Goddess Speak: The Great Indian Obsession with Marriage

By Antara Banerjee in Fashion & Lifestyle 15/06/2017

“The Indian obsession with marriage goes to ridiculous heights. I had once visited a hotel with my husband in a quaint suburban town in Bengal. They flatly refused to let us have a room unless we proved that we were husband and wife. They even went to the extent of asking for our marriage certificate!”

 

In Indian metropolitan cities, single people have to go through hell to get a rented house. Some even have to opt for fake or contract marriages, just to get a roof over their heads. This is not stuff out of comedy movies, these are real life challenges. However funny they sound, they can be quite harrowing for single people, newly arrived to a city.

 

Marriage is good. Singlehood is outrageous

In India, it is very common to ask for someone’s marital status abruptly. It hits you  at a very awkward stage of introduction, as if the quality of the conversation to follow would depend on it. And it does!

 
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If you look anywhere near the marriageable age and beyond, you will be asked if you are married. If you are, the interrogator is duly satisfied and bestows you with a smile and very approving nod. You fit into the ‘good’ column in his/her mind immediately, unconditionally. But woe, if you answer in the negative. “Why?!” The next question strikes you with the vengeance of a bullet, clearly tinged with suspicion and disapproval. And you will have committed sacrilege if you cite that you are single by choice. Another “Why?!” is shot at you with greater intensity. You feel obliged to respond to this very personal question posed by this near stranger as though the credibility of your character entirely depends on it.

 

Then with an expression of a world-weary ascetic, the interrogator will discourse you on the merits of marriage and having progeny. With this, you will be duly rebuked for being too educated and accused of breaking the natural order of things. In short, you clearly do not know what is good for you and too smart for your own shoes.

 

The next day you will find the whole neighbourhood looking at you with the same disapproval and suspicion. Who visits your home, at what time and how long, will be monitored with a vigilance that a CCTV would be put to shame.

 

Women are nothing but ‘Paraya Dhan’

For married women, it is the ultimate test of chastity if you are wearing the traditional symbols of marriage, like vermillion on your forehead, mangalsutra, marriage bangles etc. A woman is scanned unabashedly for these signs. If you are spotted devoid of these, then you are suspected not to be faithful to your husband.

 
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In most parts of India, girls are still raised as ‘paraya dhan’, since birth, which literally translates as ‘someone else’s asset’. Marriage being at the centre of their existence, their needs, education, skills, practically everything, is geared to satisfy that unknown family into which she would be married. The family where she is born, alienates her right from her birth. Her parents keep reminding her, fondly or otherwise, that they would be happiest the day she is seen off with her groom.

 

The misogynistic nature of the Indian marriage is striking. From showcasing the girl to the probing and judgemental eyes of ‘n’ number of prospective grooms and their families, till she has been ‘chosen’; to the marriage rituals such as the bride’s father washing the feet of the groom for accepting his daughter as his wife, are downright exasperating. The burden of dowry, organizing and bearing the cost of an extravagant marriage, the marriage vows that urge the woman to literally serve the groom and his family are obscenely pitted against the bride and her family.

 

No marriage. No sex

However, the great Indian obsession with marriage is most apparent with respect to sex. Physical union is strictly the prerogative of a married couple. This concept is so deeply embedded in the mass psyche that it is very acceptable to consider marrying the victim of rape to her rapist. Any other sexual liaison is taboo and open to public  judgement. No wonder, anti-Romeo squads are tolerated and sometimes justified by the society. A man and a woman are never accepted together if they are not united in marriage.

 
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All thanks to Bollywood

Last but not the least is the overwhelming grandeur of the Indian marriage. The abundance of luxury, food, gifts, clothing and jewellery is so spectacular that an entire genre of Bollywood movies is dedicated to ‘Indian Marriages’. The songs with subtle sexual innuendos preparing the woman to be ‘taken’ and be ravished by her husband, over the top, melodramatic scenes of sugary goodness, the utterly overdone Karwa chauths and designer ensembles… Long live Sooraj Barjatya and the ‘Mehndi laga ke rakhna’ brigade.

 

Antara Banerjee
Author of ‘The Goddess in Flesh’ and ‘To be a Woman’, Antara Banerjee is an ardent commentator on social issues. Masters from the prestigious Goldsmiths College of London and graduated from Presidency College, Kolkata, she is now the Creative Head at Fourth Dimension, Mumbai. She is also the Head, Women Empowerment Committee, Rakshak Foundation, Kolkata and the recipient of Udaan, Empowering Women Awards, 2016 for her outstanding contribution in women centric literature.

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