India’s respectable cultural tradition of revering elders has several shortcomings. The most personal way in which Indians experience this is when it comes to marriage. Indians, both men and women, lack agency when it comes to making the most important decision of their life.
I have nothing against marriage (arranged or otherwise). Indeed, marriage and the scripted Indian life provide a degree of stability to an otherwise chaotic country. But often, men are forced to accept stable, high-paying professions that they are not passionate about, such as medicine, engineering, finance and consulting, because of the job security and social status that they provide. Haven’t you ever wondered why so many Indian men are doctors, engineers and increasingly lured into the IT, finance and consulting industries? The pressures on Indian youth to marry young explain the career choices men make. Unfortunately, Indian society dictates that money and stability are what men are good for.
In Indian society a good husband is measured by the expense account he affords his wife. The arts and humanities sadly do not make the cut. Entrepreneurship is not always encouraged either and is usually pursued out of necessity. How do you feel about the fact that men have to out-earn their partners? Would you marry a man who made less than you? Even if you wanted to, chances are that your family would not approve.
Not a week (for many, not even a day)- goes by in the lives of Indian youth without being bombarded with questions about marriage. Yes, men are constantly questioned about when they are getting married, especially once they start working. These pressures have very real consequences. This phenomenon’s impact on women is often discussed, rarely is its impact on Indian men talked of. The reality is that Indian society’s attitude towards marriage places huge constraints on the life choices of males as well.
Yes, a man can wait until his late 20s and early 30s before seriously looking for a life partner without having to worry about finding a desirable mate. Unlike women, a man does not have to choose between a career and a family. But the pressure of earning a higher income than his partner in order to provide for his family limits the professional choices of men.
There are certain benefits when one decides to fight the battles and become a ‘career woman‘. A career woman can make the difficult decision to quit her corporate job (consulting, finance) and be employed in a successful NGO. She can afford to pursue a more fulfilling career and live with a big cut in her salary because she does not have the pressure to ‘be the breadwinner.‘ If a man were to do the same thing then he would face considerable familial pressures. While men are afforded a few more years before being pushed to tie the knot, they too must live a scripted life, which inhibits the enrichment of individuals and society.
Even though I am an able bodied male with two foreign degrees I am (thankfully) not a hot commodity on the Indian marriage market given my choice to follow an unconventional professional path (by Indian standards).
Indian marriage, for all its merits, especially the strong support structure provided by deep familial ties, is at its core an exchange of material welfare for desirous traits. It is not romantic (but can be exciting). Perhaps that is why we need such elaborate celebrations. Making the process larger than life makes up for an Indian wedding’s contractual reality.