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Are Arranged Marriages Really Worth It?

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

This opening line from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” explains the mentality behind marriages in India. It debunks the idea of marriages in our country. Marriages in India are not an emotional association or a manifestation of meaningful companionship, but a compulsory 20-something life event or an irrefutable stage of life according to previously-set trends which are not open to dispute (like Grihastha as one of the ashramas in Hinduism, ordered and numbered like an instruction manual for life). And since marriages might not always happen naturally, our society takes up the charge to arrange for it.

Match-fixing has always been discouraged since it spoils the spirit of the game, but when tradition is taken into account, fairness is often reduced to an open-ended interpretation. The parameters of love are impossible to etch in stone, hence an arranged marriage is often a randomized controlled trial focusing more on caste coherence, societal homogeneity and religious compatibility between the families of the suitable boy and the princess-bride, rather than the sync between the prospective partners themselves.

While marriages are presumably sacred in India, the criteria they are built on ironically shows they are not taken seriously at all. To put it in perspective, while we spend 18 years of our lives with our parents on an average, we might be spending more than forty years of our lives with our spouses; which means it is much more important that you are comfortable with your partner as compared to the comfort zone you have with your parents. Comfort would mean familiarity with their interests, a sense of understanding of their needs, an evaluation of how much space you can give each other, how to go about it and till what extent would you compromise without exhausting your own selves.

Putting it in a simple way, how much are you in ‘love’ with each other. Something in which the groom’s salary, the daughter-in-law’s complexion, the similarity in caste and religious practices would play no role. The involvement of government in marriages already closes down the negotiability  (cancelling out even the thought of homosexual or polyamorous weddings), and families deciding them make it even more difficult for a couple to set their own terms and conditions since, in reality, families know very little about the social lives of their own children. A lack of open communication between parents and children in India widens the already wide generation divide.

The obsession with arranged marriages is not only a personal mishap but also a social disaster. They are often converted into transactions by allowing dowry to be paid as a compensation for the large annual pay of the bridegroom, provides safe space for various prejudices to be enforced like assigned gender roles, honor killings or marriage by abduction. The unnecessary importance given to “community” in this set-up leads to the pressure of financially matching-up with each other’s families and hence in big fat demonstrative wedding ceremonies, whose funding is mostly done from the education the bride could never have.

Arranged marriages in India are largely overrated, misunderstood and marketed in a more glamorous way than they deserve. And alternatives as innocuous as a love marriage are still only growing at a sluggish pace. Live-in relationships are looked down upon, even though Indian judiciary provides the same sanctity to both. The judiciary makes Domestic Violence Act, applicable to both marriages and live-in relationships, involves similar maintenance laws and children born qualify for the inheritance of property of the parents even if the parents are not legally married. Thus, the law makes the two forms of companionship interchangeable, the difference being that the former is a more formal and socially accepted version of being together.

The idea of marriage is endlessly problematic. Look no further, in marriages divorces are a taboo and a sign of “emotional incapability”. And the very idea that a person might not feel the necessity of getting married is not even given a thought.

Of course, many arranged marriages work out. Many love marriages fail. But the difference comes in the degree of freedom we have exercised in them. We have achieved liberty and equality as a political entity but are we really free if there is no freedom to love? Our minds are still colonized by superstition; our hearts are still slaves to prejudice. The very captivity of dead and loveless marriages can be observed in the silence of the houses of many middle-aged couples, where men overwork to spend less time at home and housewives spoil themselves in pursuit of compensatory spirituality or naivety of television soaps, both tied to each other only for the sake of their children. No wonder, a cynical and grief-stricken Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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