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Thursday, October 29, 2009

So what the heck is 'arranged marriage'?

Arranged marriage is one phenomenon which seems to be the norm in some cultures, while it is totally inconceivable in others. Arranged marriage is still widely followed in south Asia and the middle east. Generations after generations, parents take it as their biggest responsibility to find a suitable bride/groom for their children. Alliances are not just made between the man and the woman but between the families.

Ever since I have been outside of India, all my friends from the western world are immensely curious to know how the whole deal works and if it is actually true. I have been asked over and over again, how in the world can two people who barely know each other enter into a life long commitment. How can one, who takes hours to select a piece of clothing, make such a decision within a couple of meetings? Well, every time I am deeply embarrassed by the question and quite honestly am bewildered myself. But I can make a reasonable assessment of the situation.

Dig this! India has about 30 official languages with over 1000 dialects. We have every possible religion on the earth thriving in this land which is further complicated by the caste system ( age old system of dividing people up by their jobs, which doesn't sit well in today's world but is quite rigidly still there). Hinduism, the predominant religion followed in India has over 330 million forms of Gods or deities with each having a separate following ( most of the countries' population is not so huge! :) ). As you can imagine not two households in India would have the same traditions and beliefs. Now top this all up with a strong tendency to hold on tight to all these customs. In India, kids are grown with immense care and protection. Parents literally give away their lives to get their children the best. In return the children feel obligated to give away the one thing that their parents treasure the most - to stay in line with the family traditions and seek their acceptance. Baam comes in the arranged marriage!

When the kids reach a suitable age (generally 21 for girls and 24-25 for guys), parents start scouting for 'suitable' partners through family contacts/agents/websites. The idea is that if a match is found between a family with similar values, social status and understanding, the possibility of the marriage being successful is high. Mostly a meeting is arranged between the families to discuss the issue and things are finalized within that meeting. Most couples barely talk before their wedding!! They some how have to figure it all out later!

So thats the general picture. But parts of India, especially the cities is rapidly being modernized. With more and more education and influences from the western world, people are realizing the flaws of such a life. While it offers security and acceptance within the family, alarm bells keep ringing in every youth's head at the very thought of living with a complete stranger. As several leaders in the country believe, true integration can only be achieved when people from all over, mix up. The whole arranged marriage business has taken a newer version now with the matrimonial websites playing a major role. Within a shortlisted group, choices can be made quite freely by the boy and the girl, giving them much more time to decide. Somehow this seems to create a win-win situation for both.

While some of the country's youth is of the rebellious nature, most of them are caught in the middle, knowing not whether to sway or not to sway! This is perhaps one of the biggest dilemma that today's youth has in my country. Living outside, I almost laugh over the fact that how certain things are just the way of life in the west while in the east we worry so much over something as basic and fundamental as the right to chose your life partner. Time, common sense (lots of it! :)) and some guts should be the remedy I guess.

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