August 4, 2013

Some Ado about Arranged Marriages... again...

I came across two distinct point of views concerning the exotic and elusive concept of Arranged Marriages... I must say, I like them both... but I side wholeheartedly with neither. What you may understand from this is upto your discretion and understanding of the "world".

ONE - The Left

Parents and elders are not figuring out compatibility. They don't have a clue how to. They're basically enforcing a right they think is theirs (but which isn't) i.e. selecting who you get to screw and share genomes with - and make grandkids with. Remote-control of your gonads, if you will.

Their criteria are simple. 1. what will make us, the parents, look good to our peers and get them to say "you got a good match". 2. what will get us some money and material comfort - especially if a spouse from a well-to-do family is found 3. which spouse will be demure / ball-less / spineless and give us the least trouble to our authority going forward and last and least 15. which spouse might not be entirely unacceptable to my son/daughter.

1. will probably lead to caste / creed / religion based matches 2. will probably lead to looking for signs of financial well-being in potential matches 3. will lead to the usual mother-in-law / mother dominance issues and 15. is the least relevant criterion of the lot - you are just goods being traded - you don't get much of a say in the transaction :-)

Of course they couch this in all kinds of mumbo-jumbo about so-called "elders" deep ability to find good spouses etc - but it's all bullshit. :-)

An arranged marriage is a just a transaction springing from an exercise of unethical power by parents to protect their reputational, economic and genetic futures. Don't forget to tell them that, neither must you cut them any slack for it :-)

My $0.02,

- Mahesh Murthy

TWO - The Middle 

I will try to answer this one with some experiences I gathered. Hailing from Western UP, all agrarian background, I spent one full year in successfully convincing my parents about my inter-caste marriage. 

Short answer is no one can figure out the compatibility of two people. Not even the two people in question. But that's a very simplistic view.

At the outset, while I would discuss the "moral locus standi" of parents as discussed by Mahesh Murthy, I don't agree with his cynical view on parents' motives. In his universe, happiness of their kids is not a factor at all for average parents while figuring out a match. Way way too cynical in my 2 cents.

It's gonna be a long post and may cover a lot related issues, so here is a structure I would try to follow:

1) Arranged marriage and rise of love marriages 
2) Moral Question from Kid's point of view
3) In Parent's shoes
4) Conclusion on compatibility
5) This Vs That

1) Arranged marriage is a direct consequence of India's not so individualistic culture and still strong community based social structure. Existence of joint families is/was a major driving force as well. When the couple, boy's parents, his brothers' family are expected to stay in same house, parents would have a higher stake in the match as they are to share the same home. With that stake, their opinion would count. Not as decisive, but as valuable input. As one can see, with increasing urbanization and nuclear families, this force is weakening and consequently % of love marriages are rising. This is a good thing and it would continue as we urbanize more. But for many, senior generation is still in the "strong community structure" root and is stuck in the old notions. And hence the prevalence of arranged marriages- Nothing of cultural superiority thing, but just a result of social structure. 

2) Do parent's have a moral right to enforce their view against kid's view-  No. They don't have that right in my judgement. I debated this moral stand for a long time-- "my parents have devoted their life for me and if I marry out of my caste, would that be a wrong moral decision as a son?" My answer was No. Because my responsibility as a son is to do everything in my power to take care of my parents, while not giving up the rights on a decision that would "exclusively" impact my life. I also debated the point that society pressure would be on them and came to a conclusion that if an idea is wrong, sticking to it due to fear of society would be moral cowardice. For me and my parents. We would do what we think is best for our family. To hell with society. So morally, the guy/girl have the right, parents and society have no moral right to push on this decision. 

3) Parents' have seen a different world and the new ideas are alien to them. So, there is the fear of unknown. No one wants to change their notions, especially after a certain age. It's very hard. So lets cut some slack to our parents about that. Think of yourself -- when was the last time when someone challenged one of your core beliefs with strong logical force and you converted? How often it happens? Besides, this thing is a natural consequence of India's diversity - a punjabi's food habits, language, dressing, festivals etc could be massively different from say a Tamil. That becomes a big practical consideration. No one wants to go out of their comfort zone. That's parents' predicament. Besides, they don't want to face barbs from their peers. Can we face barbs from our peers? How many of us are stuck in careers not because of love for the profession but for peer pressure rat race? How come parents become regressive if they want to avoid peer wrath? Who can breakaway through all these constraints easily? It's a common human folly. 

4) As I said, they can't figure out compatibility. As much as I am not an advocate/opponent of this system, I can try a dispassionate perspective. This system works on few assumptions and then a big leap of faith. Assumptions - a) We know the family well b) Every mutual friend has said great words about the family and the girl/boy c) If family is good, most likely boy/girl would have imbibed the mannerisms and culture d) There are no obvious negative like a boy with a rude attitude or something similar and e) Education, financial situation etc. Add the modern factor that people do get a chance to meet and talk. And then there is a leap of faith that things would move along with help from the families etc. That's the basic dynamics in my view. But I don't see parents as Machiavellian schemers who are trying to forge an empire through alliances and are trying to win accolades with a trophy in law. Some may, but not most.

5) My view is that every marriage, arranged or not arranged, is an ever evolving relationship. Even in love marriage, there is no certainty that you would be able to find full compatibility. We all know that some people divorce their spouses after years of love marriages, love affairs go sour and relationship breakups are common. a) Being perfectly able to judge a human being and b) being perfectly compatible with another human being is impossible. No one can do that. Some approaches work better than the others but a relationship and compatibility would always be an ongoing process and you would keep learning on how to do it better.

Long and off the point somewhere, but here it is!

- Varun Kumar Singh