, for goodness sakes.  He decided to send her father letters every day to prove he was worthy.  Dad finally brought the case before the entire extended family (and it was a very large one) and the council of in-laws gave their consent.

Another couple I know went through alot of drama with parents as they tried to marry.  He pursued her for many months and could not get her off his mind.  She took a great deal of convincing and played very hard to get.  At one point he told his parents it was over.  When she popped up again in his life his parents refused to even consider her.  They eventually married but I am told there was tension at the wedding and there still is a cloud over their union today, mostly because they broke tradition by moving into her families house after the marriage rather than moving into his families house.  Parents have a say in this too, it seems.

As we walked through the old city of Jaisalmer, a man I met told me about the love of his life who got away.  She was a woman from California who was there for three years doing social work.  They lived together and he wanted to marry her.  His parents refused and when he honored their wishes, she left.  That was six years ago and he has lost track of her now, but still longs for the relationship.  He is unhappy in his arranged marriage.  He says his wife is very selfish and treats his children badly.  They are now separated.  He asked me “Do you think I made a mistake, giving her up for my family, or should I have given up my family for her?”  I told him I thought he would have had regrets either way.

My Muslim rickshaw driver in Jaipur told me that he was dating a Hindu woman for a couple of years.  They were having a great time and his family didn’t mind at all.  But her family did so mom and dad forced them to break it off.  He says he doesn’t care what faith someone is.  All people are the same and as long as they treat each other well and make each other happy nothing else should matter, but obviously her parents did not agree.

A colleague of mine has been dating a young man for six years and intends to marry him but her parents don’t even know him because they will not approve.  When a family friend told her parents he noticed her with this boy at a bus stop a few years back they tightened the screws.  Another colleague’s parents seldom let her out of the house alone after about 8:30 p.m. in the evening making it nearly impossible for this 19 year old to have a relationship.

Western women would certainly never put up with all this meddling from parents, but the good news is even as fundamental traditions have stayed the same, the practice has evolved and women say arranged marriage can work.  A young mother and IT professional I met on the train back from Jaipur to Delhi was telling me her marriage was arranged.  Her parents placed an advertisement in the matrimonial section of the Times of India and that’s how she met her husband.  But instead of being passive in the process she was highly involved and could have walked away from the arrangement at any time.  Her husband could have walked away too.  They didn’t, and after a brief courtship, she is now happily married and living with her husband and first born child in the United States.  Arranged marriages are still the way most people hook up in India (even the Prince, grandson of the Maharajah of Jodphur, will have an arranged marriage when he weds.) Matrimonial websites like http://bharatmatrimony.com and http://shaadi.com are booming, but in this day and age, more young people are asserting themselves in their love life, especially those who are educated and don’t need to settle for less.

If someone hasn’t already thought of this, I think a great idea for a Bollywood musical would be an Indian adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  If you recall Reb Tevye had three daughters and as each one chose a husband they made choices that made their father progressively more uncomfortable.  Each daughter followed her heart and Tevye had to adapt.  I think that really sums up what’s going on in India today as many young people work around their parents or at the very least, alongside them to find partners.  Of course, arranged marriages can turn out badly.  If the wrong partners are found people can be miserable or abused.  That happens when we self select our partners too.  Still, choosing a spouse continues to be a family affair in India and for what it’s worth maybe having mom and dad involved can be helpful.  Maybe working backwards, marriage then love, can be possible.  Just look at the statistics.  Although divorce is starting to be a bit more prevalent among the upper classes of India, on the list of countries with the highest rates of failed marriages (America is #1) India isn’t even on the radar.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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Author: Vicky Collins

Vicky Collins is a freelance television producer and journalist based in Denver, Colorado with a diverse portfolio of projects that including network news, cable programming, Olympic sports, corporate and non-profit videos. She is also an accomplished writer and photographer who is particularly interested in world travel and issues of global poverty. Some of her most satisfying assignments have been covering disasters, working in the slums of developing countries and telling stories of people who show great courage in the face of adversity. She has been in all 50 states and on six continents and many of her television stories and photos are posted on her website at www.teletrendstv.com. To contact Vicky Collins directly email vicky@teletrendstv.com or tweet @vickycollins.

One thought on “A Westerner Ponders Arranged Marriage

  1. People of India basically follow the arranged marriage system, and they consider it as something great.Western Indians are also not the exceptions,people from western part of Inida, who have grown up with the idea that marriage is the ultimate bond between two people who have fallen in love, find the idea of arranged marriages alternately fascinating and bizarre. Parents and relatives exert considerable influence, sometimes posting matrimonial ads in newspapers and online.

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