Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who Benefits Most From Arranged Marriages?

Recently, I had to accompany my sister, who was in search of a suitable groom for her daughter. My niece is educated software professional, an engineer by qualification, and is earning a good sum of money. My sister had arranged an address for negotiation from a marriage bureau and she got an appointment with the prospective groom’s parents. The mother of the prospective groom is a teacher in a Government-aided college in Bhubaneswar and his father is a retired doctor. The prospective groom is also working as a software professional in a Metro city.

Though the proposal was selected from a marriage bureau’s matchmaking website, the prospective groom’s family has shown a dominant role by saying that as they are from the prospective groom’s family, they want to interview the parents of the prospective bride first. As my brother-in-law is a busy executive in an oil corporation, it was not possible in his part to attend and my sister requested me to accompany her to the interview.

We agreed to meet at the lady and her husband at the college workplace of the proposed groom’s mother. The lady, who appeared before us an hour late for the interview, came with her husband who, true to my feelings functioned more as a pet than a husband. Seeing me, the lady first declared that she doesn’t like feminists at all as they are the real enemy of Indian culture as well as the real enemy of a happy family life. She claimed that a bride should be sober and should be consumed by modesty so that she could pay regards to her husband and her in-law’s family. It is interesting to note that during the total time period of interview, her husband was very quiet and at last, he had to open his mouth in support of his wife but only after the lady rebuked him for remaining silent over our hot arguments!

The lady, who claims that she had been to America once and could drive a car there, very rudely asked us why my sister had posted her daughter’s photo in the marriage bureau’s website with jeans and a shirt. She again asked my sister, why she mentioned that the girl belongs to a nuclear family.

I asked her what is wrong with a jeans and shirt and is there any relation of personal behavior to what a person wears. Are the girls wearing sarees not garish in nature? Secondly, I asked her what is the wrong with a nuclear family when in most of the metro cities, people are living with that family? The joint-family concept has all but totally been abolished in urban areas and when the lady herself admitted she belongs to a nuclear family, why she has such exasperation for a nuclear family? It was kind of confusing to me.

Arranged Marriages 2011

She told us that they are searching for an ideal bride. So what are the criteria for an ideal bride? In their opinion, the ideal bride is a girl who is highly-educated, could adjust herself to metro city life, and also would be orthodox in mind and mentality, but one who could also put a veil on her head and would manage a large family if required.

The expectations of that lady made me more confused. For what was she actually searching? Does she know herself? Was she looking for a domestic servant who was born and brought up in metro city and who got herself highly educated and employed in a multi national company, and who could behave like an urban girl and could prepare herself as a domestic servant to take care of a large family? How much of a role did the earning capacity of the prospective bride play in the deliberation? Was she expected to bring in a large income yet also take on the full-time task of managing a household as well? Was this a business deal where projected profit and loss was a key component rather than considering the feeling of the two human beings central to the outcome?

I have attended many negotiations of marriage where I find the expectations of the groom’s parents are absurd and contradictory. They need a highly educated girl, preferably a technically-qualified girl, who would be willing to also perform the role of housewife. A large percentage of parents of prospective grooms also want their would-be daughter-in-law to be a fair-complexioned, even if their son is darker skinned. They say they don’t need any dowry, but at the same time, they expect the girl’s parents to give essential assets and jewelries to make proper respect to their prestige.

These dramas are very common in India and whenever an arranged marriage is going to initiate, these dramas are often staged even at the first date of negotiations. Thus the parents of the prospective bride have to bear such humiliation from the prospective groom’s family and relatives. Still, arranged marriages are preferred in India. And that is an irony for me that how it could be still prospering?

Arranged Marriage v. Love Marriage

Many Indians contend that arranged marriages are more successful than marriages in the West, particularly given the staggering divorce rates of the latter. But what are the circumstances driving those staggering numbers? In India, it is believed that romantic love does not necessarily lead to a good marriage and often fails once the passion dissipates while real love flows from a properly-arranged union between two individuals. Besides India, arranged marriages commonly occur in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In arranged marriages, families choose partners based on compatibility, culture, and upbringing. They focus on issues that will foster a loving and fruitful relationship that will last a long time. So when a man or woman comes of marriage age, people around the community act as headhunters getting a man and a woman together if they see a fit.

