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Why We Need To Reconsider Our Collective Take On Arranged Marriages

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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to the decision of whom to wed and the idea of it was so popular that today arranged marriages have been reduced to an outdated and senseless tradition that has no place in an increasingly modernizing world.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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