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Arranged marriages are a tool of patriarchy that restrict the lives of not just women, but also of men, even though they favour men to an extent…
This post is a distillation of all my thoughts in the context of the anti-dowry campaigns taking place in Kerala now.
Whether you have a custom of giving/taking dowry or not, I realize that in an arranged marriage, both the man and the woman are reduced to objects put up for viewing in a marketplace.
After many such ‘pennu kaanals’ or girl-seeing ceremonies that I was subjected to, I told my father that I felt like a bakra (goat) being led to the market for slaughter.
I realize now that even those ‘boys’ who had to come to my house and be scrutinized by my family, would have been nervous. In fact, I rejected one guy because I felt he was a ‘show-off’ because he kept twirling his car keys when talking to me, instead of leaving it in his pocket.
My dad then told me that he was doing that because he was nervous, and it was natural that men would be nervous when talking to a beautiful girl like me. Yes, my dad did think I was some beauty. After one pennu kaanal, when I said that I hope the boy will say no to me so that I don’t have to and face questions from my extended family, my dad actually sincerely asked me, “But how can anyone say no to you?”
Now, we being a Hindu family, and in spite of my parents not checking their horoscopes before getting hitched, being an intercaste love marriage and all, their horoscopes were still checked by their families afterwards, and it was found to be a perfect match! This made my parents believe in horoscopes and so they insisted that horoscopes be matched for me.
Now, the custom in those days was that first the ‘boy’ and his family sees the ‘girl’, and then if things are positive, only then the horoscopes would be checked.
I was not at all interested in getting married, I had my “head in the clouds”, as my father himself used to say, so I got the brainwave to convince my dad to let the boys meet me only if and after the horoscopes matched, because not every proposal that came would match. Remember, these were proposals that came through the boys’ side through word of mouth and ‘recommendations’, not through online or offline matrimonial bureaus.
So many proposals were weeded out just because of horoscope mismatches, and I was spared the pennu kaanal. I think this is why, when one horoscope did match, that of my ex, and by that time I was already 29 and had nobody I was in love with myself, that my father wanted to go ahead with it, fully sure it was the best decision for me. We all know how that went down.
Expectations from the ‘boy’
In all this arranged marriage scenarios, one thing I noticed is that boys were judged on the basis of:
Their family name and background. One really good guy was turned down because my grandmother’s uncle (who was a retired DGP) said their family became rich through the lorry business and so was not a match for my family who were more into medicine, academics, and government services, even though the boy was a software professional abroad- I did not fight for this because he seemed too reserved for my interest. I was more into flamboyant guys then!
The boy’s educational qualifications and job profile (salary was never asked by my dad, I guess it was assumed).
The boy’s looks (I said yes to one guy once, I don’t remember why, and my parents surprised me by refusing to accept my yes and saying no to him instead, saying that he and I were a total mismatch in the looks department and we wouldn’t even look good in the wedding photos, even though I never thought he was that bad looking!)
Expectations from the ‘girl’
And for similar expectations from the ‘girl’, I was just a graduate at that time, but I was working as a trainer in a company in Technopark, Trivandrum. However, it was understood that I would leave the job (which anyway was not what I wanted to do lifelong) and relocate with whoever I married.
None of the boys that I met insisted I work or don’t work after marriage, (sarcasm alert!) save for one asshole who said he didn’t want his wife to work for the first 10 years of a child’s life, so if you factor in more than one child, that would mean at least 15 years out of the workforce, but hey, he was a successful entrepreneur and rich, so why did I need to work at a job or even work with him in his company anyway, right? Just sit at home and look after the kids even after the kids are no longer full time at home, because they need to be fed milk and snacks when they come back from school, hand-fed by their mom.
For none of these boys or their families were my educational qualifications or job prospects even an issue.
They just wanted a good looking girl from a well-known and well-respected family. Having doctor parents, a famous doctor grandfather, all added to my ‘profile’.
None of the elders in our families ever thought about our personalities, our value systems, our future dreams.
For the boy, be a good provider.
For the girl, be a fair-complexioned good looker who you can be proud of flaunting on the wedding day, in wedding photos, in parties, and whose good looks and skin color may hopefully be passed onto the future children. Intelligence? That’s not expected, the boy’s genes are there for that!
This is the patriarchy.
When feminism works to dismantle this, all genders benefit. In such a future, hopefully there won’t be arranged marriages.
With everyone free and having to make a living (no insurance of being a housewife and being taken care of), hopefully doing what they love, and people mixing and mingling freely, they will organically get attracted to others, fall in love, get married at any age, or even choose not to get married, be living in different permutations and combinations (living together, poly, bi, gay, lesbian), and people will be loved for who they are.
With no pressure to be the sole provider, you will be free to pursue your passions and make a living from it. You won’t be forced to choose a course just because it has ‘good job prospects’. You won’t be pressurized to get a government job. You can do whatever you want!
The downside? You won’t “get a girl” just because you have a high-paying job or a government job or because of your family background. You will need to have an interesting personality too to attract a life partner.
What you are able to bring to the table in terms of financial security will not be a deciding factor in a girl choosing you because she can easily give herself that.
In short, men, you will be loved for who you are.
Your self worth will no longer revolve around your skin color, body weight or shape, or ‘getting a guy’. You won’t spend your teens and 20s impressing guys or pleasing toxic boyfriends or husbands to stay just because your self worth depends on having a man in your life.
You will be free to dress the way you want, cut your hair or color it the way you want, never have to hear the words “cut or color your hair the way you want after marriage-for now, keep it long and black because that’s how ‘good girls’ look and what boys and their families like”, free to get tattoos, have more autonomy over your body and sexuality.
You will not be stopped or afraid to study as much as you want or soar as high as you want in your career or start a business or travel alone or explore dating and relationships and sex. You won’t hold yourself back from expressing your full self because you think you will “scare off the good guys”.
Even if you are liked for your looks, it will be you owning it for yourself, and not to impress anyone.
By then, if men also are freed from these patriarchal shackles, you will find that there are enough and more men who are not intimidated by you, and who revel in your fullness.
And both boys and girls, if you are drawn to your own sex, you don’t have to live in hiding. You can live free and openly with your chosen one.
And those who don’t identify as the gender they were born into, or identify as both, will be free to fully express themselves.
We will have less suicides, no dowry deaths, and no murders where there should have been just a divorce.
The world will be a happier place for everyone if patriarchy were dismantled.
That’s what feminism is here for.
Image source: a still from Indian Matchmaking
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Karishma has been writing short stories since she was 8 and poetry since she was
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