By Priti Shroff:
My friend Anita is 27 and single. This is blasphemy. How can a 27-year-old Marwari girl be single? There must be something wrong with her. So, her family decided to start hunting for a suitable man.
For the ones who do not belong to any Indian business community, I am making an attempt at decoding how arranged marriages work in such families.
1) A marriage resume of sorts is created, commonly referred to as ‘bio-data’.
2) Our parents get in touch with our extended family and friends, which includes the chacha/kaka/friend/family friend/friend of a family friend, etc. They are asked to keep a look out for young and single boys/girls.
3) Our parents hire people who act as middlemen between families of the prospective grooms and brides. We call them ‘brokers’. These men have a giant repository of bio-data and charge commission if a successful marriage takes place.
4) The families scan bio-data they like. Following which, enquiries are made about the prospective families. Common friends, distant relatives, guards and liftmen from the residences of the families are contacted to determine the character and affluence of both families. (This investigation could put CID and ACP Pradyuman to shame)
Now, back to Anita. Anita was charmed by some of these boys. They did seem pretty appealing on paper. And finally she agreed to meet one of the boys who she thought would be a good companion for her.
The middleman was contacted by Anita’s family and asked to proceed with setting up a meeting with this boy’s family. The problem began after this. This ‘broker’ went ahead and asked Anita’s dad a question. ‘Kitto Lagasi’. For the ones who do not understand Marwari, ‘kitto lagasi’ in this context translates to, “How much are you as the father of the bride willing to spend on this wedding?” This unstated amount includes the expenses for the whole extravagant wedding, the jewellery bought during the wedding, the gifts given to the boy and his family and more.
Thankfully Anita’s father is fairly progressive and was not too happy to hear this question and things ended right there.
But this happens so often. Why are parents of girls being made to spend way beyond their means to get their daughters married? How has this come to be that the family of the man can make outrageous demands and they have to be fulfilled? How did we come to this?
As of 2005, based on the Hindu Succession Act, men and women have equal inheritance rights. Sadly, what has happened is that over the years, the practice of dowry has become a socially accepted tradition. It is so deeply imbibed in our culture that we don’t even see it as unusual anymore. It is not visible in the blatantly obvious forms as in the past, but more in terms of demands for a lavish celebration, followed by expensive jewellery, branded clothing for family members and so on.
Parents of girls find themselves under insurmountable pressure and some start saving for the impending nuptials soon after the daughter is born. Even in affluent families, I know of fathers cancelling investments and liquidating assets to cater to the demand made by the family of the guy for a lavish wedding. At the root, dowry is a major cause for female infanticide and the Indian sex ratio being in favour of men. Further, couples whose roots are based on such a transactional nature are usually incompatible.
As Nivedita Menon writes in her book “Seeing Like A Feminist”, “The frustration and resentment these situations generate have led increasingly to what I see as the implosion of marriage – young girls simply refusing to perform the role of the docile wife and daughter-in-law, to the bewilderment and rage of the families into which they marry.”
(P.S- The book stated above is a brilliant read, and it’s a great way to understand how our current patriarchal societal structure came about)
I have nothing against arranged marriages. In fact, I think it is a very successful form of marriage in India. I just don’t understand why money, property, bank balance and spending power has become such an essential part of this process. I’m not saying, don’t have the big wedding. If you can afford it, go for it. I have been for a few myself and I must say that they are great fun. All I’m saying is, don’t let financial prowess of a family dictate who you should marry. And once you choose who to marry, be fair and spend equally. No law states that only the bride’s father should empty his pockets.
As a single female, I really want to ask, “Why are we allowing this?” Why are we ready to marry at the expense of our family’s dignity? We are all educated, modern women. So, why should we believe that we can only find a suitable companion if our families invest crores of rupees? In short, why are we okay with the idea of our parents bribing someone to marry us? And why do we want to have extravagant weddings using our parents’ hard earned money? We need to lead by example and stop this tradition from prospering. As a daughter, I have to say, our parents raised us with so much love and care. If not for anything else, we need to stand up for them. Society has made them believe that this is the way their daughters should be treated. Something which is far from the truth.
And to the men. Why is it that you are making a decision which determines the course of the rest of your life on the bank balance of a third party? Why not look at the girl, and see how she and you would be good for each other? Why depend on your in-laws’ to give you a wedding celebration which you may not be able to afford? You are educated and know better than to further these age-old practices, so you should be able to take a stand on this matter and explain it to your family.
And to everyone else. Why can’t arranged marriage simply mean the union of two people who have similar values? Or a similar family structure, so it is easier to adjust for both. Or a similar upbringing which breeds common beliefs and ideas?
Won’t these reasons make for a much better and successful marriage?
This article was first published on the author’s personal blog.