The Arranged Marriage phenomenon in India finds its roots in Indian mythology and history, with our spiritual ancestors defining marriages with underlying political and economic bases. Marriage, since then, has been a precursor to reproduction: a mechanism to maintain lineage, and an agreement to expand one’s power and prestige in society. Marriage was rarely an occasion of love; mostly reduced to an arrangement between two families who aim to fulfil their role in the continuity of lineage and the strengthening of status.
The process leading to the arrangement would begin with the spread of the word, reaching a relative or a colleague, then spreading across their network of relationships, eventually reaching the middlemen of those families who too have been in search of the same. This is then followed by the groom’s family visiting the various prospects of their “to-be bride”, eventually deciding on the perfect match for their family and someone suitable for the maintenance or progression of their social standing in society.
However, with time, this arrangement has begun to involve the prospective bride and groom themselves, allowing them the bare minimum of seeing each other before the day of the wedding. Furthermore, with the advent of media and publications, marriage advertisements find themselves in the public domain. These advertisements now descriptively and prescriptively emphasize the demands for an “ideal spouse”, reinforcing caste endogamy and beauty stereotypes.
As technology entered society, with digitization, marriage advertisements on paper then shifted to websites – websites that allow the right swipes for an ideal spouse. Capitalism and technological developments associated with modernity then found themselves indulging in the commodification of individuals, advertising them and feeding onto the traditional consciousness of Indian society.
Today, as Indian society moves further ahead, it does not let go of the ropes of traditionalism but instead modifies it. It is important to note here that the fear of casteist rules being broken with rising individuality in society has often criminalized love in a collective society like ours. The choice is viewed as disruptive to traditionalism. And so, today, the choice gets a makeover, and what we introduce is “love after marriage”.
In the present times, the idea of courtship finds itself prevalent across the country, where potential spouses spend a certain amount of time together – almost as if they were dating – before they commit to a lifelong partnership. Thus, ideas of modernity get incorporated within traditionalism, allowing acculturation of the procedure for marriage. To avoid breaking the rules for marriage, it tends to allow flexibility in the procedural aspect of it. As the couple then continues to date, the family continues to backchannel its arrangement for the same, thus fulfilling its role as a family in the societal structure.
Businesses like that of Seema Aunty then hire prospective brides and grooms to fulfil societal obligations that their family or they could not fulfil under the façade of “arranged love”. With couples now being granted greater flexibility in terms of their rules of marriage, after marriage, caste and class boundaries are kept intact by allowing a breathable space for individual choices to prevail.
I want to point out here that the aim of this writing is not to disregard the idea of arranged marriages or to promote love marriages, but instead, it is to highlight the very clever ways in which traditionality continues to modify itself so that it remains protected from explicit confrontation.
As more and more individuals today decide to remain unmarried, as the institution of marriage gets questioned, as marriage gets confronted by feminism, as families find the social fabric of society changing, and as marriage finds itself in a threatening position, we find media romanticizing the idea of marriage, presenting a fairytale vision that appeals to the aesthetics of all. Business ecosystems that sustain due to such marriages then find themselves collaborating with the institution of the family to help preserve the idea of marital relationships, as it historically has been the foundational basis for exercising social control over individuals, now also facilitating the growth of the Indian economy.
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