Indian Culture: Arranged Marriages

The dictionary definition of what makes culture are “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group”. The holistic culmination of evolved traditions and customs that define a culture are important in better understanding it. An element that serves as this zoomed-in perspective on traditional Indian culture are arranged marriages. The deeply intertwined existence of these matches plays out into the culture in varied ways, whether it be through gender roles, social classes and moving up or down within them, even the ways in which culture is passed down to the next generation, this seemingly small cultural aspect plays a huge role in the understanding of the culture as a whole. Anju and Sudha: the women in the work who are put into arranged marriages are prime examples of this cultural impact. Both of their experiences through the arrangements differ greatly but are bound by similar roots of tradition and intention. These differences are highlighted as the novel progresses through the plot to bring attention to how these marriages affect the women as individuals. Where they end up living, who they become, what they think of themselves, and their relationships with others are all based on the catalyst of their arranged marriages. The novel centers around the deep and constant connection that composes the relationship between Sudha and Anju, but it is there arranged marriages that fuel decisions, actions, and consequences that allow their relationship to evolve and define who they are to each other in one way or another--even before the matches began and long after. In the work Sister of My Heart, the examination of the arranged marriages in India through a cultural lens we can observe a variation that leads to a contrast into the effect and fruition these marriages have in the lives of those involved.

Society's idea of marriage is a complicated one. Different cultural interpretations of this societal norm and acceptable union between individuals have been the subject of many stories, lessons, and research-based studies. Whether fueled by social hierarchy, religion, gender, age, etc. marriage is viewed in high regard and importance in almost every culture for some purposes. The pursuit of examining these differences and why they occur in their respective contexts can provide important discernment on their significance. The specific focus on arranged marriages in India and even more closely, on the effects of arranged marriages on the lives of the characters in the novel provide revelations on their unique characterizations and human anthropology through the processes of their marriage. The women in the novel serve as a reflection of the greater context of women in Indian society as a whole, not just two individuals bound to a story. These stories and how they've been affected by arranged marriages can serve as a mirror image for all Indian women put into these kinds of unions. The ways in which their lives were affected by these arranged marriages shows how totally immersive this aspect of culture is on an individual’s life.

Not all arranged marriages follow the same process. Just as not all traditional western or American marital unions are the same, from courthouse eloping for secret unions, Vegas shotgun weddings, or elaborate million dollar ordeals. Different fruitions yet similarly varied realities are true for arranged marriages in India. The ages of those involved, the time span of making a match, and the level of profile involved are only a few factors that result in variation among the marriage process. In these varied perspectives, “people have lived and flourished but also indicated changes which these individuals have experienced.” One major factor in differences is caste. Traditional Indian culture is built upon the caste system. Although less used and even frowned upon today the caste system still exists in other ways and historically has proven a prime example for differentiation. Depending on the caste you're born into the process of the match changes. Social status or lack thereof does not exclude you from arranged marriages more than others do. Just because your family has wealth and notoriety, does not necessarily make your situation any easier than if you had nothing and Vise Versa. Such uniqueness inexperience can even be seen through the idealistic lenses that,“...each person is distinct, separate. That ultimately we are each alone” however, the reasoning for the arrangement is affected by caste. If a family from a lower social standing has a daughter they would aim to elevate their standings by matching her with someone of higher status-- a difficult and sometimes impossible task. Families in higher castes or social standing would be looking for a match that would add something to their connections or wealth above what they already have which narrows the field. Disproportionate matches regarding social standing are frowned upon. This affects Sudha directly in the novel as she is already in love with someone but their union could never be approved based on the disparities in their social class. In this scenario, “Loving someone so deeply was dangerous. It made you too vulnerable.” So she is forced into marrying someone else despite the fact that she is already in love. Lower castes aim to use arranged marriages to elevate status. Any daughter born into a lower caste or social class is instantly given the burden of pressure to help elevate her family’s status through marriage from the moment she is born. As young girls, Sudha and Anju engage in childlike games involving boys, and one day word reaches their mothers that Sudha has kissed a boy. This news instantly puts her life on shutdown in social sense as this act has hurt her appeal towards other suitors later on. They are groomed to be suitable matches in order to achieve this. It’s not an easy feat however a union like this one is extremely rare and hard to come by due to the stark and harsh classist and discriminatory climate that surrounds the culture and its processes. The stakes and pressure involved in the marriages increase as the caste does. Just as when playing poker a game with a purse of fifty million has a different set of procedures, attitudes, and attention than a game with a purse of just fifty dollars. This idea can also be applied to arranged marriages. If the match being made is between two families with little money and social presence than the politics, agendas, and behind the scenes work of the union is minimal compared to that of families with higher wealth and class. The stakes to ensure a “suitable” marriage are amplified in this setting as more money is involved in the dowery, more eyes are upon the processes and the joining of families is viewed in higher regard, just to state a few. Depending on the family and the individuals involved in the match the process differs. The religious background of families and individuals, their socio-economic background, and even behavioral traits can affect how the process of an arranged marriage looks. The interpretation of cultural importance shapes the process of an arranged marriage in a family. The degrees of importance placed on tradition can guide the narrative of this process. Therefore no two arranged marriages are alike. This fact is critical in considering their greater contribution to the shaping and evolving of society and culture, not just in India but the whole world.

