Arranged marriages are still relevant today
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That most marriages in India are arranged by the parents should have been known in Germany at least since the Bollywood invasion. In the film, the traditional scenario is often thwarted by the main actors through a love story undesirable by the parents, which is ultimately approved after stirring arguments. The viewer can breathe a sigh of relief when the protagonists celebrate weddings in style anyway, and everyone leaves the cinema hall relieved.
But even if "love marriages" or marriages that were concluded based on the choice of the two partners are an increasing phenomenon, the reality for 90% of the population corresponds to a marriage arranged by parents or relatives. In view of the social changes, however, the concept of arranged marriage is also undergoing a change, which is particularly evident in the greater participation of marriageable young people in the selection process of their future spouses.
Hand in hand with the economic boom of recent years is a complex change in Indian society, as the liberalization of the economy in the early 1990s resulted in an opening at all levels. Indian megacities such as Mumbai and Bangalore also went through an enormous transformation within a decade and a half. Last but not least, the blossoming media landscape, i.e. satellite and cable television, contributed to the fact that western ideas and role models increasingly began to influence the urban youth of India. The so-called "communication revolution" through cell phones and the Internet did the rest. As elsewhere, the urban middle class is the main recipient of these new impressions and is most exposed to Western influences through business relationships, travel and study abroad.
In view of the new lifestyle and the changed gender relations, the question of the future of arranged marriages is more than justified. Mareile Hankeln gets to the bottom of this question in her recently published book "India’s Marriages Re-Arranged" and chooses the urban middle class as the focus.
The assumption is that people of this class are confronted with 'modern' thoughts and might re-consider traditional values such as the system of arranged marriage, due to being able to access Western media and consumer goods. (Hankeln 2008: 13).
Although there are numerous publications on partial aspects of the complex "arranged marriage", there has so far been a lack of an easily understandable overview that both illuminates the context of Indian marriages in detail and addresses the latest developments. Mareile Hankeln tries to provide such an overview with which she hopes to be able to close this gap. Even if her claim to cover all aspects of arranged marriages may seem a bit over the top, she enriches the discourse above all through her interviews with experts from various disciplines who she asked about this topic. The owners of two marriage agencies in Pune open up a completely different perspective than, for example, the renowned sociologist Patricia Uberoi or the director of the ILS Law College in Pune, who asked Hankeln about the legal basis of marriages in India.
At the beginning, aspects of Indian culture such as the importance of the family and collectivist thinking are portrayed in detail in order to understand the development and continued existence of arranged marriages. The detailed chapter on the influence of the Indian extended family ("Joint Family"), which Hankeln portrays as the embodiment of the collectivist orientation of Indian society and thus contrasts the individualism of Western societies, is very successful. "[...] a person is perceived first and foremost as part of a whole, namely being embedded in the complex hierarchical system within the network of family and community, and not as a single individual" (Hankeln 2008: 28) writes Hankeln und geht among other things also on the connotation of topics such as dependency, control and love in the Indian context. Overall, the author succeeds in getting to the heart of the meaning of marriage as a connection between two families and the scope of such alliances, even if the explanation of the religious dimension is a bit short. The chapters on legal and social dimensions in particular provide a concise overview. However, the section on the history of arranged marriage provides a definition of what can be understood as an arranged marriage rather than a historical overview.
The entire fifth chapter, with well-structured sub-chapters, is devoted to changing marriage patterns, first focusing on the various driving forces of change and then analyzing the various dimensions of marriage (religious, economic, legal and social) in detail for changes become. Hankeln closes with a discussion of some current articles in the Indian press, especially three issues of "India Today", which made the subject of "Rearranged Marriages" the cover story, as well as a reference to the new market for "Matrimonial Websites", Indian online marriage portals.
Even if it is tantamount to a Sisyphus task to cover ALL aspects of Indian marriages, Hankeln manages to get a good overview of the topic. It describes precisely, but does not get lost in details and often remains on a more theoretical level. More can hardly be done on almost 70 pages, so that a successful introduction to the various aspects and problems of arranged marriages in India can be found here.
