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The Great Indian Marriage is upheld in the western world as a model of success. Have we looked at the devastation of human dignity that is often behind it, though?
The other day I was sitting in my certification class and we were all waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was one of those mornings when the students had arrived before the teacher and a cosy buzz of conversation was slowly filling the room. I had arrived fourth and was now seated at my usual place. I was slowly arranging my books and taking out the files required for the day, when I overheard some snippets of conversation.
One of my classmates, a middle aged bloke, was looking rather low. He was speaking to a fellow learner. From what I overheard, I could make out that they were discussing his divorce. I figured it was not a conversation to be overheard so I forced myself to turn away and focus on what I was doing. However because they were the loudest in the room they realised that their chat was far from being private.
Suddenly I heard my name being called out and I looked up from my work and was asked a most intriguing question. “You guys stay married forever right? How the hell do you do it?” It was not an accusation. In fact the question had so much wonderment to it that I was quite taken aback for a few seconds.
Did we guys really stay married forever? Wow! If Indian culture were a product then the marketing had been done famously and the message intended for the world had indeed reached far wide.
I realised people were waiting for me to answer the much discussed question in the room. I found myself fumbling and answering with not much surety or confidence. “Yes we do have a good success rate with marriages in India however things are changing now only because the reasons for getting married are also changing.” My answer had opened up more questions than I had presumed and Kate who was one of my allies asked, “Nima, how do you mean?”
“Well you know earlier or let me say traditionally people got married to fulfil duties. The man earned the bread and made sure his family was taken care of. The woman took care of the house and the children and the in laws. And well, life just went on with each duty being fulfilled. Love happened sometimes and sometimes it was mostly respect and care and in several other cases indifference. Unfortunately in the worst cases there was pain but societal pressure is what kept the marriage going.
Nowadays people are getting married later in their lives and are getting married to people they know and love and so sometimes when things don’t work out there is divorce. But that is mostly the situation in the cities. In the villages and small towns marriage is still a contract of lifelong duty.”
Kate and the others nodded in acknowledgement trying to wrap their heads around the cultural snapshot that I had just shared. However I was saved from other questions with the teacher walking in and the topic was laid to rest.
Somehow I couldn’t shake the conversation out of my mind. Being recently married I had had these conversations with friends and family through the heated debate of marrying for love or marrying for responsibility and stability. All these debates and questions came flooding back. How I had put the debate to rest and taken my decision of marrying for love, and so far it had turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
But my thoughts were not so much occupied by my good fortune but with the pedestal on which Indian culture and marriage had been put in the eyes of the world. But reality and perception were two different things.
Yes we have an exceptionally rich and meaningful culture and yes marriage in the Indian traditional culture is one of great spiritual sanctity and meant for life. The mantras and the vows taken are meant to hold two people and two families together for good and for bad and to build a future with great love and dignity but like always and in all walks of life what is believed and what happens has quite a few missing links and deviations.
As a country we are so eager and proud to uphold the flying banner of our culture that sometimes these important conversations and reality checks are never done and what happens in the absence of this is that women suffer to uphold the burden of this heavy and false banner.
Our society today is facing huge issues with respect to dignity, equality and freedom of women in marriages. Dowry issues, marital rape, child marriage, domestic violence are few of the issues being raised in the society and the solutions to these problems are still not there. Marriages – yes they do last forever but no one asks how the people in this contract fare. The pain, the loneliness, the abuse, the belittling of self esteem and fear of life are hardly spoken about.
As a country we are so eager and proud to uphold the flying banner of our culture that sometimes these important conversations and reality checks are never done and what happens in the absence of this is that women suffer to uphold the burden of this heavy and false banner. I realised that these issues are not only prevalent in the villages and small towns but in cities as well. It is happening in families that you and I may know about and its scary how well they are concealed.
As I walked home that evening, walked the streets of a first world country away from all the puddles and crowds of my ethnic home I couldn’t help but wonder how long before the cultural bubble is going to go bust on us!
Image source: wedding close-up by Shutterstock.
A learning and development professional with a passion for writing. Publishing my writing is my
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