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Opinion: Arranged Marriage Is a ‘Market’ In India. Here’s How It Works.

In traditional matchmaking, the credentials of caste, wealth, prestige, kundli, etc, are matched with no regard for good chemistry between two people. Fortunately enough, the traditional practices have evolved and the prospective people are allowed to at least have a conversation.

However, owing to the diversity of the Indian polity, this is not a general rule yet. Couples still need time to start and gradually develop chemistry. Or, is it mutual dependence that develops? Or, a habit of each other? Or, is it a sum total of the two? Or, is chemistry itself this sum?

This image shows two people holding hands. It is a way of showing how in arranged marriages there is no consideration for love or chemistry between people
Representational Image

Alas! The vital questions are lost to the ‘assumed’ burden on the family who are eager to get their daughter married soon. This article looks into the marriage process from the point of view of a woman.

The system may look rigid and needing change when studied from a distance. But, once you personally plunge into the game you realise the level of humiliating dirt rubbed right in your face. Women in India are supposed to be ‘paraya dhan’ that have to eventually go and adjust in some other home. This becomes the gist of their lives. They are initiated into social life with a focus on them becoming adept in managing a household.

Although it is only praiseworthy to learn as many skills as possible, limiting the woman’s world or simply focusing on these skills is equal to stifling her voice and limiting her ideas and ambition. In this scenario, if the woman does not get married at the assumed ‘correct’ age, she doesn’t know what else to do or expect from her life.

This sets in futility, irritability and stress. The competition in the marriage market is only intensifying with expectations for a ‘perfect’ match reaching a point of no return. Therefore, it has been observed that people generally cross the ‘correct’ age before they can find a life partner, rather before a life partner could be found for them.

Another grave question is why does the man’s side of the family have the upper hand throughout? Does the man leave his home? Is his life turned upside down?

This picture shows two rings against a background depicting an arranged marriage

The possible reason could be the implicit knowledge in the Indian marriage discourse that the woman’s side is under the constant pressure of getting her ‘married off soon’. The unequal power distribution can be observed right from the time of the exchange of biodata and photographs. The woman’s documents should reach the man’s side first giving them the sole right to accept or reject her right there.

Next in line is the prospective families meeting each other. Given the high demand of a fair and beautiful woman, it is inevitable that she should be put under heavy layers of makeup and clothes that brighten her up. I am yet to meet a man who has been under a similar pressure to look and feel fake in a meeting organised solely for the purpose of judging you.

Women again deal with all sorts of inquisitive questions. What is her age? Then the years she completed her school and college-assumingly a clever yet uncouth way of cross checking her age. Her perfection in household management is the base requirement. Also, she should be smart, educated and confident to walk with the modern and progressive man. On the contrary, the man being in a decent job itself places him on top of the world. Thus, a superwoman and a decent average man are good to go. How fair is the deal for the woman?

Another way of choosing a woman, is spotting the pretty and presentable lot in the grand Indian weddings and functions. Well, do we have the same yardstick for beauty and presentability for all? Definitely not.

The traditional woman for some may be extra modern for someone else and a mild woman for some can be uncouth for others. While a well behaved woman for someone can be under confident for others.

This image shows a person being married perhaps in an arranged marriage setting.
Women are initiated into social life with a focus on them becoming adept in managing a household.

The hapless parents stuck in the commotion of expectations constantly persuade their daughters to keep shifting from behavior to behavior and from one appearance to another. One wonders where is the place for the woman’s individuality and personality in this confusion?

Don’t we realise presenting a fake identity now would make her live that fake identity forever if she is condescendingly chosen with the same?

It is noteworthy that none of the points mentioned here entail the physical and monetary demands put on the woman’s parents. It is a narration of how the entire process kills the woman’s personality, replacing the meaning in her life with a void she would try to fill for the rest of her life.

What measures can we take to withhold the deplorable and still deteriorating scenario? According to me, the prime task is to raise women as thinking, breathing, and feeling human beings and not as ‘paraya dhan’. Raising daughters who are financially independent considerably lowers the ‘burden’ on both the family as well as the woman.

She should have confidence and meaning in her life. Another important issue is that the family should stand strong in face of adversity. It can be easily observed that women accept the frivolity of the entire process and the humiliation of marrying a man they don’t really want to marry just to keep their families comfortable and at peace. Education, financial independence and standing strong on principles are the keys to maintaining feminist respectability.

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