Arranged Marriages: Then and Now…East and West

During ancient times of Ramayana and Mahabharata, there were many ways through which marriages could be arranged. Svayamwar was one of them. When a king decided to marry off his daughter, he sent out invitations to all the princes and noblemen that he thought were well-suited for his daughter. They would come to the palace where the princess would then choose her husband by putting a garland around the man's neck, after which, the two would be married.

In Western countries, arranged marriages were happening even in Victorian Europe. With the Industrial Revolution and the end of the second world wars, people's attitudes and perceptions started changing as women started to join the workforce and started to make demands for their rights. In England, for example, most of the kings and queens had arranged marriages up until King George V. The present Queen Elizabeth's father broke tradition by marrying a commoner.

What is different between the two global sides regarding marriage is lying with the basic concept of marriage itself. In the West, it is considered as more independence and freedom; in the East, it is considered more of a responsibility.

In Western countries, the emphasis is more on practicality in their mates. The couple looks for aspects such as sex, love, beauty, integrity, diligence, ambition, humility and generosity, which are the center of the relationships among a couple. But in Eastern countries, an arranged marriage seems to be a business deal among parents, who tend to look for material gain, dowry, security, safety, and also for social prestige. The question of compatibility, love and understandings among partners are left far behind. But there are many situations in the West, particularly among the wealthy and privileged and politically active, which very much mimic the arranged marriages in the East as described in the last sentence. So the common denominators in either area become money and status.

The Rules of the Game: The Anatomy of an Arranged Marriage

There are certain rules that apply to arranged marriages in India. For one, you have to be the same nationality, caste, religion and of the same social status. Horoscope matching of both bride and groom has also played an important role in settling a negotiation of such arranged marriages. The post-wedding stability in an arranged marital relationship more than that of love marriages is due to parents dishonouring divorces, which sometimes resulted in bride burning or suicides by the female folks to get rid of a strained relationship.

Social Conservatives always measure benefits of an arranged marriage over a love marriage particularly by giving the latter's staggering divorce rates. It is true that the countries where arranged marriage is an approved social system, the divorce rates are reduced to very few. But do the numbers really tell the actual story? In India, it is 1.1 percent (see bride-burning and suicide statistics below), whereas it is 1.5 percent in Sri Lanka, and 1.9 percent in Japan. Meanwhile in the USA, it is 54.8 percent, 42.6% in the UK, and 38.3% in France. ( source: Divorces and crude divorce rates by urban/rural residence: 2000 - 2004 published by United Nations Statistics Division)

Among the divorce rates in India, 89 percent of love marriages failed and applied for divorce, and interestingly, 11 percent of arranged marriages end in divorce largely due to issues with the elders and not the couple themselves. But these are just numbers and are normally as good as the opinions of those paying for the studies. It does not play a sufficient role to prove that arranged marriages have less of a divorce rate as the numbers fail to take into account other factors such as bride burnings and suicides. If we believe Ms. Avnita Lakhani, there are 17 bride burning death cases per day or more than 6,200 a year in India, which can be considered as a tremendous setback for arranged marriages. (See: “Bride-Burning: The ‘Elephant in the Room’ is Out of Control” by Avnita Lakhani) (

In India, as love marriages are generally not accepted by parents, these wedded couples usually tackle all their crises on their own, because they might have been separated from their family for cultural reasons or for pride. Conversely, in cases of arranged marriages, the married couple can often resort to their parents or acquaintances in times of financial crises or other problems. In addition, if the marriage proves to be a failure, they have a number of people around them from whom to seek support or on whom to put the blame. In addition, their parents would come forward to solve the problems between the couple, if they have married with the elder's consent. This is the reason why arranged marriages are considered secure for the people in India as many in the family have a continuing role.

