Indian Society and Marriage Through the Ages :
Marriage as a pillar of society and an institution has been, since the early civilizations, an immovable force. Mythologies also put marriage forward as a necessary building block for a peaceful and progressive society.
As societies started getting advanced and traditions started becoming unwritten,de facto laws,the very concept of marriage started to evolve as well.There are 8 forms
of marriage recognised by ancient Hindu scriptures like Asvalayana Grhyasutra
Among them, Gandharva Marriage
is based on mutual attraction between a man and a woman,without the involvement of family,rituals or society. It’s fair to recall,or realise as the case maybe,that during the Rigveda period,caste was decided based on occupation and not birth. In the latter Vedic Age though,birth became the
yardstick by which one’s caste was decided. Also,with time,societies became more and more patriarchal and an individual’s choice and freedom became secondary factors,often being crushed under the decisions of the family’s head or that of the elder members’. So around that period,marriage too came to be defined as a caste-based,family-approved exercise,that is to say,one was to marry only that person who was approved by one’s elders as being from the right family and background and having sufficient social standing. This system,called Brahma Marriage
in the scriptures, was followed across the country and by the time the 19th century dawned, Indian society and its marriage customs had become rigid. An intercaste marriage would have been sacrilegious. A widow not doing sati
would have been challenging the Gods,almost blasphemous. And a love marriage was out of the question.The efforts of Raja Ram Mohun Roy culminated in the abolishment of Sati
practice in 1829 by the British and the campaign led by Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar enabled the passing of the Widows’ Remarriage Act
Amid all this, love marriage/intercaste marriage/intercommunity marriage failed to get the same traction with the society. This despite the fact that Special Marriage Act,1954 legalised intercaste marriages in India.
Intercaste marriages were encouraged by political leaders such as C.N.Annadurai and various social activists who thought this would lead to greater understanding and tolerance among the various communities. But for reasons better or worse,even today in India,only about 5%
of the total marriages are intercaste.
While they are legal,it is quite easy to see why intercaste marriages (or love marriages for that matter) are not as acceptable to society as same-caste, arranged marriages. These go against the established norms and traditions of society and are readily seen as attempts to disturb the social order. Societies do evolve with time but ironically,any attempt to break the status quo isn’t something most people endorse.
Another thing that complicates matters is the general difference in the thinking of different generations,popularly known as “Generation gap.” The very same people who think of rebelling against their parents’ directives and trying to marry a girl/boy from another community/caste, inevitably develop cold feet on love marriages when it’s their children’s turn to get hitched. By that age,people,and parents specifically,themselves have the “same-caste-marriages-are-the-only-way” thinking so ingrained in their psyche that any attempt by the children suggesting otherwise is opposed. To be fair to them,they have the benefit of hindsight and a lifetime of stone-cold experience to know better than going on with the hot-headed mad rush of youth.
Which brings us to the central question : Marriage -arranged or love? Before we get there though, let’s see what being married means to people.
Marrying someone means a lot of things to a lot of people but there are a few things which apply equally to everyone who ties the knot. These include,among other things,the following:
- A sense of companionship for the rest of your life.
- Loving one’s partner and having a degree of comfort with him/her that’s beyond plain friendship.
- Being there for one another when everyone else is against you and everything is going downhill.
While there is obviously a lot more to marriage than just the above three,these remain just as important as any of the other reasons almost through our entire lives. However many jokes about couples do the rounds in social media everyday,the fact remains that knowing that there is a person who will always stand by you is immensely comforting.
The concept of loving someone:
This is where love and love marriages come into the picture. People who love someone and then go on to marry them,do so because, more often than not , the two parties have a level of understanding and companionship with each other. Of course there’s the angle of attraction and longing too. This situation means that both the parties think that they can be happy with each other throughout their lives,although most people know that as time goes,there will be differences and arguments too. But they have enough belief in each other and their love to be able to take the plunge.
Parents,on the other hand,have a pretty ominous counterargument. They say that just because you are infatuated with someone now doesn’t mean you will love them 10-20 years later too. They also try to emphasise that most love marriages end in failure,despite maybe having no statistics to prove their argument. As it is,it’s quite difficult to define a “failed marriage.”
Consider the following two cases:
Case I – A & B have a love marriage and after 18 years,decide that they have irreconcilable differences and should go their separate ways. And go on to obtain divorce.
Case II – P & Q have an arranged marriage and after 18 years,despite their irreconcilable differences, stay on as a married couple because they couldn’t muster the courage to defy society which still views and treats divorcees in an alien manner.
