When Will We Stop The Terrible Practice Of Bride Seeing

As normal as this bride seeing may sound for we have been subject to this practice for years altogether, does it not bring up the question as to why this is bride seeing and not just a meeting of the prospective families?

“I don’t want to begin my life by marrying. There are other things a woman can do” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady.

Recently, I happened to read Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s collection of short stories titled Arranged Marriage, which brings into sharp focus the concept of bride seeing.

The first step towards any marriage proposal, bride seeing is often considered a customary ceremony in which it is not unusual for the groom’s family to consult the traditional calendars to ‘see’ the prospective bride on an auspicious date.

It is obvious that in matrimonial alliances, whether through traditional matchmaking or matrimonial forums, prospective parties should decide to meet in person at one point once the exchange of basic information is complete.

But in typical Indian marriages, there is something peculiar as the families of the prospective couple do not really ‘meet’, they first ‘see the bride’.

Why is bride-seeing so important?

As normal as this bride seeing may sound for we have been subject to this practice for years altogether, does it not bring up the question as to why this is bride seeing and not just a meeting of the prospective families?

We may say that bride seeing became a part of marriage because in earlier times and even now a woman’s beauty is a standard for bride selection.

There is no denying that physical attractiveness is a part of the man-woman relationship, and even women may choose to prefer a man who looks a particular way.

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But I think one may be wrong to say that bride seeing is only about the importance of beauty, even though for ages women have been trying to make themselves fairer or perhaps ‘improve’ their looks for the sake of marriage.

Why don’t we have groom interview?

Do we have ‘groom seeing’ or ‘groom interview’? No, because it is the groom who chooses, and it is the bride who is chosen.

Contrary to popular perception, bride seeing is about domination, setting the criterion of the marriage alliance entirely from and in favour of the groom’s family. Isn’t it obvious that to be ‘seen’ is to be subject to the patriarchal gaze, moulding oneself as per the dictates of the one who sees?

John Berger in his book Ways of Seeing even though written in the context of the history of western art has said, “Men act and women appear. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

He further adds, “Thus she turns herself into an object and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (The term ‘male gaze’ was first brought to focus by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”).

Post-independence, Bollywood and television media have all too eagerly stereotyped the bride-seeing ceremony, giving it a kind of legitimacy.

The image of the would-be bride decked in traditional attire, tray in hand with tea and snacks, walking into the living room before a crowd of the groom’s family, shyly and coyly with her head held low, is forever etched into the male imagination.

Do you know how to cook?

As stated, bride seeing sets the tone for the domination of the groom’s side in the marriage because being seen also means being mute and docile. What follows is that the would-be bride is subjected to a jargon of questions that begin with cross-examining her age, and end in the deadpan dullness of— “Do you know how to cook?”

The ideal standard seems to be someone who is not working, is fairly young and looks a certain type. Obviously, bride seeing sets standards based on exclusionary practices, aspiring a bride who would maintain the systems of patriarchy.

When a few alliances don’t work which might be for any reason, even the would-be bride’s unwillingness women feel the pressure of being rejected. But the truth perhaps is that they have not conformed to some patriarchal standard.

How can there be a rejection if people just met on equal terms? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the alliance did not work from either or one side.

Besides setting the power balance in the hands of the groom’s family, bride seeing has another important connotation. Since time immemorial, women have been expected to be subject to trials and tests, which in popular vocabulary would be called the “pariksha.”

In television soaps and serials too we find that in each episode the heroine passes a different trial and ‘proves’ herself to be the ideal bahu, and then she gets the love of the man.

Why must a bride keep proving she is worthy of a man below average?

The common notion is that it is the men who ‘do’ and being their better half is not easy and the bride seeing is at the end of the day a test that women must pass.

Often prospective couples exchange numbers and talk among themselves, perhaps without the intervention of the family, but this exchange takes place after the bride seeing and does not mean that the bride seeing test is exempted.

In love marriages, too, bride seeing is not absent and the pressure to impress the boyfriend’s/groom’s family is perhaps no less.

Love marriages are not spared either

Whether couples prefer a traditional wedding or not, the prospective bride is intensely aware that on the day of the first meeting with her boyfriend’s family, she must be seen in a way that is impressive to them.

And is it not amazing that even lawyers, doctors, engineers, and educated women years after years go through being seen and not being heard?

And for ages women and their families think this is so normal that it is just another test that women must clear for once married everything will be okay.

Not being married within a childbearing age is such a stigma in society that perhaps women feel that compared to that, the undignified practice of bride seeing is nothing.

Perhaps it would be better if women see the path to be taken than just be seen, but that seems distant and remote.

Image Source: Still from Haseen Dillruba, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Tapti Bose

Tapti Bose is interested in writing on issues that concern women particularly women's legal studies and women's literature. read more...

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