In a comment on this post on IHM’s blog, GV asked all readers whether they would inform a girl’s parents if they come to know that the guy that girl is set to ‘arranged-marry’ has been romantically involved with another girl. I believe I was among the very few( or was I the only one?) who said categorically that they would.
This led to some objections being raised in the next post, the argument being that people had no business meddling in other people’s affairs.
Well, I admit it does look like meddling in other people’s affairs. In fact it would constitute meddling in other people’s affairs, and I understand that . All I can say is, it is difficult to always mind your own business when everyone around you is a proud upholder of the Great Indian Culture, which dictates that people, and most certainly good people, should never mind their own business.
I mean, matters such as whether or whom you marry and when, and what you choose to do for a living are what most people in the West would imagine to be their own business. Now the ‘good’, cultured, wise people of India leave such trivial, mundane matters for their parents to decide, and concern themselves solely with the most important job of inculcating the right cultural values in their kids–so that the kids grow up to be what their parents always wanted them to be, marry when their parents express the desire to see them married and to whoever catches their parents’ fancy too. These kids, having claimed the society’s approval by NOT minding their business, can now devote themselves to ‘properly’ raising their own kids, and the cycle continues, perpetuating the ageless Indian Culture. I would say it is little short of blasphemy in India to mind your business.
Let’s also take a long hard look at the institution of arranged marriage. Now our culture, being a very straightforward and honest culture, makes no bones about being partial to the males and their parents. Male supremacy is, after all, enshrined in our holiest of holy texts, the Vedas. And the institution of the arranged marriage is the most potent and effective weapon in the hands of the Great Indian Culture to help carry forward its dearly held idea of male -supremacy(and the inherent corollary of patriarchy). A groom can actually demand, and get paid, a huge dowry for allowing some poor girl the exclusive privilege of waiting on him and his parents hand and foot all her life. If there is no dowry involved, the girl’s family is expected to remain beholden to the boy’s for their ‘kindness’ all their lives.
As to why parents of sons prefer the arranged marriage is obvious enough, but why do parents of girls want their daughters to have an arranged marriage? I am afraid this is something I’ve never quite understood. I imagine that long term cultural brainwashing coupled with fear of the intense social censure to be faced in the event of non-compliance must be powerful reasons in themselves. Whatever their reasons, the fact is that parents of girls are as eager to arrange their marriages as the parents of sons, even as they whine and complain about ‘having a daughter to marry off’.
Now I come from a very conservative community where arranged marriages are pretty much the norm, despite the recent spate of ‘love’ marriages. The old guard is still by and large in control. So I see a lot of arranged marriages still happening all around me, which means that I am also fairly familiar with the politics that accompanies the negotiations. Dowry is, mercifully, not explicitly asked for but most grooms/their families accept gleefully whatever the girl’s side might want to give, of their own volition. These ‘gifts’ are a sort of public proclamation of deference to the groom’s side, an acknowledgement of the groom being much sought after, which is primarily what the groom’s side derive their sense of entitlement from. Needless to say, daughters of better-placed(read richer) fathers often get preference in the marriage market, as they are *likely* to spend more on the wedding, jewelry, gifts etc. If they don’t , too bad, that family does not value its daughters, imagine scrimping on your own daughter’s wedding, yadda yadda yadda.
In the arranged marriage market, it is understood that neither side is above whitewashing its own flaws and presenting a rather airbrushed version of themselves in order to get the best possible deal. Both sides invariably launch an independent inquiry into those candidates which match up with their criteria the most–often inviting inputs from neutral, third party sources or whoever might be in a position to give an unbiased opinion. It is not too difficult to ascertain the veracity of claims made about qualifications and job profiles. The problem really arises when parents wish to find out more on the personal front.
Parents, particularly the parents of girls, have of late been very anxious to make sure that the guy is not being arm-twisted by his parents to marry according to their wishes .
Why are parents of girls more worried on this count? Well, for one, the stakes are much higher for them. For another, it is invariably the boys who succumb to parental pressure. I have heard of seven such cases in the past two/three years in our community . For some strange reason I have not yet heard of any case where the girl happened to be in a relationship and was emotionally blackmailed into agreeing to an arranged marriage. Why? Are girls better at handling emotional blackmail ? Doubtful. Do parents let the girls off the hook more easily? Possibly. Or is it simply easier to make a guy come around in such cases, by reminding him, no doubt, of the tremendous perks of arranged marriage, and by extension more difficult to convince a girl to have an arranged marriage when she has experienced a relationship based more on love and equality than an arranged marriage can ever be ? Very likely.
The groom’s family, of course, cannot be expected to let the girl’s family know if their son happened to be wanting to get married to somebody of his choice and came around only to please his parents. Information of such sensitive nature could doom their son’s prospects, and who in their right mind would want that? They have nothing to lose in any case. At worst, their son will be resentful towards the girl, which is never an issue. (It is the guy being loving towards the girl which is more of an issue, trust me. It is part of the reason why they oppose ‘love’ marriages with such passion.) They know the flesh is weak–lock the couple up in a room for the night and let nature do the rest. What have these Western ideas of love and affection got to do with procreation–the primary aim of marriage– anyway? A win-win situation for them, you see. And just in case the marriage does indeed not work out (of the seven cases I mentioned, two ended in divorce and one in separation) it is all too easy to heap the blame on the girl– she made an issue of a non-issue, she did not try to walk the extra mile to win him over etc. etc.
I feel for each of those seven girls who were tricked into a hopeless union in this manner, though I do not even know all of them personally. Would I have told their families if I were to get wind of the sham beforehand? I sure as hell would. For once I would not mind meddling in matters that do not concern me. It would make me feel terribly guilty to simply mind my own business and keep quiet.
Minding your own business is not always the best option in Indian conditions.