Now taking into account the irreconcilable differences of the respective couples,my question is, can case-I be called a failed marriage just because the people involved had the courage to face society and do what they felt was the right thing? And can case-II be called a successful marriage just because the parties concerned stayed on and couldn’t call it quits when they should have? What sort of a marriage is that? Society does make norms but it is not necessary that all of them are right.
Again there is the peculiarity of marrying a person whom you have never met in your entire life and whom your parents want you to marry just because he/she has great financial success/striking beauty and a respectable family name, as the case may apply. Love marriage ensures,more often than not,that you know what kind of a person you are going to marry, from the idiosyncrasies to the financial situation to the behaviour. Arranged marriage, unfortunately, doesn’t do that. Although nowadays families try to avoid this by getting the couple engaged and keeping a getting-to-know period of 6 months/1 year/2 year or more,depending upon the prevailing customs in a particular caste. It’s definitely a good way to go about things but again,it’s not quite watertight. This is because of two reasons.
- In almost all the cases,the boy and the girl are allowed to meet and talk for 15 minutes or so( or maybe not even talk if that’s against their caste traditions ). Now if you have to select an employee for your firm,maybe then 15 minutes is a fair amount of time. But when it’s about making a decision as big as choosing your life partner,the 15 minute duration is awfully inadequate. There is no way you can definitively learn that the person you are meeting for a paltry 15 minutes is the one you should say yes to. Yet countless marriages around the country happen through this method.
- A growing number of youngsters these days like to marry when they have completed a few years after their crossover from academics to jobs. Now this breed faces problems when right after they complete their studies/get a job,wanting to enjoy life before settling down,their parents start looking for prospective matches and try to get them to tie the knot as soon as possible. These youngsters then go through the process of selecting their prospective spouses. And wicked as it may seem,they refuse marrying the ones their parents choose for them,not because the person isn’t good enough for marriage,but because they just don’t want to marry at that time. The problem is compounded when either one/both of them are secretly in love with someone else. Such people will try to delay their “arranged” marriages for as long as they can because that will mean the end of their dream of marrying the one they love.
Compatibility with in-laws:
In defiance of parental objections and threats,many youngsters go for love marriage. Now whether a guy is staying with his parents or away from them,the problem of his wife’s compatibility with his parents exists. While the problem is the same for arranged couples too, with a love marriage the added twist is the animosity between the saas–sasur and bahu where the in-laws do not approve of their daughter-in-law and she,in turn,doesn’t take them as an extension of her relationship with her husband,instead feeling that they are out to sabotage everything that’s good between them. It’s the kind of situation every married guy dreads about and maybe doesn’t even wish for his enemies. In an arranged marriage, at least the guy has this line of defence, ” you guys selected her,now don’t blame me.” In a love marriage though,this happens-” pata nahi kahan mati mari gayi thi teri ke Isse shaadi kar li.”
More than that though,it is important to have the right understanding between the couples themselves. Many a times,people who are madly in love before marriage and go on to tie the knot,find very soon that the all the affection and tenderness has died and that all they are left with are the charred remains of what once used to be something beautiful. That’s the line that the parents use to warn their kids.
The other problem that comes with having an intercaste/intercommunity love marriage is the difference in the respective customs and traditions. Right from the way the marriage ceremony is conducted to the various customs that newlywed bride and groom have to follow to the food habits,there is a lot that just doesn’t match. While ideally all that’s needed is a clear mind and patience on the part of the couple and the respective in-laws while dealing with such issues,sometimes they become bones of contention that may even require counselling. A vegetarian friend of mine was in love with a girl of another community who was ready to change her food habits from hardcore non vegetarian to pure veg. The problem arose when his parents came to know of the relationship. They just couldn’t accept someone with that background as their daughter-in-law.
All the arguments above are not meant in any way to ridicule arranged marriage. As a matter of fact,more than 3/4th of the people in India even today prefer arranged marriages,according to The Taj Wedding Barometer
. Arranged marriages have their benefits too. Hassle-free as far as getting consent of parents and approval of society is concerned,arranged marriages also ensure familiarity with customs and more often than not,a financially stable life for the girl as her parents will always try to go for the boy who can keep her happy,moneywise. It’s no secret that guys with well-paying government job are in high demand when parents start searching for prospective grooms for their daughters because of the perceived stability that such a job brings.
All said and done,the bottomline is that marriage primarily remains a bond between two hearts. Whether you go for a love marriage or an arranged marriage, what’s most important is that you love and have faith in your spouse. That is all that matters,in the end. After all, as Corrie Ten Boom wrote, ” Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.”