Arranged marriages have been a tradition in India since ancient times. There is no law instilling that a marriage must be arranged, but it is an extremely important moral for families. I find this to be one of the most foreign concepts to American culture. In America, men and women actively pursue many partners through out their life, at their own consent. It is a marriage tradition in America for the man to ask the woman’s parent’s for consent before marriage, but it is still not as ethically crucial when compared to Indian society.
I interviewed one of the Indian women here, Ojasviba, on the subject, so I will compile my thoughts based on the interview. Some things we discussed were personal perspectives on arranged marriages, but I asked for a general overview on the subject since the topic is so foreign to me.
So who plays the match maker? In ancient times, families would rely on a Brahman (a priest) who’d travel to meet different families and matches, since the families themselves had less access to public transportation. Nowadays, the match making process is left in the hands of the families. They typically do the running around, and have dinners with the prospective match’s family. I was surprised to learn that there is a website called shaadi.com on which families can search for matches.
At what age does the search begin? Typically, families begin to search for their son or daughter around the age of 18, the legal age to get married. There use to be child marriage in India, but it got banned. From my conversations with locals, it seems that most are married by their early twenties. That’s how it used to be in America, at least during my parent’s generation. People have began to slow down now, and aren’t getting married until their mid twenties to thirties.
What is the match criteria for arranged marriages? Social status and family reputation are the most important aspects considered for marriage. India uses a caste system, so the families search for matches only in their caste. There is sometimes a possibility for marrying outside of your caste, but that rarely happens. Astrological signs (horoscopes) are also a deciding factor for families. I think it’s interesting that astrology is important in Indian culture, and even in some other countries in Europe, because a lot of Americans view astrology as superstitious nonsense.
Is physical appearance important? Very important, according to Ojasviba. I asked her what the ideal woman should look like. She said, fair skin, proportional facial features, big eyes, straight nose, and smaller lips. I asked her if being busty and curvaceous is an ideal attribute like it is in America, and she said that Indians are not so conscious about stuff other than the face. If they are, its things like delicate hands and feet. I asked her also about the ideal man. She said that it’s desirable for him to be tall, but his looks really aren’t all that important compared to his career and income.
What is the divorce rate for arranged marriages? I read online that the rate is 1% in India, but Ojasviba’s opinion is 5%. The divorce rate for love marriages in the US is about 40-50%. I think its important to consider the Indian mentality behind divorce, before rating it a success. Divorce in America is seemingly easy. It causes many hardships for Americans, but it is much more socially acceptable compared to India. It is heavily frowned upon to get divorced in India. Ojasviba said that everyone knows when someone is divorced, and they will point and judge. The family will help the couple any way they can before resorting to divorce. Not only do social factors make it nearly impossible to divorce in India, but economics are equally detrimental. Most women who become married, give up their job to become a housewife, so they are completely dependent on their husband for financial security. Overall, there is more harm for a woman to divorce a man rather than stay unhappily married. I think if the social and economic aspects of Indian society were less extreme, you would see a much higher divorce rate.
So is arranged marriage good or bad? Ojasviba believes that arranged marriage is a good thing, because most Indians are really close to their family, and they believe that their family knows them better than anyone else. Families only want the best for their son or daughter, so the match must be well-suited. On the negative side, Ojasviba pointed out that it is a quick decision. The potential lovers only meet once and talk for about 15 minutes before making a marriage decision. First impressions can be deceiving. So I suppose Americans have the advantage in that they can spend as long as they want getting to know someone before finalizing a marriage.