This word means “marriage” in Hindi, and it is coming up everywhere. I should’ve known I’d run into it a lot when it was one of the first words we learned in Hindi class right after arriving in Hyderabad. There are ads for wedding saris and wedding jewelry everywhere, and we’ve seen several marriage processions since we've been here. I’ve talked about it with the guys in my Dalit Politics class, who have been trying to explain the delicate business of getting “shadi-shuda” (married) in India, especially among caste groups, and I’ve talked about it with CIEE staff and other foreign students.
When I met with my Hindi peer tutor yesterday, the topic came up again. She asked me if I was getting married soon (that’s actually a pretty normal question here) and I must have looked scared because she laughed. She got serious when I returned the question. She’s from a different part of India, and from a pretty small village. Culture, caste, and status still play a large role in marriage, as does religion. Apparently, she had a boyfriend for a long time whom she loved, but he wasn’t in her caste, and her parents insisted that they break up.
She is getting married in about five months, and she still doesn’t know who the groom will be. Her parents are working on finding her a husband, and she wants to know as little as possible about the whole thing until she has to. She says she hopes that her husband will allow her to work outside the home, because she is well-educated, and hopes to use her life for “more than just housework.” She hopes that he will let her leave the house unaccompanied, spend time with friends, and go about her life as she has become accustomed over the last three years of school in Hyderabad.
She said, right before she changed the topic, “Life is a long time.” I knew in her head, she was finishing that sentence with “to be with someone I don’t love.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of an arranged marriage. A friend explained to me, “In the US, your friends introduce you to your potential husband. In India, your parents do.” The issue, regrettably is far more complex than that. When friends introduce you to someone, you are not obliged to marry them. Your friends do not limit potential spouses by what caste they belong to, and in many cases, even the sub-caste.
There are so many things to consider when thinking about arranged marriages. One is that many years ago, I could see them being more practical. Today, however, especially among the people I am meeting at school, the youth are used to a degree of liberalness, of freedom, if you will, and arranged marriages seem out of place for people who are so independent.
It’s not that everyone is getting an arranged marriage. It’s far more prevalent than I would have guessed, but it’s not the only way. Many people, especially in the generations that came before us, had arranged marriages, and they worked out great. But I’m starting to wonder about our generation. About how youth who are exposed to different ideas and people as they travel and learn will respond to that particular remnant of tradition.
Many of my friends whose parents moved to the United States from India had arranged marriages, and they are all happily married and in love still today. Working to understand arranged marriages has shown me that for all the stories like my peer tutor's, there are many stories with happy endings. But is it fair to leave that to chance?
I have posted a link to the wedding scene in one of my favorite Bollywood movies Hum Tum ("You and I"). This will give you a peek at a ceremony, and also the attire. The marriage between these two characters in the movie was, according to the woman, a mix between an arranged marriage and a love match.