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Time to Abolish the Arranged Marriage?
The Roundtable Open Forum # 105

SUNMETRA CHOUDHURY

 

 

 


I think it was the picture of the young woman and her young man that really firmed up my position on this subject.

It sounds really cliched but she looked like the girl next door, she looked like she could have been my friend telling me how her family doesn’t like her boyfriend.

Nidhi Barak didn’t live next door but she did live right next to Delhi, in Rohtak, Haryana, India. As much as we could identify with Nidhi’s life story -- girl meets boy, they fall in love, their families disapprove of it -- her death took us back to another age, and maybe to some Taliban-dominated country.

The fine arts student was lynched and cremated in public by her family and her boyfriend was beheaded.

For falling in love.

We blamed the khap panchayat -- the medieval village council system that runs Haryana even today -- for its constant diktats against same-gotra (caste) love, same-village love; we rightly blamed the parents and they were arrested for this never-in-a-million-years-will-we-forget lesson against love; we blamed the politicians who silently encourage these khaps; but I think, that much of the blame lies with us, for still treating love marriage as abnormal and arranged as the norm.

And every time one of us, educated, supposedly independent, individuals agrees to marry someone not of our own choosing, someone we don't love, we are silently condoning those who kill to oppose the concept of love marriage.

I know the arguments for an arranged marriage but what surprises me is how common and normal it still is. When a journalist I know recently got married, I asked her where she met her husband. She hesitated and said a little apologetically, “No, it’s an arranged marriage.”

She looked a little wary and I remember telling her being married was quite fun; she said, “Is it?” We didn’t talk more and I didn’t want to intrude but I really couldn’t figure out why she would agree if she was so uncertain.

Could it be that our tradition of listening to elders in our family is just getting the better of us? Maybe, we are confusing the need to respect and take care of them with putting our lives in their hands.

After all, isn’t the right to choose our partner the most basic right of us as individuals? Isn’t it an exercise of free will that we have a responsibility to fulfil? And when we give it up to make our parents happy, we aren’t just being lazy about asserting our independence, we are trying to be ‘good’, unlike those who bad, wayward people who marry out of choice and for love.

It’s because many of us just give in to our parents’ objections to caste, colour, status and region that people like Nidhi and Dharmender have to die.

In 2007, newlyweds Manoj and Babli, from a village two hours away from Rohtak, were killed for marrying within their gotra. In the same manner of public execution, Babli was made to drink pesticide after being forced to watch her husband’s limbs broken and then strangled by her own family.

I know that most people would say that cracking down on honour killings, handing out death sentences to the perpetrators like a Delhi court did last year to family members of another couple murdered, will be the best way to prevent honour killings but I suggest that we start actively opposing arranged marriages.

I’m not talking about parents helping out their single too-busy-to-mingle children meet a few suitable boys and girls which is a great boon in a way.

I’m saying the social sanction it receives right now should immediately be lifted.

Just as no one would admit to asking for dowry in public, they should feel embarrassed about forcing their children to marry someone. No longer should young people proudly proclaim their arranged marriage status -- it’s best left a dirty secret, because lovers who run away aren’t freaks.

This campaign for marrying for love needs megastars so maybe we have crusaders like the uber cool MS Dhoni, who didn’t just set trends with his sense of fashion and his small town background but also has a filmy love story to be proud of. The story goes that his wife Sakshi was interning at a Kolkata hotel and when the cricket hero checked in, sparks flew.

Or how about Sachin who is not just defying retirement age but is also a posterboy for falling in love with an older woman. These are Gods of Modern India and so maybe they could do this as a public and social awareness campaign instead of just endorsing cool drinks.

We will, of course, gloss over the fact that Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, all metro boys, all went in for the girls their parents chose.

But it’s an idea whose time has come. If groups like Love Commandos and Gulabi Gangs could emerge out of our cities and villages to protect those who are threatened by khaps and their likes, why can’t we all take this simple stand to make arranged matches ‘dishonourable’?

The worst that can happen is that we stay single and that’s not such a bad thing for our population, either.

And for those who just don’t want to break their parents’ heart -- I offer the line my friend did to her heartbroken parents. When they objected to her choice of husband -- a divorcee who was 10 years older -- she dramatically declared, “Fine, but if I’m unhappy with the man you choose for me, you’ll have to live with that all your life?”

Her parents gave her their blessings in a heartbeat.

 

THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 105

We invite our readers to weigh in on the issues raised above and share with us their thoughts and opinions … by posting the comments in the space provided below.

The author of the essay is an associate editor, NDTV and senior anchor in India.
[Courtesy: The Hindu newspaper. Edited for sikhchic.com]
October 7, 2013
 

Conversation about this article

1: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), October 07, 2013, 3:53 PM.

The arranged marriage was the way to stop people marrying outside of their castes. Since in Sikhi there are no castes, there should be no arranged marriage!

2: R Singh (Canada), October 07, 2013, 8:12 PM.

Extremes are always bad, there are no guarantees either way. Just like arranged marriages, there are many 'love' -- read infatuation/rebellion marriages -- gone awry. What is needed in any case is the input of the two who are to marry. Arranged marriages can be limited in their outreach to mean an introduction and love marriage to withstand scrutiny of reason. What is required is that reason prevails in either case. There should be a waiting period with marriage counseling in every case. Many a marriage fails because of unreasonable expectations and coming face to face with reality, when love comes under duress. There is too much focus on the method but none on the process. Example of super rich will not suffice for the vast majority who do not have the luxury of jet-setting to romantic locales or rolling in money in huge mansions.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), October 08, 2013, 4:19 AM.

Arranged marriage is not allowed in Sikhism but how many know this or know that caste is not allowed either, nor dowry nor male child preference! We have been liberated by the Guru's teachings and we are to have no arranged or forced marriage in our households or be associated or connected to any degree with the evil of caste!

4: Manpreet Singh (Canton, Ohio, USA), October 08, 2013, 8:11 AM.

I understood the fact that arranged marriage is not allowed in Sikhism but what if an individual wants his/her parents to look for a suitable match? I guess in that case parents should look for a suitable match without considering the caste. Also, I would like to know if it is mandatory for a Sikh to marry a Sikh. By the way, I am married to a Hindu and I am blessed to have her as my wife.

5: Harinder (Punjab), October 08, 2013, 7:54 PM.

The model should be simple. Arranged marriage for those who want it. Free choice for those who want it. No son or daughter should be admonished, prevented or treated worse for wanting to marry someone of his or her choice.

6: Kaala (Punjab), October 13, 2013, 10:10 AM.

I will not arrange a marriage for my daughter. I'll let her exercise her own free will, but do hope that my daughter will marry a Sikh so that I can continue to have a close bond with her and her family. For I am afraid that if that doesn't happen, I will lose her forever. I don't have that big a heart.

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 105"









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