I have been thinking about this for sometime. Having stayed briefly in the US, and being an Indian, it is very easy to understand the differences in both the societies. Though both have many similarities and differences, but I think when it comes to arrange marriages, US/Western and Indian society are mutually exclusive!
Well, India can be named as the heartland or even arrange marriage belt of the world. This is because of the enormous influence arrange marriages have in the Indian society. This can be extended to an Indian subcontinent which includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and some countries like Afghanistan and Iran. Afterall, they were a part of extended India not long before.
So, I wonder what happened in the other parts of the world, like Europe, USA and Latin America where arranged marriages are even rarely heard if not accepted. Once upon a time all the royal families in Europe had arranged marriages. The England’s Royal family had ties with the Germany ( then Prussia’s royal families) and Russia’s royal family ( The Romanov’s). Infact, they so frequently arranged marriage with each other, that the England’s royal family is actually German by heritage ( they had to change their surname from Germanic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor after WW1). I find this one of the comical irony that England’s royal family is not even English, and once upon a time there was England who ruled like the Sun never set over its empire!
So, western societies had a history of arrange marriages. But then today, we see it doesn’t exist anymore. Men and Women have to find a partner without any family arrangements, and hardly does both of their families interfere in their kids relationship business. While on the other side, in India, this is the only business which families on both sides have in their life! That’s another level of responsibility ( often self-imposed) Indian families exhibit. It’s as if the families live their entire life for the getting their kids married according to their choice of religion, caste and social status.
So, then why do Indian arrange marriages work? This has always been a question of surprise and curiosity for Indians and westerners as well. Because inspite of arrange marriages, the divorce rate in India is very low as compared to that of western societies which prefer in love marriages. Isn’t it ironic that a love marriage is a form of relationship whose foundation is built on love and trust. Couples have the freedom to like someone and accept them as their partner in life, without any barrier like family interference, caste, religion, color and even a partner’s gender. ( I have never heard same sex marriages being arranged, so that’s in the bucket of love marriage).
But still, the divorce and separation rate is higher in love marriages. Even in India, the divorce rate is increasing as compared to the last few decades, because Indians are becoming more westernized and thereby accepting love marriage. But on the other hand, in arrange marriage, the basis of relationship is not love between the groom and bride, but its more like an agreement between families, where the caste, religion, social status, business interests, political affiliations, food, language, skin color, education, number of family members, dowry money agreement, stars and astrology, and infinite number of such irrelevant things are taken into consideration. After all this hard work, that’s when a marriage becomes arranged in India. I wonder its easy to understand rocket science or quantum mechanics, then understanding how arranged marriages become arranged in India!
But then after all this pandemonium, the most stunning fact is that such marriages last forever! Atleast until my parents generation, divorce was a rare alien thing. And many couples who did not even know each other, fell in love after the marriage. While many realized after marriage that their spouse is not someone they could ever love. But still, divorce was not an option unless some physical assault or sexual harassment happens. Well, the worst part in India is that marital rape is still legal. I find this deeply troubling. Anyways, so the couples inspite of all the problems and ups and downs, still stick with each other. Unlike in western countries, where a couple get separated for reasons like failure of spouse in business, or even husband not able to sexually satiate his wife. I have never heard any of such things lead to divorce in India. Infact, the sad part is that being a patriarchal society, Indian husbands have always been dominant on their wife. This was partly due to lack of education and employment opportunities for women back then. In villages and poor families in cities, the physical abuse by husband on wife and children is a common thing. Even rich and well educated families, suffer from clashes between married couples for variety of reasons including extra-marital affair. Still getting a divorce is something taken as a last resort.
Well, this does explain why Indian marriages last inspite of all the obstacles, but not all families suffer this. Infact, most of the Indian families value this system of arranged marriages where a couple once married has a responsibiliity towards their children and elders to setup an example and maintain this tradition. Because when a divorce happens, the biggest sufferers are not husband or wife, but the children. Afterall, what’s the mistake of those poor kids who have to suffer by staying away from one of their parents? The kids always love their biological parents, and they cannot get the same love from step-mother or step-father. This is something which makes the Indian couple continue their marriage inspite of the fights and even if the husband and wife stop loving each other. Because they love their kids, and getting separated due to irreconcilable differences will affect their kids life. Wouldn’t the kids learn the same thing from their parents? By having a divorce, the tradition of arrange marriage will get broken, as the kids will prefer to have a love marriage later in their life after seeing their parents being divorced after an arranged marriage.
I feel that we are indebted to the sacrifice of our parents and grandparents who valued their kids education, and a bright future over their personal conflicts. Especially, women suffer a lot in the patriarchal marriage dominance, and still they continue the marriage just for the love of her children. Truth be told, I don’t find this self-sacrifice and unconditional love anywhere amongst men. Its always the mother who does the toughest job in the world!
Hence, this responsibility that kids should not suffer and not get deprived of love and care from both the father and mother, is something which binds the arranged marriage couples along with the wisdom to maintain the family tradition. But, Indian society is deeply religious, status conscious and obsessed with family. Its not easy for a divorcee to get re-married again. Even today, its difficult for someone to live unmarried, or single, let alone divorced. The lack of respect from the Indian society towards a divorcee, or even a bachelor ( unless he becomes a saint or Prime Minister) is deeply troubling. Maybe this also drives the couples to continue their marriage by avoiding all the societal scuffling.
Hence, this was a small attempt to understand why arranged marriages work in India. I think western societies also had this culture few centuries before, but got lost due to the over-importance on individual freedom over family, obsession for material achievements like career, money and fame. Ofcourse, this does not mean all love marriages end up being divorced. Infact, many stand the weather, and remain lifelong committed. The Presidents of USA, except Donald Trump are excellent examples of successful love marriages. But things are changing fast, and India is becoming a global hub, with the winds of all sorts of ideas flowing across the nation. It will be hard to maintain the arrange marriage tradition in India in coming future.
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