Marriage is central to the Indian society. Celibacy is largely related to spiritual emancipation and is largely frowned upon unless one is a spiritual or religious leader. Despite its importance, marriage rules and traditions have been rigid and unyielding. Any dissent between a couple can cause friction between families and even communities. Here is a snapshot of the changing face of marriages in India.
Arranged marriages – made by families
Arranged Marriages as understood in India are marital unions where the families (parents, guardians, even extended families) of the bride and groom decide on the match based on a number of socio-economic criteria rather than the couple choosing their own partner. In India, historically, most marriages have been arranged marriages. Till even about three decades ago love marriages or any other sort of union was considered a rarity and an exception. Even in present day modern India, parents and families are expected to choose an appropriate spouse for a young man or woman of marriageable age.
While the perception of arranged marriages in countries outside India (especially in the western world) is considered similar to “forced marriages”, back home young men and women are quite happy to have their families pick out a suitable partner for them. The Taj Group of Hotels, Mumbai, conducted a survey in 2013 called The Taj Wedding Barometer. The survey reveals that about 75 percent of young Indians prefer arranged marriages. This data highlights the fact that about 82 percent Indian women, despite all the progress, want their families to settle on a suitable groom for them. Similarly, the young men and women of North India were more inclined to settle into an arranged marriage (82 percent) than the youth of the southern states.
Arranged marriages do have their downside too. Child marriages and forced marriages in India are evil practices that the country has been fighting hard to abolish. According to a UNICEF report from 2014, about 47 percent Indian girls, mostly from rural areas are married off before the age of 18. Despite strict laws against child marriages, these matches are arranged and the nuptials carried out by the families.
Love marriages – Till divorce do us part
Love marriage culture is largely a gift from Bollywood. It is only as late as the 1980s that love marriages became remotely acceptable. Inter caste marriages and inter religious love marriages can still elicit considerably strong reactions in Indian society. Honour killings are in vogue in many parts of the country where a boy or girl is killed for opposing the match arranged by the family. Caste and family honour plays an important role and inter-caste marriages are largely frowned upon. Love is still considered an affront to family honour.
Although love marriages are on the rise especially in the metropolitan cities and urban sectors of the country, youth from the rural regions still find it difficult to freely meet and date members of the opposite gender due to many practices of segregation followed widely in Indian society. With the advent of matrimonial bureaus and websites, the youth of the country do have much more choice than they did. BharatMatrimony, Shaadi, JeevanSaathi, and SimplyMarry are some of the popular sites that list profiles of men and women seeking partners for marriage. The websites have empowered prospective grooms and brides to meet and date multiple people before they settle on a match.
Love marriages in India do have their own negative aspects too. Social and family ostracism adds on to the stress of marriage. Adding on to any possible differences in caste, religion, and family practices are the high expectations from love marriages. Divorce rates in India overall are pegged at about 1.2 percent vis-à-vis a divorce rate of about 53 percent in the US, a country where love marriages are the norm. In India rates of divorce in love marriages are much higher than in arranged marriages. “Divorces are very high in love marriages”, noted the Bombay High Court in a 2012 case.
Live-in relationships – legally endorsed
With the growth of education, disposable income, and women’s liberalisation, the youth of the country have gone beyond love marriages and are now taking to live-in relationships and cohabitation without the stigma that these relationships brought a few years ago.
Indian metro cities are seeing a boom in live-in relationships. Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore are the cities where cohabitation is highest. One reason could be that young men and women prefer to live-in together in the anonymity of these large cities rather than go back to their families seeking permission for a love marriage and facing the families’ ire.
The Supreme Court of India has persistently backed up live-in relationships and cohabitation. Back in 2006, the Supreme Court had directed the country’s police to offer protection to lovers who run away to live together and to avoid family or caste wrath. Later in 2013, the Supreme Court noted that, “It is part of right to life to go away with someone you love”. This came as a historic judgment in a case against a prominent actress who had spoken openly about live-in relationships and premarital sex. A special three-member bench of the Supreme Court remarked, “If two people, man and woman, want to live together, who can oppose them? What is the offence they commit here? This happens because of the cultural exchange between people.”
The following year, in 2014, the apex court again delivered a landmark judgment. The Supreme Court ruled that couples in live-in relationships may be presumed legally married. The verdict was not only aimed at mitigating any stigma attached to such relationships but also allowed one partner to inherit the other’s wealth in case of death, thus giving these relationships a complete legal sanction. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 also acknowledges cohabitation and provides women protection in their relationships.