However, a more differentiated conclusion on the question of "re-arrangement" in the urban middle class would have been desirable. Even if various arguments run through Hankeln's book, one misses a concise summary of the identified changes at the end. Hankeln's conclusion is mainly to state that the Indian family and social system is unexpectedly proving to be resistant to drastic changes, while at the same time showing itself to be very flexible and adaptable to new circumstances and requirements. Arranged marriages are still the norm, even if the selection process and the requirements for future partners have changed significantly.
Almost 50 pages of the appendix contain some interesting additions such as the transcribed interviews with short biographies of the respondents, forms from Indian marriage agencies, as well as a sample page from the Indian marriage agency website www.shaadi.com.
Mareile Dorothee Hankeln: India's Marriages Re-Arranged. Changing Patterns Among the Urban Middle Class. Publishing house Dr. Müller 2008, 144 pages. 59.00 euros.
Introduction (Hankeln 2008: 1-2)
"On September 13, 2006, the ARD, one of the public channels in Germany, screened a documentary titled The love examiners: authorities in the fight against fictitious marriages (" Love Examiners: The Authorities and Their Battle against Bogus Marriages "). This program deals with authorities trying to detect couples who have not married for love but where the true reason for the legal bond was to dodge the German immigration laws.
A basic assumption of the story was that the only valid reason for a marriage in Germany and in Western cultures is 'love'; Other motives - like marrying for money or family connections, are viewed with suspicion as running against the highly valued romantic ideology. The case mentioned above, however, is a special one, as the aim is a breach of a special valid law. The incentive to enter marriage in this particular case was gaining a residence permit and once detected, this 'invalid' marriage led to severe consequences for the couple.
While watching the documentary, the question occurred to me how this would be perceived in the Indian context, where love is not at all the primary basis for a marriage. The pattern, which today is still prevalent in Indian society, is that of an arranged marriage. Even today, in a globalized world, where one encounters different cultures and value systems, around 90 per cent of Indians are still in favor of an arranged marriage (cf. Uberoi, 2006: 24).
Imagine you meet the person you are bound to spend the rest of your life with, only on the day of your marriage. This still happens in the rural areas of India. However, in the urban context, the ways of entering arranged marriages are about to change. This changing pattern of arranged marriages in India is precisely where the focus of this study lies.
The concept of arranged marriages is alien to our Western culture, and to many Westerners confronted with the thought of having others picking one’s future spouse is definitely unacceptable, if not unimaginable. Why should someone give up part of his or her freedom and let others influence his or her life, even more, have a say in a deeply personal aspect of life? In Western cultures it is rather common to let a relationship become established before introducing the partner to family members. The decision to get married is made solely by the couple, and the parents are informed of this decision only after it has been made. Even though the opinion of the family members might ultimately be influential, the responsibility and initiative in getting married lies, almost always, with the individuals involved.
Curiosity grew when I witnessed an Indian friend having her marriage arranged. What seemed even more unusual to me was the fact that her parents themselves had entered a so-called love marriage and would not have opposed a love marriage of their daughter - a marriage entirely of her choice. The very fact that she had not come across a suitable candidate by a certain age made the matter urgent, and demanded quick action on the part of the parents. Through many serious conversations with her, it became clear to me that the acceptance and decision in favor of an arranged marriage depends on many different factors. These may not be apparent at first glance: religion, social prestige and status, economic factors, special marriage laws as well as caste, class and age. This study intends to deal in depth with Indian arranged marriages by investigating the arguments of one of India Today's recently published title articles (India Today, October 18, 2004): "Rearranging Marriages. Matchmaking has shed its rigidity and become practical, personal and adaptable ". In what way have arranged marriages become 'practical, personal and adaptable' for young Indians who are about to get married? Are these changes reason enough for young educated Indians - who are perfectly aware of our Western way of entering marriage exclusively through personal choice - to still favor an arranged marriage?
The very fact that India Today, one of the most important monthly magazines, has chosen to make the topic of arranged marriages its cover story proves the value which is ascribed to this issue. In the course of this study, arranged marriages especially among the Indian middle class will be explored, giving particular attention to recent changes. An answer is sought to the central question:
How are India’s marriages re-arranged? "
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