Are Arranged Marriages Relevant in The 21st Century?
The institution of arranged marriages despite having no legal status according to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 or the Special Marriage Act of 1954 still continues to be the major mode of mate selection in the culturally enriched Indian subcontinent with India posing as the vanguard of this kind of marital alliance. An estimated 90-95 per cent of marriages in India are arranged by parents and guardians with or without the consent of the boy and girl involved.
The institution of arranged marriages has proved to be surprisingly robust forging ahead regardless of widespread development in the social scenario of the world. In spite of popular media being overgenerous in their celebration of romantic love, love marriages or marriages by personal choice are not always regarded as a sensible and desirable mode of union.
The restrictions placed upon the free mingling of boys and girls together with parents’ vehement disapproval that children should choose their own partners are two important factors that do not allow marriage by self-choice. The popular belief is if rules of marital alliance are to be observed, the choice of spouse should never be left to the decision of the gullible young person.
However much the idea of arranged marriages may sound impractical to people with modern points of view, there is no denying the fact that marital alliances of this kind tend to be stable and long-lasting.
Several comparative studies between arranged marriage couples in India with the romantically affianced couples in the USA showed no difference in levels of happiness between the two groups and in some cases arranged marriage couples boasted a higher levels of happiness between the two groups, and in some cases arranged marriage couples boasted a higher level of satisfaction, thereby proving that arranged marriage is indeed a popular and sagacious mode of union, and is in no way equivalent to the loveless union that many Westerners think it is.
Why Marriage Ritual
The ritual of arranged marriage is well threaded with the basic structure of the Indian ideology of familial obligation and marriage is held as an alliance between two families and not merely a union between two individuals. Thus, where marital planning is concerned, the boy and the girl show only peripheral interest in the process.
The level of participation in choosing one’s partner and planning the marital proceedings has shown considerable variation between various groups, but, by and large, in the case of arranged marriages the boy’s consent is sought. The girl, on the other hand, is but a supplementary part of the ceremony, and is seldom consulted and her approval sought. Many modern women have looked down upon this secondary role of women in the choice of preferred life partners.
Whatever might be the path leading to marriages in India, the ritual of matrimony, in general, casts a subservient shadow on women. Since marriages are looked upon as an ideal, a duty and a social responsibility, women hardly ever get to voice their views. Except for a fraction of well-educated and progressive families who believe in equality of opportunity, families dwelling outside the canopy of urbanization decline to give any importance to the role of women.
It is still expected that a woman should give her career a backseat after marriage and take on the generally accepted role of a homemaker. The prevalent rules of patriarchy curb the individuality of a woman and she is forced, in a great many cases, to quit her rising career to take care of her family.
Traditionally, a woman is supposed to be deferent as a wife and follow her husband’s will and authority without questioning. She avoided uttering his name and always served him his meals first, and ate only after he had finished and risen. The conventional role of women as good housekeepers is much debated in modern India; yet, in many rural and lower-middle-class families, the matronly image of women is both desirable and feasible.
In general, women are especially concerned with the two aspects of arranged marriages which are indispensable to the marital alliance: the girl-viewing ceremony and the practice of dowry. The girl-viewing ceremony which brings to mind the oft-seen image of a young woman walking into a living room, decked in traditional raiment, carrying a tray of refreshments while her guardians talk highly of her skills and intelligence to the groom’s party that scrutinizes the bride and her family in microscopic details.
Such a traditional subservient picture of women has been regarded as both disrespectful and unacceptable by a good part of this modern gadget centric generation.
Even though arranged marriages these days take place with complete consent from both parties, the groom’s party often has the final say.
The conservative population of the country is hardly in a place to accept such drastic changes as changing the ritual of arranged marriages in totality and giving the bride’s family the upper hand.
The lack of female education, excessive patriarchal authority and the inherent acceptance of gender discrimination have added considerably to the fundamental role of women being completely incapable of asserting themselves and requiring adult supervision from parents in their pre-married lives and husbands after marriage for leading a well-balanced and good life.
The practice of dowry or dahej is a classic institution of the Indian society. It is, in many cases, an important precondition for marriages in India. The groom’s family is stimulated in their choice of bride by considerations of economic and social prestige. Dowry refers to their adding to the family funds by bringing in a good amount of dowry money.
With the gradual transformation of society and change in lifestyles, the practice of dowry has found some relaxation in the urban and middleclass households; nevertheless, a major portion of the population needs to broaden its minds to fully deny the old practice of marital arrangements.
