Professor's House

Arranged Marriages

Forgive us. We’ve been pitifully ignorant…

Our mother – bless her soul – used to tell us to try to be as broadminded as we can. “And the only way to expand your horizons”, she said “is to read voraciously or travel if you can afford it. I never want my children to be bigots or be parochial-minded or uninformed. Read, read, read!” The seriousness of her tone hinted that we had better pull up our socks or else…

And we’ve been reading ever since. And travelling a bit, if our budgets allowed it. Thing is with budgets, they’re as unpredictable as the weather. But we’ve managed to read. We’ve read enough to learn – perhaps a bit too late – that arranged marriages are not what we thought them out to be.

Arranged Marriages – Not as Negative as You Think

Since we’re on the subject of mothers, we ask if you’ve ever since the film “Brides and Prejudice” – a playful mockery of the concept of arranged marriages – India style. Mrs. Bakshi is the mother of four beautiful daughters, each of whom she’s intent on finding suitable mates for. But one of her daughters, Lalita, is headstrong about bending tradition by announcing that she’s marrying only in the name of love. Nothing else. The movie wouldn’t have such a significant entertainment value if it ended sadly because Mrs. Bakshi insisted on having it her way. It actually ends happily ever after with Lalita’s wish to marry only for love coming true, and of course her family is pleased as punch, especially Mrs. Bakshi, who is convinced that her daughter made a far better choice than she did. And so after a few misteps in the beginning and a rather awkward courtship, Bombay meets LA…and it’s a perfect match! That’s how the movie’s slogan is expressed. A delightful two-hour retreat into the schema of cultural diversity and the humorous side of arranged marriages. It is available on VHS and DVD if you’re craving for the lighter side of an emotionally-charged subject.

By saying emotionally-charged, we don’t mean that arranged marriages carry around a negative connotation that could offend the sensibilities of westerners who value the right to choose who we love. Granted, arranged marriages could constitute an emotionally-charged issue because of two opposing views. And let’s not forget – there are the couples’ feelings to consider also. While the parents are busily attending to courtship protocol and wedding logistics, the poor kids are left on their own to ponder their future with someone they feel don’t know very well and whether the marriage is a viable one.

If love in arranged marriages is a secondary factor, everyone hopes anyway that the two “love birds” will learn to love each other with the passing of time till death do them part.

Yet…happily for all concerned…arranged marriages need not be negative by-products of a country’s cultural mosaic. Happily as well, there are shades of grey. What we mean here is that just as dishonesty and betrayal in relationships have “graduated levels” – for lack of a better phrase – arranged marriages come in various hues. They incur disfavor or make western society frown. Do you know why?

Answer: it depends what kind of arranged marriage you’re talking about.

Arranged Marriages: Definition

Alright, before you scoff at our statements: did you know that while forced marriages are still practiced today, there are arranged marriages that actually put a lot of weight on how the future bride (and groom) feels, and that the children have the right to refuse a prospective chosen partner without the parents running amok? If their son or daughter refuses, they can’t seek solace in court and file a complaint for “obstruction of justice.”

Before we go into the different hues of arranged marriages, a definition is in order. The components of the definition are:

  • Prior arrangement
  • Absence of a lengthy relationship before arrangement
  • Third party intervention
  • Country; societal segments

Without wishing to inject legalese into the definition of arranged marriages, we could define them thus:

An arranged marriage is a marriage of two people that has been established (or negotiated and agreed upon, if you will) way before the parties involved enter into a relationship. The arrangement is “brokered” by someone else, usually the parents. Arranged marriages are common in some parts of Asia, Africa and Middle East, and are also common in some religions and royal families.

Arranged Marriages: Types

  • Research suggests that arranged marriages can be:
  • forced
  • traditional (minus the element of force)
  • modern
  • modern + courtship
  • introduction sans interference from parents or third parties.

The articles we read on arranged marriages therefore reveal that there are at least five different arranged marriages. Except for the first two above, the partners’ wishes are respected.

Forced marriages – an arranged marriage where the child absolutely has no say. What he or she thinks is unimportant. What matters is that the union take place for the sake of tradition or to serve the social or economic interests of a particular cultural group or community. If the son or daughter refuses, a punishment may be administered.

Traditional arranged marriages without force – in this type of situation, the parents arrange for a spouse. If their child does not agree, the parents usually respect their child’s wishes and look for another partner. Parents, however, will typically make an all-out attempt to convince their child about the value of the arrangement.

Modern arranged marriages – the happiness of the son/daughter is important and parents will not force their chosen candidate if it will make their child unhappy. Parents may still engage in some persuasion tactics, but their child’s happiness is their # 1 priority, so there’s a lot of emphasis on the child’s feelings, beliefs and convictions.

Modern arranged marriages + courtship – this rhymes with the previous type, except that the child is allowed – indeed encouraged – to get to know his/her partner better either through correspondence, unsupervised dates and phone calls. No time limit is imposed for this courtship period.

Introduction only marriages – in this type of arranged marriage, the child is simply introduced to a prospective spouse. Parents of the children may have spoken to the parents of the potential partner as well, but a strict “no interference” policy is observed. It is up to their children to manage the relationship and come to a decision on their own.

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