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Arranged Marriages in India

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    Marriage in American culture signifies the union between any two people that are in love. Not many people in America can picture or are okay with their parents choosing a lifelong partner for them. However, in India and the Hindu culture, arranged marriage is extremely common. Manu Samhita is the traditional text that stated marriage laws around 200 B.C. and those laws are still followed today (Chettri, 2015). Arranged marriages are put together in a specific manner and these traditions are very important to Indian culture. Depending on the location in India, some women do not have a say in the marriages in which they are arranged, and dowries are still a popular way in which daughters are given away. Arranged marriages are formed through the parents, which allow the couple to not stress about finding their own partner, but some women in India perceive this tradition as demeaning to women since dowries are illegal.

    Although still practiced, the dowry system affects new marriages, the woman’s new household and can be oppressing towards the new bride. Contrary to accepted social protocols in our culture, the Indian culture still accepts arranged marriages as their cultural norm. Anthropologist Nanda went to India many times to understand the culture. On the first trip, she talked to many younger men and women who were in the processing of finding a partner. The first informant was a young college graduate student named Sita. Sita was in the processing of finding a match for the past year. Flustered, Nanda asked does she not care whom she marries. The reply was simple: “This is why I must let my parents chose a boy for me. My marriage is too important to be arranged by such an inexperienced person as myself. In such matters, it is better to have my parents’ guidance” (Nanda, 2016, p. 112) In a recent survey, 74% of people under 30 preferred to have a marriage arranged for them instead of choosing a partner themselves (Dholakia, 2015.) This survey does not represent all of India and who was surveyed is unknown, these statements show how and why people in India believe arranged marriage is such an important tradition. In the majority of countries, people go on dates to find partners and get to know them so by the time marriage occurs there are little secrets about each other.

    Through observation, Nanda saw that there is little to no interaction between the two sexes. Nanda asked, “how can you marry a man you hardly know?” Sita replied with “My parents would never arrange a marriage for me without knowing all about the boys’ background…we have our whole married life to get to know and love our husband” (Nanda, 2016, p. 113) Children put their entire faith in their parents to choose a suitable partner. In the point of view of Sita, arranged marriage is something to not fear but something to look forward to. Getting to know your partner is cherished because instead of no “magic” and knowing everything about them, as in American culture, you get to learn about them and learn to love them as time goes on. Divorce has become precedingly common in most cultures, but not in India. In studies, it was found that only 1 in 100 arranged marriages ends in divorce (Dholakia, 2015.) With low divorce rates, it is another reason why many younger Indians are okay with an arranged marriage. Knowing the importance of arranged marriage, Nanda on her second trip to India stayed with a friend who was in the process of finding a wife for her son. Arranged marriage is very important and the pressure to find the right match is on the guardians.

    Most Indian families do not marry outside their social caste (Nanda, 2016.) This is due to the fact that the groom’s and brides’ family will be similar. The family that Nanda was watching the process of finding a wife showed how critical you must be. The girl in question must not only be pretty but must also have a good personality. She must not gossip, must not quarrel and must be religious (Nanda, 2016.) The family that the girl comes from may not have too many siblings. It would be preferred for her to be the only child, so the bride’s family can provide for the dowry and the wedding (Nanda, 2016.) When a family has more than one girl the effects are often detrimental for the younger sibling(s). The eldest daughter will be married off quickly, so the parents can then focus on finding partners for the younger siblings before the marriage window shuts (Dholakia, 2015.) By rushing marriage for all daughter siblings, the oldest daughter receives lower levels of education since her marriage is the most rushed. The low education level makes her only suitable for men with the same low education level and low economic status (Dholakia, 2015.) Although daughters in multiple sibling families cannot control the number of siblings they have, not being the only child determines their education level and what type of marriage they will be in. Many young people are materialistic and at first glance only into looks. With parents deciding on how the prospects add up all around it allows the child to not focus on looks but the parents to find a partner with all suitable traits. Not all women feel like Sita do about being arranged into a marriage. For this reason, Devika Chawla observed women from 20-40 who have been married from 1980 to the early 2000s.

