Arranged Marriages

May 12, 2006 at 1:36 am (India, Society)

What is an Arranged Marriage?

Arranged Marriage is a custom wherein the the marriage partner is decided by parents and society, instead of the intended parteners choosing each other by falling in love and pursuing methodical courtship.

I would like to discuss on the aspects of the Arranged marriage custom of Southern India, which has one of the highest instances of Arranged marriage among educated families, in the world. The practice is controversial and might even appear outright stupid for a casual observer. But, why do we still follow it? I wanted to pursue a deeper study in this and understand its concepts, as I would like to do with every other custom and tradition, particularly of my community. In this blog, let me put down some of my initial thoughts on this subject.

Marriages are one of the highest instituitions in the Hindu society. Unlike the modern Western societies, the Indian society is very closely knit and carries a lot of historical heritage. Here, a marriage is considered a noble instituition for the continuation of thousands of year old customs and traditions, which have withstood the raids of thousands of determained raiders. It is also an enabler of community links and family bonds. Thus, a marriage is not just an affair between two souls, rather it is a part of building family ties and communal harmony. It is a way of celebrating our collective existance and exhibition of joy in the form festivals, rituals, prayers and family events.

What should the partners expect in a marriage?

This is a hard question and depends from person to person. But, in traditional and historical societies, such as ours, we would like our partners to be compatible with our families, conforming to our believes and customs, besides be a companion for our souls. We would like our partners to have similiar core constitution as us, though the exact attitudes and interests may vary. The better the match in various factors, the lesser is the chance for friction and breakup.

Why arranged marriage would work?

Many people are of view that the only way to judge a person is to interact with them for a long time. But, I'm willing to contradict them. I believe that human psychology is complex enough that even after months of interaction, we might be surprized by our friend's reaction to a specific thing. This is due to their inner constituition. While we might get an idea of their apparent outer posture, it is extremely hard to know and estimate even our own inner constituition, leave alone theirs. Thus, I believe that the probability of understanding one's inner constituition, which is very crucial for marriage success, is very slim by just having apparent interactions and unless in cases of very intimate bondage, we can never know, whether that person would be matching the factors, indicated earlier.

So, how do we determine whether a person can match our constituition?

One of factors that affects the psychology and attitude of a person, is the immediate family. Because, this is where the young kid lives entirely for the first few years of life, when most of the learning happens. Thus, the kids parents and the immediate family has a great bearing on one's inner constituition. Next comes, the class, caste and community. One's believes to prayer to diet to attitude towards various things comes from the community s/he belongs to. Then comes the society around him/her. Thus, the three main factors that determines a person's psychology are the family, community membership (caste) and the society around. The society factor is determined by education level, economic level and region of domicile.
Thus, to know the inner constituition, an ideal arranged marriage looks at this holy trinity of human psychology. Though, many of the arranged marriages are not perfect, the ones I've seen were made in such a way that majority of the variables that decide the person were already taken into account, before the boy meets the girl. Then, the prospective candidate get a chance to talk and settle out the top level issues and they have much less variables to sort out. After that, the marriage is fixed, which is normally a few months after the settlement. During this time, the prospective couples are given chances to get-together well, and in worst case the couples might even decide to split up, without too much loss on both sides.

The process of wedding itself is a great event in a person's lifetime. That 3-5 day event is a life-long memorable carnival for the entire family and arranged marriage ensures that both the wedding and the married life thereafter goes smoothly, if done properly.

When we marry, we have to remember that we carry thousands of years of civilization in our hand and the customs laid down by our fore-fathers. That is our history and we are laid with the responsibility to uphold that dharma (roughly meaning, a set of rules for the maintanence of a stable society). We shall be proud of rich heritage of this great Indian society and let us strive to uphold the spirits.

The next blog post would discuss on dating and how the rich set of practices in it, can be utilized to enrigh our instituition of arranged marriage.



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  9. Indiatraveller said,

    I just came back from a trip to India. Everywhere I went, women were oogled, groped, sexually harrassed and the papers were full of an exorbitant number of rapes that took place recently. It is noteworthy, that in many cases, the victim was blamed for the assault. This affected foreigners as well as Indian women.
    At the same time, I as an unmarried female traveller in her thirties, was often times asked in quite an aggressive way, “where is your husband”, and was closely monitored by hotel staff etc. as to what I was doing, even though I had no intentions to get involved with anyone.
    The hypocrisy and contradiction of the instituion arranged marriage, the oh so virtuous mother at the stove versus the condescending image of the “whore”, and the fact that every 5 minutes I got molested in the streets (regardless of what I wore), indicates to me, that these marriages may not be so successful after all. If they were, why then would all these men constantly chance their luck elsewhere, in a way that I as a woman find much more inappropriate than the negative image so-called western people have in parts of Indian society. I have never experienced this to such an extent in any “western” society.
    I think that staunchly conservative views on sexuality, pre- or non-marital emotional ties and marriage have caused a lot of problems in India. While “western” people get married too and have children, I think that this always be a matter of personal choice. Indian men and women should be given the opportunity to remain unmarried if that is what they wish, or break away from relationships that don’t work out. Legally they can, but the social pressure they face is still immense. Given the current gender ratios due to female feticide, it looks like a number of Indian men could remain unmarried in the future anyway. Also, there appears to be a wall between men and women in terms of daily social interaction, which in my opinion, contributes to the dysfunctional behaviour described above. This reminded me of a place like Saudi Arabia rather than a democracy that has had women in high political offices. I think that in reality, a lot of women, and a lot of men suffer from this situation, and that pride is the only thing that prevents them from admitting that some aspects of so-called western society may not be so bad after all.
    If sexual repression, discrimination and “eve teasing” is considered part of cultural heritage, and crimes are committed in the name of religion, I must say that I don’t admire this part of the culture very much.

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