ARRANGED MARRIAGES IN INDIA VS. AMERICAN TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE
Arranged marriages are common in South Asian communities and India is thus no exception. People with traditional bend of mind hesitate to even mention any other form of marriage and for them, love-based marriages are a threat to family honor and values since it involves dating and pre-marital mingling. In India, youth whether educated or illiterate, modern or traditional, religious or not are fully aware of the possibility of an arranged marriage for them since they have grown up in this system, knowing that arranged marriages have as great a chance of success as love-based unions. Majority of marriages in India are arranged so this is not something new or strange for people in that country. (Kurian, 1991)
An arranged marriage is defined as a "contractual agreement, written or unwritten, between two families, rather than individuals" where " ... The principle of familialism and interdependent social relationships are dominant, especially for females. The individual's interests, needs, and happiness are considered secondary to the interests of the family and community" (Shuraydi,2002). Such a union is desired as it helps maintain social structure and traditional social set-up where community, family and others are more important than the two persons involved. An arranged marriage takes place with the help of family members, distant relatives or go-betweens who take various things into consideration such as "family background, economic position, general character, family reputation, the value of the dowry, the effect of alliance on the property, and other family matters" (Prakasa 15) before arranging a meeting between two families.
Dowry usually plays an important role in Indian arranged marriages desire the fact that the country law bans it. Dowry is considered illegal but it still affects the fate of potential unions in India. It is defined as "any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage, or by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person at or before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage of the said parties" (Diwan 77).
Now that we understand what arranged marriages are and how they take place in India, we are in a better position to compare them with traditional American marriage. A traditional American marriage is a 'girl meets boy' story where the two fall in love and ultimately tie the knot with or without the blessings of their parents. Parents, families, and friends play secondary roles as it is the two individuals who are more important and their interests are placed ahead of everyone else's. This is an interesting situation, alien to South Eastern culture but almost the only mode of marriage planning in the United States. On the surface it sounds like a sensible proposition. After all, the concerns of two people who are tying the knot should be more important and their choice must be given preference. They must be able to choose their life-partner since they have to spend the rest of their lives with that person.
This view is now so popular that most Indian girls and boys are also readily shunning old practices and preferring love marriages to arranged unions. With the exception of immigrant Indians where arranged marriages are surprisingly common, love marriages are rapidly replacing old customs and traditional ways of getting married. With exposure to western values and views, Indian youth is besotted with the idea of storybook romance and a love-based marriage sounds like a more practical idea than arranged union. This modern trend is similar to a shift noticed in an old study by Phillips of marriages in Africa. The researcher noticed: "In attempting an analysis of modern trends, mention should perhaps first be made of the diminishing importance of the collective or group aspect of marriage. Emphasis is shifting to the individual aspect of marriage as a relationship between two persons.... The traditional function of the marriage relationship as a continuing bond between two kinship groups ... is being lost to view.... The developments referred to above are attributable to a combination of factors, which cannot be examined in detail here but which may broadly be comprehended under the term "culture contact." (xii-xiii)
But is a love-based marriage like the one we have in the United States really better than an arranged marriage? This is one big question that needs to be addressed carefully since what appears more practical may not actually be that successful in the long run. With the divorce rate going up in the U.S., many Americans might harbor a doubt about their marriage system too. Therefore it is better to see how the two systems compare.
Let us first see what is the real purpose of getting married. What is it that we need from a marriage and how it benefits future generations. Marriage is a social contract regardless of how personal a union it appears. When two people chose to live together with society's approval, they do so with the intention of bringing up a family in a healthy environment. If marriage were not a social institution, two people would have lived together without any desire to make the union legal. But as we all know, marriage is as important an institution in America as it is in India. The primary purpose of tying the knot is to provide future generations with a healthy family life. Facilitation of procreation and raiding a family are usually primary concerns of a married couple. And no one would want his/her children to grow up in an unstable and insecure environment.
Society and the legal and financial system has been arranged in such a manner as to provide maximum benefits to the married couple. People are encouraged to legalize their relationships mainly for the sake of future generations. This is society's way of preserving itself, its structure and some rules and norms that help in maintaining social traditions. It is believed that longer a relationship, the more beneficial it is for the children. complete parental commitment and devotion is required to raise children in healthy and secure environment. But with American marriages failing so often and with divorce rate increasing every year, one wonders if that kind of parental commitment can ever emerge from a traditional American marriage.
In a country where people seek advice on everything from buying a car to purchasing a home, it is strange that no advice is sought on the important issue of partner-search. Most of the people are required to conduct a solo-search, which gives birth to the system of trial and error. Vijay Gupta (1994) explains: "Consequently, even young children are expected to pursue their solo search for a mate in earnest. This practice not only impacts their education and careers adversely, but also causes immeasurable harm to the entire society through sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, fatherless children, and crime." People learn more from trial and error instead of older people's experience when it comes to choosing the right partner and thus many first marriages end in divorce.
"Moreover, this process of trial-and-error courtship often becomes an ordeal, especially for women who also face a significant risk of date rape. Worse yet, many women (e.g. women over 40, who may be divorced by men seeking younger wives) have to go through this ordeal while raising their children. However, there is no other "socially approved" way of finding a spouse. Even people who are able to arrange a marriage through the classified ads or computerized dating services, must call it a love marriage since every Western marriage is supposed to be, almost by definition, a love marriage." (Vijay Gupta, 1994)