Sharanya Misra

The arranged marriage scene in India is one thing that I usually have nothing to say on. In the past, it simply arose from a complete lack of interest or faith in the system. As a personal preference, marrying someone chosen by my parents was never an option for me. This was a concept I just couldn’t wrap my head around. So, in my mind, Happy Marriages were always equated with Love Marriages. Over the years though, I have gradually begun to see the pros of this system too. With so many of my friends and colleagues opting for it and settling into happy lives later, my confidence in this arrangement has seen a raise, so much so that I have actually begun recommending people around me to ‘go give it a try, you never know!’ over friendly conversations. My support for the system has increased furthermore with the progress I have seen it making to keep itself in sync with the times around.

I have seen girls and their families raise their voices on the archaic and humiliating practices that were common rituals of this system, be it the ‘parade’ of the girl before the groom’s family or the sly demands for dowry. The bride and the groom now, unlike in the earlier days, actually interact a lot more in the days to their engagement – a recognition of the significance of compatibility, thankfully, even while letting the young couple know that their say matters. To me, it seemed like we were making definite strides. Away from the regressive mentality of the past to a more accommodating system now which takes the comfort of the couple seriously.

And yet, a conversation with a cousin a couple of days back has me questioning my championing of the system yet again. Eager to find their son a partner, his parents have been setting up meetings with families. However, a common hurdle he seems to be meeting with everywhere is the girl’s parents’ demand of a ‘well-settled boy’ – meaning, he needs to have a good job in hand and a property or two in his satchel. While he satisfies the job bit, the absence of a property yet seems to be a dark cloud looming on his hopes of getting married soon.

As I spoke to my cousin, I realised that while we may have come a long way, this particular ask from the girl’s parents has never changed. They are always looking for a well-settled guy. To me, this just doesn’t sound right, especially in a world where equality is the flavour of the times.

  1. Why is only the guy considered to be financially accountable? Why do we still have the culture where a girl with values is exchanged for a guy with money?? Many a time, the guy and girl have the exact same qualifications and age. Yet, the onus of being the provider is seen clearly to be with the guy. Why??
  2. How does this arrangement affect the girl’s status in the relationship in the long run? Finance can be a big make or break topic in any relationship. All the homemakers I have interacted with often say that given a choice under agreeable circumstances, they would want to be financially independent. While one may share a wonderful relationship with one’s partner, earning your own gives you a feeling of security. And while some women can afford to go this route and others not, what kind of a status quo is being established right at the start of the marriage if the groom is identified by her own parents as the clear upper hand in the finances?
  3. How is this any different from dowry? If the groom doesn’t have a house yet, it’s often the groom’s parents who buy the young couple a house, as a ‘gift’. Can we imagine what would happen if the groom’s side demanded that the bride’s parents buy the house instead? If the latter isn’t right, how is the former??
  4. How do we react when the groom asks the bride to earn? Many girls I know take offense at this demand. But isn’t that what most of us clearly expect from the guy? How about both the guy and the girl work and save up for the dream house? Why isn’t that an option?

In my mind, this practice still resonates with a very patriarchal mindset that the groom must be the ‘home-earner’ and the bride the ‘home-maker’. Times are changing today. Maybe parents can revamp this ask based on the actual needs of their children and families. For example, if the girl already earns well enough and owns a place, the guy need not necessarily be a home owner as long as he has a steady income. Or maybe, the girl and guy both have good incomes and while neither already owns a property, they decide that they can always save up and buy one together, if needed with the help of both families. Or maybe, the guy earns well enough for the both of them and the girl would love to be a homemaker so they plan on how they support each other till they save up enough for a home. Food for thought could even be a day when the parents of a ‘well-settled’ girl are ok with her marrying a guy who would like to look after the home instead, a system that should be perfectly ok considering we already endorse it, but just with the genders reversed.

Arranged marriages can be a very tricky concept. A lot of factors come into play when one looks for partnership in a stranger. When a thousand concerns like security, authenticity, adaptability and compatibility run through our minds, we are often tempted to ‘go with the flow’ and ‘play it safe’ with tried and tested methods of the past. And yet, with changing times when girls are becoming increasingly independent and looking for a larger role to play in their marriages, especially in the financial aspect, maybe, making these subtle changes could not only help bring like-minded people together but also lay the path for a life ahead that’s equally agreeable to both sides.

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