While traveling through India for the past ten months I’ve met many young Indians who are also traveling, staying in hostels, and generally living a lifestyle that runs afoul of their parents’ wishes.
When the topic of marriage comes up, they often say something like, “My parents want me to come home and get married ASAP. What should I do?”
I respond, “Do whatever the fuck you want to do.”
But it’s not so easy in India because of the archaic tradition of arranged marriages and other socio-economic factors. According to a 2018 Oxford University study, 93 percent of the country’s 1.3 Billion still follow this tradition.
How does an arranged marriage happen anyway?
#1) In India, most young people live with their parents until they are married. Many stay their whole lives, never really leaving home.
#2) Pre-marital sex is taboo. Some young people date and find love that turns into marriage. But this only happens 3 percent of the time and is condescendingly referred to as a “love marriage.”
#3) The vast majority of young Indians allow their parents to arrange their marriages. For the poor and uneducated this is often a necessity, as the country has little path to independence or welfare services. But well-off Indians also have arranged marriages.
#4) Parents arrange marriages by conspiring with town elders and hired matchmakers to find suitable candidates. They share “Bio Data” sheets, which are like resumes showing: education, religion, family history, skin tone, and caste. Many parents share online profiles of their children on shaadi.com and play digital matchmaker.
#5) When parents want their children married (which is usually late teens in the villages, and mid-20’s in the cities) the children are granted some time alone to meet their matches. Sometimes the whole families meet as part of this process. The children often have some veto options.
#6) If things go well, the families start planning the wedding right away. They spend huge amounts of their savings (and sometimes take loans) for 1,000-plus-person weddings, decked out like a Bollywood movie. This is often to appear as if they’ve socially networked themselves into wealth.
#7) In many places the bride’s family is required to pay a dowry to the groom’s to make up for the fact that a woman is considered of less value. This sometimes happens in reverse in places with few eligible women. Dowrys are technically illegal, but still happen all the time.
#8) If the son (or even worse, daughter) grows past the age of 28 and is still not married, they are labeled “unmarried” and considered an embarrassment to the family.
#9) Once married, divorce is rarely an option. Only 1 percent of Indian marriages end in divorce, compared to 50 percent in developed countries.
#10) If the couple encounters major problems in their marriage, they often just live with them for the rest of their lives, rather than leaving the black mark of divorce on their family.
Travelers’ Takes: Why do young Indians still go along with this?
“One of the reasons is the controlling nature of Indian parents and their obsession with ‘family values.’ If you’re caught with intoxicants, you face the family’s wrath, but bringing someone home you actually like is worse. A love marriage, or marrying someone outside of your cast is the easiest way to tarnish a family’s reputation.” — Ashraf, Jodhpur
“Given how little government does for common citizens, having to separate from family money can seem scary. Independence is a risky business and arranged marriages seem like the easier way. Also patriarchy has women having no life apart from family, leading mothers to be over involved in their kids’ lives.” — Mitushi, Assam (***UPDATE*** – Read Mitushi’s full counter-analysis on her new blog!)
“Generally, if husband and wife encounter major problems during marriage, they live together a miserable life fearing that if they separate, the society with look down upon them and their kids. Some educated couples in metro cities are taking steps to come out of this situation, but that number is extremely low.” — Shaily, Delhi
“There are a lot of bribes still practiced. The girl’s family pays a huge amount to the groom’s side. It mostly happens in arranged marriages. It’s the dowry.” –Akshata, Hubli
“Despite this, our generation is catching up to the rest of the world pretty fast. I know of all kinds of married couples: open, swinging, gay, sometimes, and for convenience. Many of us get to do what we really want. The rest just follow blindly with arranged marriages, considering it to be an integral part of the culture.” – Ronnie, Manali
“Seems like many young Indians are leaving home to travel and live the digital nomad life. They’re having sex with the people they actually choose to be with, well beyond the watchful eyes of their parents. Hopefully they get credit cards, keep traveling and fall in love far, far away from the false warmth of the family nest, which can quickly turn into a cold ball and chain.” — The Editor, Renegades Logbook