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aised on a Western society  probably one of the most shocking thing you notice about India are the arranged marriages.

After 3 years blogging about this country I’ve got emails from foreign ladies asking about the amount of dowry they have to pay to get a “good indian boy”. Dowry was banned in India after the passage of the Prohibition of Dowry Act in 1961, but many people still practice the system of dowry.

Few Westeners realize the importance of the family in Asian cultures. Likewise, few Westeners are aware that many Asians are horrified by the lack of family feelings and loyalty shown in Western nuclear families in comparison to the support and security of the traditional Asian extended family. The term “extended family” does not necessarily means relatives living under the same roof or owning communal property. It refers to kin: “who are bound by mutual rights and obligations subscribe, at least nominally, to a hierarchy of authority among its members”

Needles to say, the males of the family have greater authority over the females within the same age categories, although older females do have the power over younger males. As most people are expected to marry, a girl in this community is under some authority all her life, first as a daughter, then as a wife. Only when she herself becomes a mother in law, does she see her own authority increased, especially if the newly wedded couple live under her roof.

Indian children are not brought up to consider themselves individuals, entitled to take their own decisions, but, rather, as members of a group, which reach decisions all together. Relationships are not on a one – to – one basis as in many Western cultures, but rather between family units. Every Asian knows s/he is part of a “biradari”, an extended kinship group or clan. They know that they are never alone, they are confident in having the support of a larger number of people behind them. On the other hand, they only have the advantages of this network of support provided that they keep the rules. The rules stipulate that its members must not disgrace it and must comply with the decisions taken by the elders. Marriages among Indians are not seen as a contract between two individuals, as they usually are in the West, but as an union of two families. The suitability of the prospective husband or wife as regards his/her character, caste or income has far more importance then whether the couple actually like each other. Indians would say that love comes after marriage. A similar background is essential, whereas physical attraction may not last.

Indian tradition says that parents have more experience than children and are therefore more likely to choose the right person. Children accept this because “Obedience is a extremely important foundation of Indian family relationships and agreement is frequently reached on the basis of acceptance of the parent’s authority”

Moreover, the whole family must be considered suitable, not just the young man or woman, which explains why parental knowledge of life has more weight than a biased adolescent view of a girl or boy-friend. It is argued that arranged marriages are more successful than love marriages because there are more divorces in love matches. Asian parents who wield statistics to prove this point fail to take into account the lack of figures for failed arranged marriages. According to tradition, a love marriage means that you are putting yourself first before your culture, your community and even your parents. If anything went wrong and the union ended in divorce, the parents would disgraced and the divorced partners would be rejected by the community at large. If an arranged marriage fails, the whole family unites behind the husband or wife and thus, as it were, shoulders the blame.

It must be said, nevertheless, that arranged marriage is the tyrannical system it is made out to be by the media. The publicity it receives is always in terms of girls being forced and parents being cruel. In reality, it is much less traumatic, much more “semi-arranged”.

Nowadays there seems to exist a liberal version of the arranged marriage. The parents look for a suitable match through a network of relatives and friends. When they are satisfied with the boys’s background, financial standing and education and the girl’s character, family background and ability to manage a home, sometimes photographs are exchanged. If the couple feel attracted to each other, a chaperoned meeting is arranged. If this encounter does not dampen the initial interest, the marriage can be said to be on. Should the couple not feel suited, another round of enquiries ensues. The final decision rests with the boy and the girl not with the parents, as used to be the case. It is doubtful whether this means a kind of progress towards liberation as, underneath it all, the system is surely the same. Girls are not allowed to object to the principles of it and certainly cannot go on refusing for ever. An important reason why parents are loath to leave this decision entirely in their daughter’s hands is their fear of her choosing someone outside her religion or caste, but not so much because of divine disapproval but rather because of the reproof of society. Indian society is an extremely conservative one and stepping out of one’s place is deeply frowned upon.

Indian boys are, perhaps surprisingly, compliant as far as arranged marriages are concerned. Only a minority refuse to conform. Among Hindus and Sikhs a new wife brings a large dowry with her, which nowadays is usually the payment of a mortgage, so it is easy to see why it would be against their interests to rebel against apparent parental tyranny when they are assured a rent-free future. From a privileged male standpoint, arranged marriages can be seen to have numerous advantages.

The institution of arranged marriage is alive and well among Asians communities nowadays.

Sometimes there is a kind of contradiction in attitudes for Asian parents who are often pleased and proud that their daughters are educated and can occupy positions when they get a good job, but in many cases they are afraid that the price they will have to pay for having another family member with a respectable income is too high should the girl become too “westernized”.

In Indian or Pakistani villages, if marriages were not arranged by the family, it stands to reasons that many women remain single.

Arranged marriages have been put on a par with computer dating, which of course is not disapproved of in the West.

The Western emphasis placed upon individual choice may seem to suggest that only marriages chosen by the couples themselves can bring happiness, but the Eastern belief in family wisdom creates a confidence and trust in arranged marriages. The careful matching of backgrounds and associated customs and values is a key quality of arranged marriages which remains relevant even as relations between the sexes change.

Considered in this way, it stands to reason that marriage seen as a watertight, carefully prepared, permanent contract as opposed to the risky, often short-lived gamble which it is in most Western cultures, is more likely to prove lasting and successful in the former case. It can not be ignored, however, that even in so-called “free choices” marriages, partners are frequently selected from similar personal, social and cultural backgrounds.

It is even more difficult to understand how young Asians, educated in Western cultures, can still identify with their Asianness after contact with what the Westerners see as a superior or more advanced culture. Conflicts between parents and teenage children exist among all cultures, but when such problems arise in Asian families, it is often assumed thats the parents are being excessively authoritarian and the adolescents are desperately trying to shake off their Assian “yoke”.

Leaving home may be a satisfactory solution for many teenagers in Western cultures when the home atmosphere becomes too tense, but among Asians the feeling of loyalty and obligation to the family makes taking such a step virtually impossible for the majority.

There is a  cliché that children of Asian migrants are “torn between cultures”. On the contrary, the second generation, and certainly the third generation to a much larger extent, have access, as it were, to two cultural resources, which they can use in  a flexible and accomplished way, depending on the situation. Thus, they can move confidently in both the Asian and Western worlds, although most scholars would claim that “their roots lie in the resourses of Asian cultures”

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