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Women’s autonomy in India is so poor that a love marriage can sometimes even result in women being killed.
Marriage is arguably the single most determinant of a woman’s economic future. In India, several studies have shown that marriage is indeed taken as an economic decision, managed by parents more often than by the prospective spouses.
Other factors like caste also play a major role in determining marriages. It is quite interesting to look into the various matrimonial advertisements where prospective brides and grooms are grouped based on various caste headings. You just have to take up a newspaper and open up the matrimonial column and you can witness the true reality of the Indian society.
Women are not given the option to decide who their partner would be. Now, there could be many justifications to that, which are patriarchal in nature. But the underlying aspect of these various reasons is the minimal role of women in decision making within their own household because of their ‘inferior’ status in society.
In India, if women were to select their own spouses, it is deemed a ‘love marriage’. Love marriages are greatly looked down upon within the Indian culture and tradition because it is a movement away from the norms of arranged marriages. These are the various interconnected hurdles that women have to cross if they have to make a decision regarding their marriage, on their own.
Caste endogamy has always been a major factor for women not being able to make the decision on their own. In a traditional society like India, where inter-caste/ inter-religion marriages are almost a taboo, the outlandish concept of izzat or honor comes in. Families may have the fear that their daughter would ‘fall in love’ with someone from another caste which would result in grave tribulations. This leads to many problems such as honor killing which you can see occurring in many states.
When we talk about caste, it is also trivial that we talk of the notion of ‘purity’. Now, purity is a very important factor when it comes to marriages and one of the main reasons why women are not allowed to marry outside their own caste. The society is more concerned with encouraging their own caste lineage to grow.
In certain areas in India, the parents force their daughters to get married in order to ‘redeem parents from debt.’ This is called ‘bride price’ which is typically called as dowry. Here, the women are technically sold to their spouse’s family which is exceedingly immoral.
I am of the opinion that marriage, though not a necessity is considered a compulsory act that is to be performed for many reasons. There are certain women who just don’t want to get married and prefer to focus on their work. These women have to face a lot of pressure. I have seen my own sister go through this.
As a child, I always thought that all women should get married – clearly conditioning that I faced. What were the reasons I had been given?
One, because, they are women and their sole responsibility in life is to be a mother and look after the household responsibilities according to the socially constructed norms of the society. Second, the families that these women come from start questioning her actions and responsibilities as a woman.
But it is unfortunate to see women fall for these pressures because they cannot take it anymore, as they say, and as a person from a traditional background, I have seen occur within my family. A women’s choice is valid but the society we live in seems to be invisible to that whole idea. There are women who make their own choices and from what I have seen, they have had to face various backlashes from their significant others.
Why is this so? Is it because the social institutions of the family and society don’t want their women to make decisions of their own and that they fear women would make the wrong decision? Is it because they fear that, by allowing women to decide when and why they want to get married, women would eventually progress in the society and take up male-dominated roles?
To be honest, even I don’t have an answer to that. There are many factors that can act as reasons for not allowing women to make the decisions on their own. But it all comes down to the patriarchal norms that exist in our society which we have to fight against to remove all those restrictions imposed on women, be it terms of sexuality, decision making capabilities, choices, mobility, etc.
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Doing my Masters in Women Studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
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