The caste system also plays a major role in arranged marriages, though in some matrimonial advertisements, we see there are parents who claim their search contend for ‘caste no bar.’ But still, a major portion of arranged marriages in India are settling between the same caste and many times horoscope matching is also a prominent factor for such marriages. These types of marriages are still being performing with an orthodox mentality, pulling back society to centuries-old backward types of thought and process.

The Role of Pre-Marital Sex in the Arranged Marriage Process

Conservatives in Indian society always discourage teen sexuality, though it is a normal phenomenon but not socially granted. Realism can blur into cynicism, and a jaded attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Social conservatives look at the contemporary sexual landscape and remember that it wasn’t always thus, and they look at current trends and hope that it doesn’t have to be this way forever.

To protect and glorify virginity is also a hidden social agenda behind the arranged marriage, as ‘virginity’ is a word always termed with female sexuality. Also, it is interesting to note that no term has been found in the dictionary for ‘sexually inexperienced man.’ So it is a term derived and used by a patriarchal society. During an arranged marriage negotiation, though it has not been asked directly, it has been always expected that the proposed bride should be a virgin. But nobody dares to expect that the boy should be sexually untouchable and pure. I don’t think how and why our society is so sensitive about sex, or categorically and more correct to say, is sensitive to only FEMALE sexuality, skipping the purity of male premarital sexual status.

Indian society is going through a dilemma and confusion in this regard. Parents hope their children keep themselves from teen sexuality, but when times come to arrange a suitable life partner, they prefer their youngsters should love and choose their partner. Though they are not in favour of premarital sex, at the time of marriage, they prepare to accept pre-marital sex, in the sense that it involves monogamous couples on a path that might lead to matrimony one day. Then there’s sex that’s casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered.

This contradiction prevails in most of the educated middle-class urban parents. And for their youngsters, it is impossible to make them liberal so that they could repudiate the virginity matters from their concepts. They have been taught to give importance to virginity and chastity throughout a quarter of their lives and when they have been expected to remove this idea from their mind, they find themselves incapable in doing so. That’s why most of the young people depend on their parents to choose a life partner for them. Tradition and society have seemed to have confused them greatly.

The Dowry: the Key Negotiating Point…and How It Has Changed

The dowry is another evil open agenda of an arranged marriage, where during the negotiation, it is openly discussed among two parties. The dowry has come a long way since olden times! Today, the groom’s parents demand dowries in the form of lots of money, furniture, jewelry, and expensive household items and now, even homes and expensive foreign holidays to the bridegroom. It is argued that these dowries will help the newly wedded couple to start their ‘new house.’ But the question which is always skipped is why a bride’s parents have to pay these sorts of materials and money and not the groom’s family?

Actually, the dowry is considered as a ‘bride’s price,’ though nobody identifies it in that way.

But have the feminists weighed in on the subject? As there is an absence of feminist discourse in India, nobody, not even a single feminist has raised any question on these arranged marriages. In fact, I haven’t read a single essay in support or against a love marriage or in support or against the arranged marriage system.

The Role of the Boy and Girl in Arranged Marriages

Social conservatives never admit that arranged marriages are a forced marriage but really, is it? They argue that in an arranged marriage, the marriage could not be preceded without the consent of the wedded couple, but is that ‘consent’ by choice or by obedience? But in most cases, we see the parents impose their choice on their sons and daughters and as it is not a matter of heart, either the boy or the girl has to consent on the parent’s will, most times out of respect. So we can say arranged marriage is a polite and developed way of forced marriage. Though today, during the negotiation periods, the boy and girl are often permitted to see each other, are allowed to talk for few minutes and in some cases, parents allowed them to talk over phone or to date socially. But still, there is much more stress and emotional tension on both girl and boy to give consent to their parent’s choice because of family pride, the wishes of the parents, or social obligation.

The boys and girls have been taught by their parents that ‘adjustment’ is the other name of an arranged marriage and that true love will come AFTER marriage from that adjustment. They have to adjust and have to sacrifice, and this sacrifice would bring actual feelings of love among them -- at least that is the concept.

