By Rinzu Rajan:
Before I even start writing this post, let me clarify that this isn’t aimed at the institution of arranged marriage or the people who followed that route to enter matrimony. This is a very harmless post analyzing the harmful effects of marriages fixed by our parents or elders. Much of this institution finds its roots in patriarchy, that doesn’t mean that I am trying to speak in favour of love marriages. Marriage, I believe, is a gamble which may work for some and may fail many others. Although the traditional tyranny that the woman is subjected to in an arranged marriage proposal is a silent socially violent school of thought.
As an Indian girl, one may get many arranged marriage proposals when they cross 18 and until about 33. That is the time sphere popularly referred to as the ‘marriageable age’ which holds true for both men and women, although women face the flak and are the species of humans who have to get married within the time period called ‘marriageable age’. While many men, especially in the cities and towns (and not the Indian villages), can take their own sweet time. Although most Indian parents get their sons married, especially in urban India, before the age of 30. For the daughters, the earlier the better, since marriages in India are procreative and expect a woman to make babies, two or more in her lifetime come what may. A woman can never think of giving motherhood a miss. This scenario is aggressively ancient in the Indian villages. Women have to get married as children and consummate later after attaining puberty or as soon as they hit puberty. The luckier ones get married after finishing school or by 23. That tells you of the possessive obsession that Indians have towards the institution of marriage and the endearing efforts they make to control a woman’s sexuality and her choices.
Having taken birth in an educated Indian Christian family, my tryst with the arranged marriage business was limited until I finished graduation and was pursuing my first year of post graduation. The first proposal came from an American NRI whom I had never seen before. The proposer was my maternal uncle who lives in Florida. I out-rightly smacked the decision with dissapproval. And my parents weren’t enraged. Two years later, a relative asked for a full length picture of mine. I sensed the impending danger and refused to budge to his plan. Later, I heard that he wanted to get me hitched with his neighbour’s soon. What role had the full length picture to play in this fiasco is still a guarded secret. Meanwhile, as I was ageing, aunties and uncles in the congregation I follow started to inquire about my availability in the arranged marriage market. I never sweetened the pot with lies. I told them that a marriage to a stranger didn’t seem to be an exciting idea.
Until two years ago, most of it was a game of hide and seek. Then like most Indian parents, mine also decided to hunt for grooms for me. Since I was ‘Miss Goody two shoes’ in those days who was ignorant of the social violence in an arranged marriage system, I retorted with a yes. The first guy I met was a doctor. He was a gentleman every girl would love to take to her parents except that he was a momma’s boy. It seems the stranglehold of the bib that his mom had tied around his neck as a child, drove him. I didn’t want to buy my rights into my husband’s household by letting my parents give dowry. Also, I wanted him to share equal expenses of the wedding. He admired me for airing my views and promised me a fair wedding. After a fortnight and a long episode of silence, his parents announced to my parents that the wedding would only take place if a dowry of Rs. 20 lakhs is paid in cash and kind. By the way, dowry is practiced in our Christian congregation under the pretense of giving the bride her share of her father’s property. A father splits his property equally amongst his children with a will. How then on earth is money paid at the time of a woman’s wedding an equal share in her father’s riches?
Although at the time of marriage, this money exchanges hands between the bride’s father and father in law. Who is the owner of the wealth in this case? The bride, or the groom and his father? I ridiculed their idea of minting money from my parents by strongly opposing to the alliance. As I was heaving a sigh of relief and getting on with the business of life, another proposal came after a gap of an year. He was an engineer educated in the UK. He was their only son, who had returned from London after working there for two years. He seemed to believe in the concept of gender equality until his father spewed gluttony. The demand was initially for one of the properties that dad and mom owned until it came down to half a crore. The arguments in support for this dowry demand made me realize that India was still living in the stone age. They wanted to levy every penny of the money they had spent on their son’s foreign education. That also made me think as to whose door should I knock to recover the money that my parents spent on my education? I decided to politely show them the door. I decided to file a case against them as per the Dowry Prohibition Act but since dowry was given and taken in the name of ‘bride’s wealth’ in our society, the charges of dowry could not be slapped on them.
Another moron asked me to sing for him when we met, while another one wanted me to take a hiatus from work when I would make a baby!
I was sure that I wasn’t giving an audition for a singing competition, so I refused to sing. While for the guy who had plans to push me into motherhood, I gave him wisdom on reproductive rights, which of course is not a right but a duty in a petrified patriarchal society like India.
Only if every bride had the spine to stand against dowry, the takers of dowry would have only become extinct with time. Alas! Our prejudices never allowed us to stand up for what was right. It made us bend down to what was wrong. If we have to carefully examine the functioning of our society and the reasons for the persistence of evils like female foeticide, you may find the answers hidden in the social evil called dowry. As they sayÂ ‘the victim who decides to put up with the crime is the real culprit’ rather than the one inflicting it.
The other grooms for sale implored for lesser dowry with many wanting the expenses of a lavish wedding to be taken care of by my parents. I again decided to put my foot forward against all such ridiculous thoughtlessness, as I felt that the expenses of a marriage happening between me and anyone must be borne by both. Since it is the marriage between two individuals with neither being put at a lower pedestal. Or is bearing the expenses of the wedding by the bride’s side, a penalty for her, for having been born as a woman. Dowry is a greater fine in that case.
Another aspect of the arranged marriage that I strongly detest is the families of both the bride and the groom playing ‘Sherlock Holmes‘ on them. It is especially a mountainous task for a woman to get a nod from the groom’s family. Isn’t pitting the groom and bride against each other the best possible way to know of their future.
I was harried when such an alarmed sister of a prospective groom was caught spying on me. Instead of apologizing for trying to trespass into my personal life, she put forward a demand. She wanted me to stop blogging and give up on my principles of equality. This, she thought, would wreck havoc in her brother’s life.
A middle finger salutation was my token of respect for trying to play the future evil sister in law.Â I had no qualms in settling for an arranged marriage had it just been another route of meeting a guy you could have ended up with but the manner in which parents put their sons for sale or a character certificate that was sought from me, or the ridiculously disgusting demands put in front of me that were aimed at clipping my wings make me proud of my decision. To give the arranged marriage the boot.
Arranged marriages would have been a safe bet if the two people planning to marry had the freedom to make choices. Since most matrimonial profiles are created and handled by parents, there is very little communication between the people seeking a partner.
How then will two adult humans make sane choices, if they aren’t allowed to grow in their shoes?