The stability of a tree’s roots are a large determinate in the span of their life. Similarly, the strength that lies within the origin of a cultural pillar can reflect the lifespan of it within the culture. The root of Indian culture influences the longevity and traditional importance of arranged marriages even today. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions, dating back as far as somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Hinduism is the major religion in India and many of its surrounding countries in South Asia. The values and teachings of the religion have formed the way of life in South Asia. Whether it be food preferences, gender roles, various taboos, arranged marriage, all are a direct result of the roots of a culture influencing how it exists. The many deities within the religion dictate the ideas and lives of its followers. Parvati is the Hindu goddess of marriage amongst other things (fertility, love, beauty, children, and devotion) that for thousands upon thousands of years has been a representation for a set tradition of marital procedures and customs. This strong-rooted figurehead helps to prolong the ideals that support arranged marriages. So when you ask yourself how such a seemingly dated technique is still so widely used in a specific culture look closer at the strength that lies within its roots. This understanding “is a completely viable approach, for it tells more than any other method as yet at our disposal” to better understand the culture as a whole. Additionally, the cultural roots that lie within Indian family dynamics contribute to the continuation of arranged marriages. Ideals of male superiority and the father being the “head of the household” and daughters being giving to the sons of other families are strongly rooted ideas within the Indian culture. The women in the novel are especially privy to this cultural trait. With the immensely impactful deaths of their fathers at birth their female status is seen as both weakness and burden yet they must “believe in possibility. How else can we bear the enormous weight of life?” that contributes heavily to the development of their personalities. The lack of fathers in the girls’ upbringing places more pressure on other male relationships especially ones within the parameters of marriage. So when they are officially told they will both be placed in arrangements their personalities are greatly affected. Both girls feel out of control with their own life decisions and helpless within themselves. They both struggle to find inner strength throughout the processes and long after. In ancient Indian historical research “ Nothing is said of a female or any other leader in war and peace,” this lack of representation in the roots of the history of the culture are reflected now. This disparity is true for many Indian women who go through similar life experiences. These cultural roots became continuations of traditions and set standards for life that to this very day greatly influence and impact the lives of people that live in the culture. The strength in the familiarity and respect associated with their role in the way of life is the reason they are still so powerful in dictating people’s lives thousands of years later. The roots of culture and their strength are vital in sustainability. So much so that women such as Sudha and Anju, who represent the greater population of women in arranged marriages are still impacted today.