    The group of women chosen shows the differences in the thought process of younger and older women. Chawla was born and raised in India, but she moved to the United States. Her older brother was one of the observants. He allowed his parents to arrange a marriage, unlike his sister. When sitting in on meetings, her brother rejected women based just off of their appearance, their intellectual capacities, and their unwillingness to move into the city with him (Chawla, 2006.) The first step of a meeting brings both families together as a screening process for each to look at the promise of the others’ child (Chawla, 2006.) Stepping outside her own family, Chawla interviewed younger women in a group which consisted of medical doctors, journalists, activists, and homemakers (Chawla, 2006.) Geeta was 27 years old at the time but was only 4 years old when she realized that her marriage would be arranged for her and she would have no choice in the matter (Chawla, 2006.) Expanding, Geeta said that she had been abused as a child for vocalizing that she objects to an arranged marriage. Her parents would not accept an unsettled child in their house (Chawla, 2006.) The majority of Indian families cannot think of their child being unwed since it would dishonor their house. Chawla’s brother rejected many women due to the fact that they would not leave their careers and move to where the men wanted. This was the case for Suparna who had been married for about 17 years and is in her late thirties. Suparna was forced to stop attending college and was not allowed to finish her undergraduate degree (Chawla, 2006.). Her mother approved of the marriage since their priest said the children’s horoscopes were compatible even though the husband’s economic class was less stable than the girls (Chawla, 2006.) This marriage, as in many other cases, forced Suparna to live in a small house and perform many chores before the rest of the household awoke, which she was not trained for in her natal home (Chawla, 2006.)

    The conflict that occurred from the daily tasks and the stress put a strain on the relationships between the mother in law, and then the relationship between Suparna and her husband, who chose his mother’s side (Chawla, 2006.) Many women are forced to live in an unhappy marriage. Arranged marriage is one of the most common traditions in India and in the Hindu religion but can vary in style throughout different regions. Although the style in which arranged marriages are produced there are still do’s and don’ts that are common to the central theme of them. Young women know it is frowned upon to talk about their future husband in front of elders (Jacobson, 2006.) In central India, in the city of Bhopal, a young girl named Munni parents had been making inquiries about her marriage even before she hit puberty (Jacobson, 2006.) It was a common tradition in an arranged marriage that a young girl should be married off before she hit puberty. An unmarried pubescent girl in the house was uncivilized but in modern times it is not looked down upon (Jacobson, 2006.) Before the 1950s, the most common age for a girl to be married off was 11 but in 1955, the Indian government made laws that punished people who were responsible for a marriage when the children were younger than 15 (Jacobson, 2006.) The behavior of women is carefully watched in Hinduism. Females must act according to certain standards as to not get in trouble.

    The action and behavior of men are much less criticized than women. In central India, it is found that any woman who is seen with an unrelated man are highly criticized. Public scandals are common for women who have a pregnancy and there is no husband (Jacobson, 2006.) In all cases of public scandal, the woman’s reputation is ruined while the boy is forgiven (Jacobson, 2006.) Pregnancy scandals are handled much differently in northern India compared to the central region. In northern India, if a woman is pregnant without a husband, she is rejected by all prospects of a husband and can even be killed by her father (Jacobson, 2006.) The severity shows how seriously families take the tradition of arranged marriage and how a pure bride is valued. Hinduism is not the only religion that partakes in the tradition of arranged marriages7. Arranged marriage is also common among Muslim people. Many-valued aspects of the tradition are the same between both religions. Muslims who use arranged marriages also value the virginity and purity of the bride (Jacobson, 2006.) American marriages are what Indians called an unarranged love marriage. These marriages are considered daring to most Muslims and Hindus. In most cases, people who have flings with Americans or Europeans still end up marrying a partner chosen by their parents (Jacobson, 2006.) Although dowries are now illegal in India, gift giving is still a common practice. In parts of North India, dowries were the main part in negotiating marriages. While in central India, expensive gifts that were presented to the groom’s family to show how you respect the family (Jacobson, 2006.) The differences found between the traditions of Muslims and Hindus show that more than one religion practice arranged marriages and how not all ways are the same even in the same country. There is not one way for arranged marriages to occur and that is seen in West Bengal, India. West Bengal is found in North India and differs significantly in the way traditions are succeeded. In most cases, marriages do not concern the children but are arranged by the guardians.