It is a general idea in India that love in a love marriage starts out very high and then over time, it decreases. And in arranged marriages, love starts out relatively low and then it increases gradually and surpasses the love in love marriages at about five years. And after ten years, it’s twice as strong -- or so the proponents say.

In some cases, the bride’s family allows and encourages their daughter to date and make a love relation so that they have to pay fewer dowries and if the daughter couldn’t pursue the boy to convince his parents in dowry matter, the bride’s parents don’t hesitate to cancel the marriage negotiations and even if the engagements would be performed. Arranged marriage, then, seems to be a lot of business dealings between the two sets of parents and as a result the boy and girl have to work accordingly to the wish of their parents; they are almost like pawns and not human beings with feelings. These are just some of the strange factors which make an arranged marriage a forced marriage of sorts and we should have to take them in account. But will we?

This is not a debate on which marriage is better -- the arranged marriage or the love marriage. They BOTH have merits and demerits. It is also wrong to say that arranged marriages or love marriages are social forms related to the cultures from which they are practiced. In 2002, the study reported, 22 percent of Americans aged 15 to 24 were still inexperienced with sexual intimacy. By 2008, that number was up to 28 percent. (Source: National health Statistics Report. Link: But Ross Douthat suggests that this trend may date back decades, and that young Americans have been growing more sexually conservative since the late 1980s due to a concerted effort among health education professionals at schools and beyond. (See: Ross Douthat’s column in The New York Times, published on March 6, 2011) The proliferation of AIDS has also had a dramatic effect on the sexual habits of youth in America.

My goal here is not to certify one kind of marriage over the other. What I want to illustrate is that there are many discrepancies which still remain in marriage rituals and kinds of marriages, and these obsolete ideas can be and should be removed from the minds of the masses.

But either way, one has to question who is the real beneficiary in an arranged marriage?


  1. Nice Analysis of Eastern & Western Marriage System. I need your analysis " Why Someone Marry at all " . Wish U all the best & always appreciate for your revolutionery writing.

    B C Pattanayak
    Lectirer In Mechanical Engg.

  2. very rightly said,arranged marriage is polite and developed way of forced marriage,it has become a business,where only brides parents are to invest before marriage and also after marriage,you have pointed out many social evils in it,it does not harmonize relationship,between brides and grooms parents,after all marriage is to create for the cordial relationship,it was the saying in India "Shadi do aatmaon kaa milan hota hai",which is devine,there should be divine love amongst,parents of bride and bridegroom,but people have forgotten this thing,divine love does not expect any thing,about which i had written in my latest post,"sabko apna dukh doosrey se bada lagta hai",in my blog,thanks for giving me inspiration to write about marriage with harmony not with compromise with the bottom of my heart.

  3. In the Indian context, arranged marriages have its own merits and demerits. Statistically demerits overcome merits. Still there are millions of poor girls--less beautiful, less smart who can't find out their life partners. To them love marriages are impossible.I don't advocate premarital sex. May be I am orthodox.
    Dr. K. V. Dominic, poet

  4. Anonymous5:56 AM

    Ms sarojinni sahoo
    i really dont know how to put my feelings into words i am an educated iranian muslim girl coming from open minded family in love and relationship with an also educated hindu indian boy coming from traditional family we have no idea how to face the difficulties what your holy mind included here has penetrated our cells parents use the word arrange as an excuse to dominate and superordinate their children under their thumbs under the excuse of efforts they went through ,our problem indian and iranian and many other is that we ourselves have drawn borders around us is the meaning of humanity our religion leads us to is give up to what you dont want ?

  5. asha viswas6:56 PM

    a marriage, arranged or a love marriage,without understanding, is full of shackles as u have shown. but for a middle class indian woman living in a small city, it is the best bargain, gives security and respectability. i am not married and i know how our society treats a single woman. may be some day i will write about it.

