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Why I Think Arranged Marriages Might Not Be Such A Bad Idea After All

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By Srinivas Krishnaswamy:

vivaah_arranged marriages_2
A still from ‘Vivaah‘.

One of the many changes that India is going through is the way people find love and get married. India, long considered the bastion of arranged marriages, is seeing a rapid adoption of online dating sites and dating apps. The huge growth in smartphones and internet penetration, a young population, and increasing exposure to ‘western’ influences through travel and media are possibly contributing to the growth of dating in India.

While dating is still an alien concept in smaller towns and rural India, people are exercising greater choice in selecting their spouse even through arranged marriages!

Here are some conclusions on how arranged marriages are changing based on the India Human Development Survey that covered over 42,000 households across India. Among women,

1) Over 85% of the college graduates had a say in selecting their spouse whereas only about 40% of women with no education had a say in the decision to choose their spouse.
2) Over 70% of respondents in metros and urban areas actively participated in selecting their spouse while the participation was less than 50% among women in rural areas.
3) Also, women in the age group of 25 to 29 had a greater say in choosing their spouse while this number was lower among women in older age groups.

Clearly, there is a strong undercurrent among Indians to exercise greater control or express their opinion about who they want to get married to and this is bound to gain momentum.

Is Dating Better Than Arranged Marriages?

If you are a young man or woman in India with a good education and exposure to the modern world outside India, you might easily conclude that arranged marriages promote bigotry and racism.
Stereotypical matrimony ads in newspapers, and a host of videos that poke fun at arranged marriages, and horror stories about social evils like dowry might push you to conclude that dating might be the only sane option left for finding a soulmate.

According to Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, “Many arranged marriages in many countries are associated with a lack of choice for young people and are particularly repressive to women. The fact that arranged marriages tend to be more stable is not a measure of success because we know that people are sometimes held in them without any options.”

However true the issues surrounding arranged marriage, there are hidden virtues in arranged marriages that have helped sustain the practice for centuries. A key point to remember is that if we approach arranged marriages as a genuine attempt to find a soulmate and stop forcing or pressurising people to marry against their wishes, it’s not all bad. Strangely, western experts seem to agree on the virtues of arranged marriages as well!

Here are views about arranged marriages that will surprise you and make you rethink your stance on arranged marriages.

1) According to Brian J. Willoughby, an assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University,

“Whether it be financial support for weddings, schooling or housing, or emotional support for either partner, parents provide valuable resources for couples as they navigate the marital transition.”

2) Michael Ben Zehabe is an author, columnist, and speaker. He wrote a book for his daughter that is a collection of wisdom from the various women in the Bible on how to make love last a lifetime. The author believes in the fact that ancient scriptures and books have a lot of wisdom applicable in our contemporary life.

“Our matriarchs had an interesting advantage over today’s western women. Matriarchs didn’t begin their marriage with love. Instead, they were taught how to love. They entered marriage with an earnest determination to grow a love that would sustain their marriage for a lifetime.”

3) Diane Sollee is the founder of SmartMarriages. It’s a movement that aims to strengthen the institution of marriage. Through her seminars, training programs, and outreach, Diane helps couples navigate their marriages through the minefields of day-to-day issues and challenges. She thinks all marriages are “arranged” and for any marriage to be successful, you need to work on it and invest in it.

“In actuality, all marriages are “arranged” marriages whether they’re arranged by some website matchmaker, our parents, or by Mother Nature and her magic. In each case you’re matched up with someone you don’t know and with whom you need to – gradually and progressively – fall ever more deeply in love.”

4) Michael Rosenfeld is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. He has done extensive research and studies on marriages, interracial marriages, and same-sex marriages.

“The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”

5) According to a study titled, ‘Are the Young and the Educated More Likely to Have “Love” than Arranged Marriage?‘ from the University of Maryland:

“A key reason for ‘parent supervised arranged marriages with participation’ emerging as the most common form of marriage arrangement is that it is best suited for a cultural context that does not have a dating culture of the kind existing in the West. Such a “dating culture” requires that it be socially acceptable for the young to “romantically link up with each other without any kind of adult supervision in a setting that is not defined directly as leading to marriage” and to “try out” different potential mates before deciding on a marriage partner.”

6) Dr. Robert Epstein from the Harvard University has studied the subject of arranged marriages for eight years that focused on arranged marriage practices among Indian, Pakistani and Orthodox Jewish communities. Here is what he had to say about arranged marriages.

“The general idea is we must not leave our love lives to chance. We plan our education, our careers and our finances but we’re still uncomfortable with the idea that we should plan our love lives. I do not advocate arranged marriages but I think a lot can be learned from them.”

To sum up, arranged marriages have their advantages. As long as people marry out of free will and are not forced into a marriage, the fundamental principles of arranged marriages, namely, rational thinking, involvement of parents, and the belief that a deep bond can develop over time should be appreciated and celebrated.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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