Should You Always Mind Your Own Business?

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.

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11 Responses to Should You Always Mind Your Own Business?

  1. Glad to have someone agreeing with me on this issue.

    I too would have alerted the family and parents of the girl, if they were arranging her marriage with a boy who has a past like this. It is not just  an irresponsible exploitative previous relationship with an innocent girl, that I would be concerned about but anything else that would affect the happiness of the girl including a history of health and genetic problems or any other issue that I would expect the boy and his family to be up front about.

    I know two cases of marriages where parties hid information from each other and caused the marraiges to fail later. Relatives and friends did not do their duty by forewarning the innocent party’s family.

    Being indifferent to the welfare and future happiness of someone known to you and dear to you is not “minding one’s business”. That is shirking one’s social and human responsibility.

    If after being forewarned, the family and the girl feels that it is not an issue with them, then it’s their lookout and I would thereafter mind my own business with a clear conscience.

    Let me cite analogies.
    If you knew that a particular food item being sold in a particular shop was bad for health or if you knew a consumer durable of a particular brand had a defect which you and others have experienced, would you not alert a friend or relative if you came to know that they were planning to invest in it?

    What about real estate? If you knew that a particular builder or promoter, did not have the papers and documents in order or did not have the necessary statutory approvals,  would you not alert your friend if he was planning to invest in that property? Or would you just “mind your business”?

    In this particular case, I agree that the boys past amorous dalliance without committment  may not be an issue, in USA and Europe as boys and girls usually have relationships with others before they settle down. But our social set up is different.
    Companies and employers seek references when someone applies for jobs. Should we mind our business and say nothing if we are   asked our opinions about someone when we know enough about him that makes him an unsuitable person?

    Warning each other about dangers, potential health problems, etc. is not an interference in other’s business. I would freely do it and I expect all my close friends and relatives to warn me if there is danger to me and my family.

    Let’s see if others have a different opinion.

    • Actually GV, I would be inclined to overlook past dalliances if the guy has gotten over them. I look at them as kind of unavoidable in the present scenario even in India, where women’s representation in the workforce has grown phenomenally of late and in certain sectors is on a par with that of men. It is probably not realistic or reasonable to expect young men and women,even those coming from conservative backgrounds, to not take a liking to someone, to not go out together, to not fall in love. It is natural, and probably should be a natural part of the personal growth of an individual. In any case, not all relationships are irresponsible or exploitative, and certainly not every girl is innocent unless she is a minor.
      What I feel is this–when you are very sure that you will be having an arranged marriage, it makes sense to at least try not to get too involved emotionally. And if there is a serious involvement, then for heaven’s sake have the guts to stand up to your parents. Nobody should be allowed to thus buckle under pressure to just please the parents and cause unhappiness to everyone. I find it outrageous that any girl should be stuck for life with somebody who is resentful from the start, just because he could not withstand parental pressure.

  2. I agree with Vishvanaathjee in every respect.

    I am a firm believer in minding my own business TO A LIMIT.

    If someone is being beaten up, I will not mind my own business.

    If someone is being bullied, I will not mind my own business.

    If I believe that a person’s SO is not being completely honest with them, and if I happen to know this person well enough to hazard a talk about it, I will not mind my own business.

    The way I see it, if you are a threat to someone I know and love and cherish, it IS my business.

    When my cousin was emotionally blackmailed into marrying someone I knew to be a misogynistic prick, I made it a point to raise a hue and cry in every way I could. It did not work. Her parents only grew more staunch. That would not have bothered me in itself, but she told me to back off, so I did. In any case, this cousin is like a sister to me and it IS my business if she’s coerced into a marriage she does not really want to have.

    Social propriety is not of paramount importance to me. The happiness of the people I love is. Common humanity is. My own sense of ethics is.
    If the said person tells me to stand down, I will certainly honor that. But I consider it my conscientious duty to forewarn them of stuff that might be harmful to them.

    So yes, minding my own business is conditional.

  3. bhagwad says:

    I would inform the parents only if I was a friend of the girl or a friend of the girl’s parents. Since I don’t consider having previous partners to be a crime, or even morally repugnant, I would see no benefit in “warning” the parents or the girl herself.

    If however I knew that the boy had a violent past or was likely to inflict harm on the girl, then yes – I would see it as my responsibility to at least issue a warning.

    • Not that I consider past relationships a crime or a blot on the character, just that I believe that the guy should get well over them before he agrees to have an arranged marriage. What I find morally repugnant is the scenario in which a guy allows himself to be emotionally arm-twisted by his parents into marrying not whom he wants to but somebody chosen by his parents. It is just so unfair to the girl he is marrying.

  4. R's Mom says:

    Let me start my first comment on your blog by saying that I may not agree to you completely..

    I firmly believe in ‘minding my own business’


    Unless, I am sure that the relationship the boy has been involved in is physically or mentally abusive…or that the boy has done something wrong or that there is concrete evidence of his being a bad person (Is there anything like a bad person)

    But, if I knew, he had a girlfriend like a normal person and went through a breakup, I dont think I will interfere…

    Again, I so agree with all the things you said in the post about parents of girls getting worked up about their marriage, about dowry being taken ‘not as dowry’ but in other forms, or about tricking a girl into marriage if you knew your child was in love with someone else…

    Its a lovely post, a post that made me think that my stance of ‘mind my own business’ may not always be the right one..thanks for that

    • R’s Mom, welcome here 🙂
      I too wouldn’t interfere if I know that the guy had a break-up.
      Its only the cases where the guy agrees to marrying a girl of his parents’ choice against his own wishes, keeping the girl and her family in the dark all the time until after the marriage, which truly disturb me.

  5. I agree with Bhagwad and R’s mom that in a general case, having had a previous relationship and an “unfortunate” break up is not such a bad thing that we must interfere and dissuade the girl or parents.
    But in this case of the American woman, it was clear that the boy was not serious at all right from the start and it was not an unfortunate breakup.
    May be in some societies, and in his own family circles, it is not considered outrageous, but I definitely feel the girls family ought to know about it. What they decide later after knowing about it is their business. Tipping them off in time IS my business, if I suspect the boy’s family will suppress the facts.

  6. Scribby says:

    I would have agreed to inform the girl’s parents about the boy’s past and why not! Tomorrow when my daughter will be getting married [arranged or love] I would want to know of the guy’s family and his past…

    having a past is not a problem..everyone in a way has a past…hiding the past is

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