Marriage is a union of two individuals who start the new journey of their life together. In different religions, customs and practices regarding marriage are different. Despite having diverse practices across different cultures, one thing is common, that is, marriage is a life-long commitment. It gives us a life partner, a teammate, as we move through the challenges of life together. Mainly it eliminates loneliness.
In Hindu rituals, we ensure that the promises taken by the bride and groom witnesses the most powerful ‘evidence’. It demands the presence of all the Gods and Goddess, five elements, and the entire universe to be present while the vows are being taken. Let me take you through a vow that is taken during the ‘saath phera‘ (seven rounds around the fire) which is as follows:
परस्त्रियं मातूसमां समीक्ष्य स्नेहं सदा चेन्मयि कान्त कूर्या:
वामांगमायामि तदा त्वदीयं ब्रूते वच: सप्तमंत्र कन्या!!
This is the seventh and the last vow in which the couple pleads for loyalty, togetherness, companionship, understanding, and unconditional love between themselves. They also pray for enough patience and maturity to stand by each other, not only in this life but in the many lives to come.
How eternal these promises are! But, are they really able to keep these promises? More specifically we can say ‘does society allow the groom to keep his promises?‘
According to the Global Health Observatory (GHO) of the World Health Organisation, women generally live longer than men, on average by six to eight years. The latest data published by WHO in 2018 shows that the life expectancy of males is 67.4 while that of females is 70.3 in India. Despite this fact, the legal age of marriage for women is kept as 18 years, and that for men is 21 years, as per the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. It is not just this law but the culture, society, and environment that drives such choices, that the boy needs to be older than the girl, and this indirectly provides superiority to men. Another primitive reason behind such culture could be that a younger girl, as compared to her husband, would be able to take care of him during his old age. Moreover, marriage is more beneficial for men than for women. It shows how society has always been biased towards men. With such thought processes, can we say that we are letting the couple keep their promises? Rather, we are making sure that the woman dies alone without her partner by her side during her senescence, which is the time when she might need her partner the most.
Some people may provide a justification by saying that the fertility of younger women is the reason behind such choices, but it would be better if we concentrate on parenting more than fertility, which I would say is way more difficult and stressful than people realise. It requires maturity which comes with age. After all, someone should not sacrifice her young vital life only to be abandoned during her crucial old days.
An individual can marry in the United States, without parental consent or other authorisation, on reaching 18 years of age (with the exception of a few states) for both the sexes, as the difference in age of husband and wife has no basis in law. Maintaining the difference in the age of spouses is simply nothing but a contribution to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands.