William Shakespeare once said, “What is in a name?” Had he been in India, he would have surely uttered, “What’s in a surname?”
Yes, you read it right!
When it comes to marriage, which is nevertheless a socially approved sexual contract, ‘surname’ plays a huge role. For what? Well, surname introduces the ‘caste’ preference. Casteist parents often prefer an arranged marriage system for their offspring so that their “izzat” (honour), a euphemism for ‘social anxiety’, is well-respected.
I contrite for using the ‘apex fallacy’ here but it’s a common experience faced and observed by many Indians here.
Our society prefers marriage to preserve the patriarchal traditions and cultural notions of caste. It has nothing to do with love in general, although most married couples are deluded by the idea of socially constructed and Bollywood-generated love, romance and sex.
If marriage was literally about ‘ideal’ bonding, it would have possessed the inherent features of unconditional and unconventional acceptance, respect and freedom. Take a look around and behold if the system of marriage has literally emancipated social cognition and transcended people towards the bliss of sexual liberation, gender equity and exogamy? The possibility is quite less.
The last time I checked the census data of 2011, I concluded that the scope of exogamy is merely 6% amidst the overpopulation of India. What does this data tell us? It clearly reflects that the idea of marriage so far has been about formalisation and conservation of caste-based bonding and nothing else.
A report in 2018 by Lok Foundation and Oxford University stunned “modern India” that urbanites still marry the way their conservative grandparents did.
On the other hand, despite the cacophony of the 21st century that we’re in, the marriage system has yet to anthropologically include same-sex bonding in our societies. The conventional idea of marriage still prevails, despite many people receiving graduation certifications from education institutes. With all due respect to the brouhaha encircling marriage, we are yet to establish a ‘safe space culture’ for women. As known, even if unrecognised, marriage benefits the ego and masculinity of men more than the sexuality of women and queer.
From dowry system to domestic violence, ‘marital rape’ yet goes unrecognised and illegalised. Marital rape is no less an offence than murder, culpable homicide or rape per se. It denigrates the honour and dignity of a human being and reduces her to a chattel to be utilized for one’s self convenience and comfort. It reduces a woman to a corpse, living under the constant fear of hurt or injury.
Medical evidence proves that rape has severe and long-lasting consequences for women. A PIL (2019) was filed in this regard to make ‘marital rape’ a crime but the patriarchal nature of the Supreme Court openly and impudently rejected it by uttering “However brutal the husband is…when two people (are) living as husband and wife… can sexual intercourse between them be called rape?”
Instead, marriage becomes another liability on the shoulders of women. They’re supposed to have sex when their husband demands it. They’re supposed to migrate between the kitchen and bedroom and do the household work without getting quantified in GDP calculation for their unpaid labour.
They’re supposed to give up working because their mother-in-law would not want it since the neighbour or relatives next door would judge the character of ‘working’ bahu. They’re supposed to reproduce as and when the husband and his family demand it. At times, ‘vastu‘ or ‘kundali‘ has a role to play here.
They’re supposed to speak softly, sit on the floor, cover their head, suppress expression and at times must not dare to touch the idols of God during menstruation.
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In another realm, the recent love jihad law will set a precedent of oppression of women. The ramifications of the law will boost honour killings or parental interventionism in the choices a woman would want to make, followed by discouragement of interfaith marriage. Intercaste marriage is already all-time-low. In one of my previous blogs on ‘caste and compatibility’ published on this platform, I highlighted how the system of anuloma and pratiloma continues to dissuade women from upper-caste community to marry a man of lower-caste community.
Indian Human Development Survey-II (2011-12) mentions that “73% of marriages were found to have been ‘arranged’ by parents. Mainly, caste-based. Further, almost 70% women said they had not met their husbands before the day of the wedding.”
The following chart generated by ‘India In Pixels’ tells us further about the status of endogamy which are mainly in violation of consent, liberty and also personal choice:
This whole idea of marriage has now become another conspicuous display of affection, unnecessary spending (which verily adds more to the pressure on bride), judgements and Instagram selfie moments. At times I feel that those matrimonial sites are nothing but manifestations of what society thinks. Almost like a food menu at a sports bar, the menu card of potential bride and groom represents how casteist, racist and illiberal we are. We may like quixotic love and quotes but when it comes to marriage, the sanghi-mindset hidden in our so-called liberal mind pops out!
Anyway, “shaadi main jaroor aana!”