  6. There is no guarantee as of what kind of marriage (arranged or love) will work for an individual and for what period of time. People change over a period of time and so do their perceptions about life.

  7. A very insightful and thought provoking post indeed. Ealier there were either love or arranged marriages. Now there are arranged-cum-love marriages - where parents contrive love by arranging dates like you said. As to your unanswered question: Who benefits from arranged marriages? Well, I think it is our conservative society which "benefits"

  8. There is no guarantee as of what kind of marriage (arranged or love) will work for an individual and for what period of time. People change over a period of time and so do their perceptions about life.

  9. Bravo Sarojini. You've touched every aspect of this topic. Wish i could hug you right now. I'm glad UK has introduced law against forced marriage. The so called 'woman' you went to meet with your sister... What planet is she living on? Such a hypocrite, the hen-pecked husband, a puppet on her strings. Yet she demands a servant/maid for her son with qualifications and to perform multitask. Is her middle name 'HITLER'? Dowries are to be paid to the bride's family not as it stands. Sad but a fact is that, there are too many women out there are like the one you've highlighted above. One rule for her and another for their daughter-in-laws

  10. My father was always against dowry, he didn't take or give. I also follow the same for my children. It should be abolished.
    ‎'Auction' comes to mind when i hear the word 'Dowry'. :(

  11. Very well written article Mam. for me marriages are made in heaven and celebrated on earth. what is the path may be arrange or love marriage needs understanding, mutual respect, trust, commitment and togetherness. I am sure mindset of people will change in future

  12. In my point of view everybody is benifited from arranged marriage either we can say from both parents side and as well as for both bride and groom understanding among those people plays a vital role for better relationship in future....

  13. amazingly wholesome article sarojini di!! to each his own marriage is fool proof..actually the chained-n-locked hands..speak volumes for the title..are arranged marriages like this ?? i would never be able to understand ,as i married the person of my choice after 3 years of friendship with him...and so i wud recommend a " l o v e-m a r ri a g e " ..atleast you know what are you getting into...and most importantly,the girls must be independent (financially or otherwise)...the question of dowry n obligation wouldnt arise then...

  14. I agree with your view point..the success or failure of a marriage has nothing to do with whether it is arranged or love.

  15. Marriage is synonym as yoke, good illustration in photograph. Marriage is arranged or by love, advantage always goes to stronger the male. Also arranged or by love both have merits and demerits Girls are not inferior to boys in any department except by muscular power, but girls are suppressed and trained according to need of men.
    Usually overwhelming majority of people adopts the religion, tradition and what is right or wrong from their parents and remain stick to statuesque in whole life. If you talk your feminist theory to any one most of them react as you have stated in your blog. People become modern from outside but majority of them are fundamentalist from inside. You have seen the example father of Shoib Malik’s former girlfriend, waving his hand furiously that he has done adultery with his daughter so he should be punished (SANGSAR), which shows that Chastity or virginity for women not for men and how important it is for a so-called modern family.
    The Bridegroom family want highly educated modern girl which lives like a maid servant, which
    Reflects the hypocrisy of our society.
    ख़ुद लड़का काला कलूटा हो ऒर उसे चांद सी दुलहन चाहिये, ये इस लिये के लड़्के वाले मज़बूत पोज़ीशन मे होते हें.
    About premarital sex it is supposed to be sin in every religion. In Islam adultery and killing any person have same punishment. Last pages of Ramayana are really anticlimax when Ram refuse to accept seeta as she remains in captivity of Ravan, which shows the importance of virginity in our culture. As overwhelming majority of people are religious so never think about this option. Europeans do not practice religion so they think the chastity, virginity are part of fiction or medieval culture.
    We are in general salve of our statuesque or environment, we have to change this and create environment in which both men and women live with equal rights.
    The most important thing is the training of girls, if they are brought up properly, they will not be burden on society, no one can suppress them and their family, consequently advantage will not go to any family (bridegroom or bride ), otherwise no one give discount to weaker person.