Keeping in mind the adaptability of a part of the Indian culture with the culture of the world, it can be held that with time the small changes will add cumulatively to the image of Indian women, provided women are willing to try their best to come out of the constricted household compartments and present themselves in a new light.
If men and women are brought up on principles of independence and are given ample opportunities of self-exploration and decision-making, they might develop into capable individuals not requiring adult supervision in every walk of life. In such cases, the onus of choosing suitable life partners for them would not rest on their parents in the first place. Doubtless, such action will cause an erosion of authority in Indian households, yet such practices would uplift the quality of women in our country.
No discussion of arranged marriages or marriages in general is complete without a reference to the traditional Hindu texts or the dharmasastras and what they had to say about the ritual of marriages. The sacred texts provide in good detail the qualities prerequisite in a potential bride and groom. The list of preconditions to be sought in a groom, although rational in many ways, is short and succinct.
The list of requirements in a girl is quite long. Accompanied by this list is another list of laksanas, secret signs, by which the potentials of a match could be ascertained. The sastras have a lot to talk about dosas or faults, and like the qualities prerequisite in a groom, the list of dosas for grooms is short. It is said that in case a dosa is detected soon after marriage in a bride or groom, a marriage can be annulled and the groom can marry again. The bride, however, would be unmarriageable.
The sastras did show some compassion to women when they somewhat agreed that if a dosavati – meaning faulty or defective bride – is accepted in a blind bargain without proper examinations by the groom’s party, the bride may be allowed to stay with her in-laws who deride her than sent back to her original family to whom she is useless.
Two kinds of marital frauds are talked about in our traditional texts: impersonation, which means a perfect girl was shown to the groom’s party during marital negotiations and an imperfect and defective one presented during the actual ritual of marriage, and misrepresentation meaning the faults of the girls were deliberately kept from the groom’s party during betrothal and or presented in such a way that the groom’s party failed to understand them.
Impersonations of the groom never concerned anyone; it was always a matter of palming off a faulty and substandard bride on a guileless groom and his family. Most allegations of mismanagement of marriages, fraud and misrepresentations arise from the groom’s family and are directed at the bride and her family.
The Indian courts today ignore as examples of fraud, misstatements of a girl’s chastity, horoscope, health and physical fitness. In fact, anything short of the identity of the spouse is regarded as insufficient for the unhinging of marriages. The ancient jurists in India, however, showed their frank approval of punishing the perpetrator for a marital fraud, in many cases, the father of the bride. Narada (XII, 33) says that if a man has given away a faulty maiden without disclosing her faults, then he should be punished by the king with first “violence.” On the matter, Manu says (Manu VIII, 204) that if after showing a perfect maiden another is given to the bridegroom, the groom should marry both of them for a single fee.
The fee spoken here is the sulka, a financial exchange or fee. Apart from the list of impersonations and misrepresentations, our sastras provide an interesting list of faults a woman might have and they include disease, deficiency of members, loss of virginity, immodesty and attachment to another man.
The advice Hindu sacred text present in matters of marriage undoubtedly brings to light the subservience of women to the wills of the then present patriarchal community. In our globalized times, many ancient and important prerequisites like horoscope matching and same caste marriage, etc., have lost much of their significance. Still, in several parts of India, extreme forms of arranged marriages strictly following traditional norms are very much in practice.
Arranged marriages are probably more common in societies of the world than any other form of marriage. Many women engaged in romantic love relationships have foreclosed the positive outcomes of marital alliances not based on love, but a study of people who are part of happy arranged marriages has presented the following points of view. That love in arranged marriages, in contrast to love marriages or marriages by choice, is a slow and gradual process.
People have opined that in arranged marriages the couple start depending on each other, and this dependence plants the seed of love in them. The continued practice of arranged marriages is a reflection of the strong familial bond that exist in the Indian society together with the collectivist belief that marriage is the primary means of maintaining the integrity of the immediate and extended family.
Although the ritual of arranged marriages does, in many ways, portray women in the light of submissiveness, there is no denying the fact that such an institution is too holy to be disregarded.
In modern days women have assumed great public roles and many of them are now capable of economic autonomy. Families are learning to view their sons and daughters in the same way.
With the rise of education and gender-consciousness, men and women in modern days are more willing to complement and supplement each other. Yet, as said before, the traditional role of subservient women as brought out by the vratas, arranged marriages and other traditional rituals are die rigueur in various parts of India.