    Unlike most of India, female parents do not help to choose a suitable partner and only the males do the deciding. In West Bengal, the guardian that does the choosing can be her father, father’s brother, the grandfather, or the girl’s brother (Morton, 1996.) It is thought that the girl should be married before her first puberty which is around 9 years old (Morton, 1996.) In West Bengal is it seen how little females are valued compared to other parts of India. In any other part, mothers have the chance to help and raise their opinion when finding a partner for their child. It is also seen in marrying your daughter off young. The men try to relieve themselves of the burden of a female from the youngest age possible. Finding a husband for daughters in Bengal begins by searching in their own village (Morton, 1996.) By beginning the search in their own village, the men already know and trust most the of families. If no one in the household knows any potential bridegrooms then the search is taken outside the village (Morton, 1996.) When the search is taken outside the immediate village, the guardian consults with men related to the guardian through a marriage bond (Morton, 1996.) When a partner is chosen, the boy will end up being related to the girl. This gives a deeper understanding of marriage in Bengal. Bengal is a village and the power is kept in the family by arranging marriages where children marry cousins.

    Even though all marriages in Bengal, India are arranged through relatedness, dowries are still in place to make the men taking on the women easier. The dowry in Bengal shows the how women mean nothing and have to be sold off to be wanted. As seen in many different locations, women, for the most part, do not approve of arranged marriages and find it demining. The dowry system in place, even though illegal is still commonly practiced. The tradition of dowry makes the women seem like a problem, so the bride’s family must pay the grooms to take her on. In the past, the dowry system was a form of inheritance for women because only the men were allowed to inherit the family property (Srinivasan, 2004.) Since the bride is considered a problem to the groom’s family, the size of the dowry now provides the bride- giver an opportunity for social advancement by attracting a groom from a higher social caste (Srinivasan, 2004.) Parents of girls are willing to give a large dowry to secure a husband that can provide for her. This also gets the daughter out of the home which then does not allow the daughter to have long- term dependence on her parents (Srinivasan, 2004.) Groom’s families prefer a bride with a larger dowry. The larger the dowry, the more welcome the bride will be and the fewer household activities she will need to help with (Srinivasan, 2004.). When a girl’s family cannot give to the extent that the grooms family hopes for the women are in danger. Wives who do not have a dowry large enough they can experience physical abuse along with death in their new home (Srinivasan, 2004.) If a large payment is promised and the bride’s family misses a payment, the husband or in-laws have been known to throw acid on the wife (McCarthy, 2017.) The dowries are nothing but harmful to women.

    The dowries keep the women unequal from men in society and keep them from economic independence (McCarthy, 2017.) Opinions and thoughts on arranged marriages vary in India from person to person. The way arranged marriage is carried out also varies from different regions in India. There is more that goes into finding a suitable partner for your child than just liking a family. Most all children in India do not have a say in whom they marry, especially women. Women are not seen as priorities in most parts of India and female parents are not allowed to be involved in choosing a partner for their child. The traditions involved in arranged marriage leave women unhappy and an object in a trade of money and gifts. Women are only valued as property and as what monetary gifts can be rung out of them. In the end, women are only chess pieces in a tradition that should involve their thoughts and opinions as well, not just men’s.

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