  16. No one can say what is called a successful married life-it depends. If anybody stays in married life till death-that does not mean s/he is in happy married life.Mine is arranged marriage-no one obstructs me what I today-so it is nothing wrong with Arranged Marriage-similarly I have seen also a love lock married life went wrong within a year.So nothing is final-it is a process. In the present system we see maximum love marriage to occur.

  17. You have written precisely- it is superb and analytical-go ahead

  18. I liked your analysis of the fate of arranged marriages. But it can be quite fine if the parties are not that adamant and narrow-minded.

  19. My husband and I discussed your article and we are glad you wrote it because we had no idea that arranged marriages were still prevalent or that skin color, dowry, and horoscope were important to the arrangement.

    We married for love twenty-seven years ago without the support of parents. Consequently, we have had to stick together and support one another financially and emotionally. We are still married because we have not yet wanted to be divorced at the same time.

    We have a son of marrying age and I am sure I could choose a good wife for him, but I know it is not my place to do so. We will advise him and he will choose for himself. I sincerely hope for the best. Sigh....

    I think most parents do not want to see their children suffer unnecessarily. It is difficult to watch young people make the same mistakes we did in sex and marriage. We want to advise and help them.

    Change is sometimes messy and uneven. I hope young people in America choose their mates in a more sober and thoughtful manner and that the young people in India decide for themselves whether to be a part of a arranged or love marriage and be willing to live with the consequences.

  20. I enjoyed learning about marriage from across the country and didn't know arranged marriages are still in practice. I just can't imagine being setup with little say who I will be spending the rest of my life with in marriage. I am not saying it is wrong but the idea of not having a choice - that is wrong in my opinion.

  21. While making a profit and loss analysis of arranged marriage,shouldn't we question the institution of marriage itself,which is a product of ptriarchal society?To my small mind this is a complex issue involving social, psychological and ethical questions.One can not generalise basing upon urban(small town)middle class experiences.There are many interesting stories tobe told from lesser known communities.Masses are not always fool.The middle class can address its dilema and confusion within themselves..please donot universalise.

  22. While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

  23. m.a.kanakamalini8:59 PM

    It is always the girl who suffers whether it is an arranged marriage or a love marriage.In case of love marriages ,specially in inter-community and inter-caste marriages, the girl has to change or rather lose her identity altogether.Absence of parental support and society's acceptance make her feel insecure, and this makes her compromise with life.Economic independence can strengthen her position to a certain extent but, as long as unequal gender equations exist ,the suffering continues irrespective of the the kind of marriage opted for.

  24. Anonymous4:14 AM

    i don't know anything about indian feminist writings and it comes as a shock to read that no feminists have written about the ills of arranged marriage. if any commenter knows of any such writings, please share links/information.

    though there's no predicting the fate of a marriage - love or arranged - the latter is another form of control over women. in a love marriage the woman at least has the freedom to choose; in an arranged marriage neither she nor the man can choose. arranged marriages are business pacts that reinforce and strengthen patriarchal structures of control over wealth and women.

    people who use 'higher divorce rates in the west proves love marriages are bad' argument assume a few things i'd like to question:

    a. the belief divorces are 'bad' or 'immoral' and hence higher the divorce rate, worse the society. why not look at the higher divorce rate as indicative of greater gender equality. is it possible that the acceptability of a woman's right to walk out of the marriage in western societies has made men treat women more equally and contributed to gender equality?

    b. no divorce = happy marriage. nothing can be further from the truth. most indian couples stay married not because they are happy in the marriage but because divorce is taboo. so to declare arranged marriages as superior citing lower divorce rate is to ignore the quality of relationship in the marriage.

  25. This is a fascinating area. However, I would refrain from making any generalisation. I have seen some ghastly effects of both Love marriage and Arranged marriage. I have seen both girls and boys being exploited under both the systems. Marriage is perhaps one system where the individual and the society come as close as possible. How this is managed and how successfully it is done determines the success of one of the main institutions of any society. Long live Marriage and may we find happiness in living within it and changing it. I would not dare to speak for anyone!