The Case for Arranged Marriage


The Case for Arranged Marriage

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It is a law, even among most animals, that parents will do a lot to make sure their offspring are safe, happy, and well-provided for. In the parenting department, the cuckoo is the most notorious because she gets other birds to feed her child. The harp seals tend to their child for 12 days. Rabbits give it a month. Orangutans give it eight years. Americans give it 18. Only Indian parents give it a lifetime.

In India, you remain a child well after you’ve had a child. Our parents are always making sure things are fine for us. This behaviour is taken the farthest with the concept of arranged marriage. Because let’s face it, nothing in the world says, “I’ll make sure you’re fine,” more than an arranged marriage. The minute the child utters the happy words, “I want to get married”, an Indian parent’s heart fills with joy that couldn’t be matched even if their child were to be nominated for the Padma Bhushan.

An arranged marriage is marrying someone without knowing much about them, unlike a love marriage, where you marry a person despite knowing them all too well. As the name suggests, an arranged marriage is, well, a marriage arranged in every aspect. The partner, their family, their house, their livelihood, their religion, the practices they follow, everything is scrutinised. It’s thoughtful curation, more than blind choice. It is based on the belief that when your only purpose to be on this planet is to bring someone else into this planet, you need to match with the best sperm/eggs in the community market – a  market filled with people of the same caste, sub-caste, income, and social standing.

A trip to shop for a bride or groom is undertaken with the singular purpose of reducing the gap of differences. Your rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts, customs and traditions, ideas of expenditure, and basic values and tenets have to match. You may not always be on the same page, but at least you’re pages of the same book. The concept of an arranged marriage is not regressive or narrow-minded; it’s a stroke of genius – all to make “settling down” easier. If your worlds are the same, you have fewer compromises to make, you are likely to fight lesser, settle in easier, be happier, have sex, and carry “the family name forward”. An arranged marriage is nothing but good old pampering by Indian parents, just dialled up.

It is for this reason that profile matching is zealously done. It’s not so much the photograph, but the little details that matter more. Maharashtrians have absurd questions on their shaadi forms. I have been asked to reveal my annual income, my car model, if there is an AC at home, if yes, is it a window AC or a split AC, and how many rooms are air conditioned. It’s unbelievable but when you really sit down to think about it, it matters. A window AC is too loud compared to a split. Why make it any tougher? Of all the communities I know of, Marwaris have taken it to a completely new level. They have a file which has the annual income and financial standing of not just the bride and groom, but also their families. This file is passed around only in circles which have a similar financial status. A four-crore-per-annum guy won’t meet a 12-crore-per-annum girl, because the Marus know that’ll lead to ego clashes and a lot more. In the marriage department, nobody is more practical.  

Most youngsters today hesitate to follow their own traditions, let alone adopt someone else’s. In an arranged marriage, that problem is solved – what’s theirs is usually yours too.

In India, if marriages are about families coming together, then an arranged marriage is the surest and safest way to get to that goal and ensure happiness.

Political parties may say Hindi is our national language, but it’s surely not a language that comes to the rescue of inter-caste couples. There are parts of India that aren’t fluent in Hindi. It’s difficult for the groom or bride to learn a new language and even more so to expect parents or grandparents to learn English. In absence of a language, what interactions boil down to is basic gestures, niceties, and smiles. Love may not know any language but marriage surely does. A Maharashtrian mother and a Mallu mother-in-law need not sit in 15 agonising minutes of silence.

In a love marriage, a shared identity rarely exists. What exists are huge gaps that love is supposed to triumph over. We take a punt on every obstacle like cultural differences, class gap, and other arguments like how many times should the bathroom be washed because we love each other enough to deal with our differences, not just the personal ones. Our parents have no role to play in a love marriage and that’s why it’s tougher. It’s like a house set up by your mom vs a house you’re trying to put together.

You may call me old-fashioned, but arranged marriages are a great way of preserving culture and traditions. Most youngsters today hesitate to follow their own traditions, let alone adopt someone else’s. In an arranged marriage, that problem is solved – what’s theirs is usually yours too. A Tamilian friend who married a Muslim needs vegetarian food for iftar, and it’s much more complicated than it sounds. And don’t even ask what language the complication will be discussed in. English peppered with a bit of Hindi, is the safest. It is the reason why the life expectancy of mother tongues is at its lowest ever.

When looked at that way, arranged marriage doesn’t seem like a regressive or dated concept. It could be looked upon as the strongest technique we have developed to preserve our social and cultural fabric. Truth is, our parents know something we don’t. Marriages are not made in heaven, they are made in convenience. Then this damn love thing came and screwed it all up.