Should Marriage Be Protected
If It Isn’t Protective
The practice of arranging marriages, in which parents play a prominent role in selecting partners for their children, has been around for a long time. In fact, you could make an argument that the first marriage, Adam to Even, was arranged. Everything was decided for them: the date, the ceremony details, the venue, the decor and even the dress :). Maybe their example started the trend because it really became popular afterward and hung on for a long time.
Today, however, it is viewed as a nightmarish idea and mostly a thing of the past unless, of course, you happen to live in India or China, two countries that together boast a third of the world’s population. They are also countries in which marriages are still arranged in large numbers. And that’s not all. When you add in all the other countries and cultures where this is done the number rises considerably. The large numbers alone is surprising but it is also important to note that where arranging marriages is popular, it isn’t occasional. Despite the modern emphasis on individual rights and increased international relations with the west the practice is slowing down only fractionally. CNN reports that more than 95% of India’s marriages are still arranged in spite of modernization.
But the purpose of this article is not to discuss in detail the pros and cons of arranging marriages. That is a discussion for another time but there is one argument that does need mentioning. To justify the idea of arranging marriages some point to a very low divorce rate, in India particularly, which they say proves how effective the approach can be.
What they don’t tell you is that the social/emotional pressure to arrange marriages is matched in intensity only by the social rejection of divorce. The traditions are mutually exclusive. In the case of arranged marriage you’re damned if you don’t and in the other – divorce – your damned if you do. One is required. The other is absolutely disallowed.
And even though divorce is legally allowed, the laws have, until recently, favored only the husband’s property rights when marriages break. Lakshmi Chaudhry wrote an interesting piece about this dilemma in First Post.
The point is, even though both issues are represented legally, social responses are still guided by tradition. Divorce is strongly frowned on and arranged marriages are expected. Breaking with either tradition can be met with social responses as extreme as isolation. Offenders are at least stigmatized.
Fortunately, things are changing but not on both sides of the coin.
Most marriages are still being arranged but even though that hasn’t changed, more couples are beginning to exercise their right to divorce. I can’t say how many. India doesn’t keep national statistics on divorce but the numbers are up and that fact gave rise to an article by Asha Kumar decrying the increase. No stats were provided but Asha shared three examples of broken or troubled marriages, all stemming from her background. These were people she knew or knew of and that made it personal.
She describes the divorcing women as “plucky, educated and emancipated” and is heartened they won’t take “crap from their man” but then she over generalizes about “incompatibility.” She refers to this ground for divorce, along with “irreconcilable” as “mere.” Since these are broad terms that can be qualified in endless ways there is nothing “mere” about either. They are categories, headings for types of problems some of which aren’t so slight.
One of her examples was a broken engagement. Not a marriage that went bad after the fact but a couple who hadn’t tied the knot yet. Obviously, it was an arranged marriage so an engagement is just as binding as the marriage itself but wouldn’t it be better to break up before the wedding if things aren’t going so well. A bit of rain before could mean life threatening storms after.
But let’s make a couple of observations.
One, I’m not arguing for or against arranged marriages, but you can’t use the low divorce rate to justify the practice since unforgiving attitudes and one sided property laws make divorce almost impossible or at least more unbearable than a bad marriage. The fact that divorce is on the increase anyway indicates the system may be broken in ways that aren’t obvious and no one wants to talk about it.
Two, divorce is not the bad guy here and making it go away without investigating the underlying causes thoroughly is not a solution.
Marriage is protective but only when it isn’t entrapping.