The sacrificing of female well-being is at large when dealing with arranged marriages in India. Even in western marital customs women are “handed off” to their new husband to their partners by their fathers and typically take the husband’s family name. This sense of the daughter being given to the husband is less symbolic and more literal in the context of Indian arranged marriages which egregiously puts the well-being of any female involved at considerable risk. It is cultural common knowledge that “in childhood (she) must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons” essentially stripping a woman of all her independence. This forced submission is not only mentally devastating but hard to adhere to as well. Women must adapt to the new lifestyles of their husband. For example, Anju must move to America with her new husband, leaving her old life and Sudha behind. Everything she ever knew about herself and her surroundings is thousands of miles away and she must change who she is to fit her new situation brought onto her by her new husband, she didn’t choose. She embodies the submissive strength of Indian women as she describes such situations coping wise in stating, “Tomorrow is another day. I've got plenty of things to worry about right now.” this defeated sense of optimism is the toxic result of accepting such situations that deflate the humanity and rights of Indian women in arranged marriages. Additionally, the aspect of dowry creates a transactional mood around the exchange of a daughter to marriage. This completely removes the women’s sense of humanity and “strips them purely to an item at market.” The idea of value being assigned to women during a procedure that is highly determinate on the remaining course of their life, only furthers the idea that arranged marriages is truly harmful to the state and stature of Indian women. This extreme disparity in power through setting up an arranged marriage opens the door and more times than not does result in abuse/ Both physical and mental abuse is quite common among Indian marriages as there is such a stark difference in roles and the power they hold. Anju is severely mentally abused by her husband who is more in love with Sudha and her sense of worth is more defeated day after day as she must live her life with a man who thinks that she is not enough. Sudha is physically abused by her husband, even to the extent that her child is terminated. The anecdotal and figurative examples in the book aren’t as far off from reality as one would hope. Indian women experience similar situations as Sudha and Anju every day due to the power dynamics in their marriages chosen by others outside themselves. True female empowerment should be seen as the “welfare, access, conscientization, participation, and control” of a women in her own life. This lack of control and voice is seen almost as something unavoidable with the idea that in finding a solution or common ground, “there's a lot we hope that never happens.” This complacent mindset for change in regards to gender inequality in Indian arranged marriages mirrors the attitude that Indian women have on the subject, the idea that they are helpless to the betterment of their own lives. This sense of helplessness is also rooted in the seemingly unbreakable flow of tradition linked with arranged marriage that creates a roadblock towards change. The women in the novel and how they are directly impacted by this prove to be more than just a single incident or a cautionary tale. They are a single example of something not far off as to what happens to millions of women in these unions.

Embracing female empowerment in Indian culture is vital to modernizing the idea of arranged marriage. In order to usher, arranged marriage into the twenty-first century and beyond the empowerment of women within their marriages must be at the forefront of change. The women of India continue to suffer “undeserving violence both private and public, physical and emotional, sexual and asexual in nature.” this kind of treatment from this point on must evolve into more equality for women within their marriage as to prevent these inequalities to not only justify the continuation of arranged marriage but also improve it. Women should not wake up every day and feel helpless within their own lives. In the novel, the women are bonded by intense sisterhood. They also share in a sisterhood with all other women in arranged marriages through their shared experiences. Sudha even expresses her “want to weep too, not for me but for us all--for rich or poor, educated or illiterate, here we are finally reduced to sameness in this sisterhood of deprivation.” this community of women is bound by their sameness in hurt yet should be fueled by empowerment and a changed perspective moving on with the history and narrative of arranged marriages. Marriages that are arranged are more easily justifiable in modern-day if the empowerment of women is a priority in the match. As our social climate is constantly progressing, ideals that diminish demographics are more frowned upon day by day. 

The shift towards more feminist ideals that support female equality to men is “vital for the progression of India and its culture.” Now it's 2018, what does it mean to be a feminist in modern society? Being a feminist can't be described or compartmentalizations by a series of words, ideas, or examples. It’s a personal sense of empowerment achieved by a prismatic spectrum of ideas and actions devoted to the equality of all humans. Jessica Valenti says, “Feminism isn't simply about being a woman in a position of power. It's battling systemic inequities; it's a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged.” this perfectly sums up what it means to be a feminist in today's world. That much like people in our diverse society, no two feminists are the same, nor should they be compared. Each one is unique in their ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives. These differences don’t delegitimize them as apart of the movement. 

The Feminist movement is about equality for women and men therefore the feminist movement in modern times doesn’t discriminate against different types of feminists, it is all-inclusive and interpretive. The feminist movement is valid and important. The progress and change it has brought about is so important to the well being of girls around the world. In the US women have gained the right to vote, gained more reproductive rights, and have the ability to obtain positions in society previously exclusive to men. Globally the feminist movement has decreased child marriages, increased female education rates, and helped in the decline of violence against females. All because of the idea that women are just as human and capable as men. These positive changes are key examples of why 

07 July 2022
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