An Equal Marriage: How Woke Young Couples Are Dissolving Sexist Wedding Rituals

Gender

An Equal Marriage: How Woke Young Couples Are Dissolving Sexist Wedding Rituals

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

When Saranya and Dhruv decided to get married, she made a few things very clear – there would be no kanyadaan. In the saat pheras, she would lead; she would wear no mangalsutra; and she would not touch the groom’s feet. It was a decision that flew in the face of centuries-old traditions, but to the bride-to-be, it felt like the right thing to do. If marriage is to be an honest union of equals, kicking things off with a ceremony founded on hoary, sexist customs is no way to begin.

Saranya’s conservative parents were aghast. “What will people say? How will we face society?” they said.

Saranya is a Tamil Brahmin and Dhruv a Kannada Brahmin. In the months leading up to their union, her parents tried their best to make her change her mind. “Do it for us, kanna,” they pleaded. “We are asking you for just two days. We won’t bother you after that.” Her in-laws were upset too. But Saranya stood her ground. She explained to everyone that she was against patriarchy and sexism, the bedrock of most of these customs.

She didn’t stop there. There was a ritual where she had to go to her in-laws’ home along with her family and a priest to light a diya in her husband’s room. It symbolised that the bride was now a part of the groom’s family. “I said I’ll do it only if Dhruv does it too,” she chuckles, evidently pleased with her rebellion. “It took some convincing, but I did it. I made sure Dhruv came with his family and a priest to my house too and lit a diya in my room.”

Another ritual was where the bride and bridegroom sit on a swing while married women in the family perform a puja for them. Saranya wanted her widowed grandmother to also be a part of it. “It was my way of fighting the stigma associated with widowhood.”

“Yet she has accepted me. It just goes on to show that if you love the person, and if you have an open mind, you can and will try to understand their point of view.

Rituals and ceremonies are just one way Indian weddings treat women as inferior to men. For another bride, Nandini, the fight was about equal spending. She was financing her own wedding as her parents were not very well-off at that time, and was adamant about splitting the cost 50-50 between the groom’s family and herself. She also refused to give in to demands for cash, gold, and clothes. Her in-laws were not happy, but Nandini remained unfazed.

“There was this one custom,” she explains, “where the groom’s family has to give a sum of money as ‘shagun’ to the bride’s family and they get twice the amount back. My in-laws were thinking in lakhs. I said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t have that kind of money.’ In the end, they settled for 5,000 and we gave them 10,000 back.”

For every demand (including 50 grams of gold and the purchase of the groom’s entire family’s wedding trousseau), Nandini’s response was, “This is the best I can do. If you are okay with it, let’s get married, otherwise let’s call it off.” Thankfully, her husband was on her side and that made things easy.

Money was also the reason why Siddharth and his fiancée decided to do away with the traditional wedding altogether. “We didn’t want to spend our life’s savings on a wedding,” he says. A traditional ceremony would have set them back by a lot. So they skipped that and opted for a court marriage. There was no grand reception, just a small get-together for their families and friends.

It was a decision that flew in the face of centuries-old traditions, but to the bride-to-be, it felt like the right thing to do.

Siddharth also says he and his partner did not want their special day to be overshadowed by the caste system and patriarchy. So a court marriage was the best thing to do. “A lot of people who were initially skeptical about us doing a simple wedding, today say that it was the best decision we made,” he says, considering the chaos and tension around big fat weddings.

Married for two years now, Saranya says she is happy she fought for her beliefs. “People understood that I am not someone who follows things blindly,” she says. She also feels she paved the way for her younger sister, who won’t face the kind of resistance she did.

Nandini and her husband have been married for ten years. They address each other as “tum”. She does not wear a mangalsutra, sindoor, and bichiya (toe rings). She also does not observe Karva Chauth and Teej. At first, her in-laws were horrified by her lifestyle. But over the years, things have changed. “My mother-in-law is an orthodox Indian woman with orthodox beliefs,” says Nandini. “Yet she has accepted me. It just goes on to show that if you love the person, and if you have an open mind, you can and will try to understand their point of view.”

After all, love is the foundation on which a marriage is supposed to be built. And love, for an increasing number of Indian women, has no room for inequality.

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