I’m going to tell you a secret. Before coming to Udaipur I did not have enough time to really read up on India. Let’s just say that ending the semester and an internship and hosting 6 different guests in my humble Brooklyn apartment before I boarded the plane kept me busy. One topic I sort of knew about but didn’t have time to research was the topic of arranged marriages. I knew that arranged marriages happened in this part of the world but only in the past—or so I thought. After being here for over a month, however, I can assure you that arranged marriages occur nowadays all across India—from the poor rural villages to the urban middle and high classes.
So how does the process work? Is there a famous matchmaker in town?
Well, no. Actually, parents are the matchmakers. Once they want to start the process for their child they spread the word through family and friends that their recent college grad is available. (Middle class girls usually get married right out of college and boys usually are a few years older and are working.) From what I understand the parents create some sort of resume, or a profile that describes in detail their child’s physical attributes, personality, education level, etc.
After a few months there usually is a marriage proposal, which means that the boy’s family has sent his profile to the girl’s family to see if they approve. My Indian family, for instance, is very picky and so there is a list of requirements that must be met in order for them to approve a proposal. First, he must be of the same caste and social class. Second, the boy must be someone in the family’s network of friends and family, he cannot be unknown. Third, he must have a good job so that he can provide for her and a family. Fourth, their horoscopes have to match up. I think you’re starting to get the idea.
If the girl’s family approves then there is a wedding…a big, expeeeeensive, colorful, 5-day wedding. Can the bride and groom meet each other before they tie the knot? Well, in the past they did not talk, see each other or meet for the first time until the day of the wedding. Nowadays the bride and the groom can look at each other’s Facebook page or talk on the phone, but usually they are not allowed to see each other in person until the wedding.
Things are changing, though. The couples that do not have arranged marriages marry, as the saying goes, “for love” and this is called a “love marriage.” Someone told me here that around 10 to 15% of marriages in India are love marriages. I’m not sure if that’s true but I’m too tired to look up the statistic. I’m sure there are more love marriages in cities like Mumbai and more arranged marriages in states like Rajasthan, which is known for upholding tradition.
Anyway, all of this is very intriguing to me. I find myself constantly asking my fellow interns if they know if “so-and-so” had a love marriage or an arranged marriage. And if they did have a love marriage, how did they do it? How did their parents react? Love marriages definitely intrigue me the most, not because I come from a culture where “love marriage” is a no-brainer, but because those who have fallen in love and decided to have a love marriage are making a drastic cut between what their ancestors have always done and what they wish to do now. They are going against the flow and by so doing they usually (in Udaipur at least) make their parents and family members very angry by having a love marriage, especially if it’s someone from a different caste.
My host family is just as adamant about arranged marriages as I am about love marriages. I keep having to remind myself that for them it is just how things are, it’s the cultural framework in which they were born. So to get a better idea of their point of view I interviewed my host sister and her friend about their thoughts on arranged marriages and love marriages. Here’s the video:
So, what do you think? Tell me your thoughts! Do you think that arranged marriages are slowly on their way out? Would you trust your parents and your network of friends and family to find your life partner? I mean after all, doesn’t family know us best?