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Why I Think Arranged Marriages Work in India

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Trigger Warning: Mentions of Sexual Harassment/Marital Rape

India can be named as the heartland or even the “arranged marriage belt” of the world.

This is because of the enormous influence that arranged marriages have on Indian society. But, I wonder what happens in other parts of the world. In Europe, the USA and Latin America, arranged marriages are rarely heard of, let alone accepted. However, once upon a time, all the royal families in Europe had arranged marriages. England’s Royal family had ties with Germany (then called Prussia’s royal families) and Russia’s (The Romanovs).

In fact, they so frequently arranged marriage with each other that England’s royal family is actually German by heritage (they had to change their surname from Germanic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor after WW1).

So, western societies had a history of arranged marriages. But then today, we see it doesn’t exist anymore there. Men and women have to find a partner without any family arrangements, and hardly do both families interfere in their children’s relationship affairs.

This picture depicts a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony. This symbolises the presence and growth of arranged marriages in India.
India has had an enormous influence of arranged marriages within the society.

While on the other side, in India, this is the only business that families on both sides have in their lives! That’s quite a level of responsibility (often self-imposed) which Indian families bear. It’s as if the families live their entire life getting their children married according to their choice of religion, caste and social status.

So, then why do Indian arranged marriages work?

This has always been a question of surprise and curiosity for Indians and Westerners as well. Because despite arranged marriages, the divorce rate in India is meagre compared to that of western societies, which prefer love marriages. Isn’t it ironic that love marriage is a relationship whose foundation is built on love and trust? Yet love marriages go through more divorces than arranged marriages!

In a love marriage, couples have the freedom to like someone and accept them as their partner in life, without any barriers like family interference, caste, religion, colour and even a partner’s gender. (I have never heard a non-heterosexual marriage being arranged, so that comes in the bucket of love marriage).

But yet, the divorce and separation rate is higher in love marriages. Even in India, the divorce rate increased compared to the last few decades because Indians are becoming more westernised and accepting of love marriages.

But on the other hand, in an arranged marriage, the basis of a relationship is not love between the groom and bride. It’s more like an agreement between families, where the caste, religion, social status, business interests, political affiliations, food, language, skin colour, education, number of family members, dowry agreements, astrology, and an infinite number of such irrelevant things are taken into consideration.

This image is of a wedding ceremony. It symbolises how in the Indian society arranged marriages are kept at a higher pedestal than love marriages.
Representational Image.

After all this hard work, that’s when a marriage becomes arranged in India. I wonder if it’s easy to understand rocket science or quantum mechanics and how arranged marriages become arranged in India!

But then, after all this commotion, the most stunning fact is that such marriages last forever, most of the time! At least until my parents’ generation, divorce was a rare thing. Many couples who did not even know each other fell in love after the marriage. At the same time, many realised that their spouse is not someone they could ever love after marriage. But still, divorce was not an option unless some physical assault or sexual harassment happened.

Well, the worst part in India is that marital rape is still legal. I find this deeply troubling. So the couples, despite all the problems and ups and downs, still stick with each other for their entire life. Unlike in western countries, where a couple can get separated for reasons like the spouse’s failure in business, bankruptcy, or even the husband’s inability to satisfy his wife sexually.

But this rarely happens in India except in high-class engagements. The sad part is that Indian husbands have always been dominant on their wives because of a patriarchal society. This was partly due to the lack of education and employment opportunities for women back then.

In villages and low-income families in cities, the physical abuse by husbands of their wives and children is common. Even wealthy and well-educated families suffer from clashes between married couples for various reasons, including extra-marital affairs. Still getting a divorce is something that is taken as a last resort.

Well, this explains why Indian marriages last despite all the obstacles, but not all families suffer from this. Most Indian families value this system of arranged marriages where a couple once married has a responsibility towards their children and elders to set an example and maintain this tradition.

This image represents a typical Indian family. Arranged marriages often put the pressure of not getting a divorce because many times filial pressure and thought of children can deter them from the same.
Divorces within Indian families are often less because of the pressure that comes from society as well as the risk of putting children through emotional distress.

Because when a divorce happens, the biggest sufferers are not the husband or the wife, but their children. After all, what’s the mistake of those poor children who have to suffer by staying away from one of their parents? The children always love both parents, and they cannot get the same love from a stepmother or step-father.

This makes the Indian couple continue their marriage despite the fights even if the husband and wife stop loving each other. Because they love their children, and getting separated due to irreconcilable differences will affect their children’s life.

Wouldn’t the children learn the same thing from their parents? By having a divorce, the tradition of arranged marriage will break, as the children will prefer to have a love marriage later in their lives after seeing their parents divorced after an arranged marriage.

I feel that we are indebted to the sacrifice of our parents and grandparents, who valued their children’s education and a bright future over their conflicts. Especially, women suffer a lot in this patriarchal marriage hegemony. They still continue the marriage just for the love of their children. I don’t find this self-sacrifice and unconditional love anywhere amongst men. It’s always the mother who does the most challenging job in the world!

Hence, this responsibility that children should not suffer and not get deprived of love and care from both the father and mother binds the arranged marriage couples along with the compulsion to maintain the family tradition. Also, Indian society is deeply religious, status-conscious and obsessed with family. Therefore, it’s not easy for a divorcee to get re-married again.

Even today, it’s difficult for someone to live unmarried or single, let alone divorced. The lack of respect from the Indian society towards a divorcee or even a bachelor (unless he becomes a saint or Prime Minister) is deeply troubling. Maybe this also drives the couples to continue their marriage by avoiding all the societal scuffling.

This was a small attempt to understand why arranged marriages work in India. I think western societies also had this culture a few centuries before. However, this got lost due to the insistence of individual freedom over family, obsession for material achievements like career, money and fame.

Of course, this does not mean all love marriages end up in divorce. On the contrary, many stand the weather and remain lifelong committed. The Presidents of the USA (except Donald Trump) are excellent examples of successful love marriages. But things are changing fast, and India is becoming a global hub, with the winds of all sorts of ideas flowing across the nation. So it will be hard to maintain the arranged marriage tradition in India in the coming future.

The article is originally published by the author on his blog – AbhiKNotes 

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