Marriage started out as a religious sacrament that legitimised sexual activity and procreation between two individuals, traditionally a man and a woman. For the most part, marriages were a religious duty, compulsions and not based on the desire to be wed. Though it remained this way for many centuries, there has been a colossal shift in what marriage has come to mean in most cultures today. From being a religious duty that was necessary to have children and engage in intercourse, marriage today is about love, companionship, and respect.
For long, the practice of arranged marriages was widely accepted and engaged in across cultures and religions. After centuries of this practice, people started demanding more autonomy when it came to the decision of whom to wed and the idea of it was so popular that today arranged marriages have been reduced to an outdated and senseless tradition that has no place in an increasingly modernizing world. Though the exception and not the norm in most cultures today, arranged marriages continue to be the only preferred approach to marriage in some cultures.
In India, arranged marriages are still relevant and rather popular with people viewing what is colloquially called ‘love marriages’ with suspicion and disdain. Though considered by the Indian populace to be the right approach for a long-lasting marriage, we still might want to reconsider what it does and what it really means.
The whole premise of arranged marriages is based on the assumption that your parents and the elders of a household are more capable of choosing a partner for you. This might have worked at a time when marriages were based on the social and economic status of the individuals, but with what marriage has come to be today, love and compatibility are considered its basis. With this monumental shift in the very definition of marriage, the notion that your parents know best doesn’t make too much sense and doesn’t work in practice, either.
It’s constantly said that a marriage isn’t a relationship between two people, but a tie between two families. This notion has been challenged by marriage coming to be considered as a very personal matter and not a social one, anymore. Though weddings might be social gatherings, privacy is now considered essential in a marriage. With the emergence of nuclear families, whether an individual is liked by the spouses’ family or vice-versa shouldn’t be considered important. These are trivial nuances that don’t contribute to the functionality or happiness in a marriage.
The concept of arranged marriage leaves little or no choice with the individual, and apart from this, it views marriage as a necessity and not a choice. Here in India, there is a widely popular belief that arranged marriages work or last longer than ‘love marriages’. This notion is erroneous given that families that force people into arranged marriages and the ones that hold outdated views about marriage are less likely to be accepting of divorce. Thus, individuals from such families may not be able to get out of loveless or bad marriage because of familial pressure put on them to keep the marriage for social reasons, and this might easily be mistaken as a happy relationship. In our culture, divorce is still severely stigmatized. Divorced individuals, especially divorced women are said to have deep character flaws due to which their spouses might have ‘left’ them. This leads to families that are regressive in their views to exert more pressure on females to compromise and go on with a bad marriage.
This also brings us to the issue of the severe sexism existing in the concept of arranged marriages in India. Women are still labelled as ‘wife material’ or not by their ability to cook, clean, and willingness to rear children. Their worthiness is measured by arbitrary concepts like virginity and how ‘pious’ they are. Also, women are taught that they ‘belong’ to someone else and are encouraged to do things that will someday make them ‘good wives’. Women are fed the idea that their purpose is to be a wife and a mother someday, this is incredibly detrimental to them and reduces women to child-bearing and rearing entities. Apart from this, they are also told it’s their ‘job’ to keep their husbands happy and to do everything for them from cooking to washing. The whole concept of arranged marriages also puts the onus of making sacrifices, compromising, and making the marriage work on women. Sexism is still extremely rampant within the sphere of arranged marriages with real abilities, personalities, and skills of women being considered worthless.
We as a society need to revisit our entire concept of marriage. Marriage is best left as a deeply personal relationship between two individuals, their gender, social status, caste, or creed notwithstanding. Also, the stigmatization of choosing to remain unmarried or to get divorced needs to be written off our collective conscious. Most importantly, the role and status of women in the sphere of arranged marriage needs to change and the change needs to come soon and has to be monumental in order for women to be treated fairly and not as objects or subordinates to their husbands. Arranged marriages might work for some, but they still deviate from the real essence of what a marriage should be.