The be-all and end-all

Vinaya Patil
Sunday, 11 February 2018

This World Marriage Day, Vinaya Patil speaks to a cross-section of people about their ideas of marriage, and the obsession our society has with the institution

Oh such a pretty daughter you’ve got, when are you getting her married?’, ‘She is all of 25 and still unmarried’, ‘Got a high-paying job and doing well? Why don’t you get married beta?’, ‘What’s the need to study further now? It’s time to settle down.’
Do these sound familiar? Yes, to most of us, especially to youngsters, who are often at the receiving end of these statements, comments, opinions, advices, and suggestions, under the garb of love, care, concern, and well wishes.

This World Marriage Day, we take a slightly different view by speaking to people about their ideas of marriage, the changing perspectives of looking at the institution, and studying how our obsession with it could not be exactly right.

The day is meant to honour husband and wife as the foundation of the family, the basic unit of a society. It salutes the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice and joy in daily married life. The idea of celebrating marriage began in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1981.

By 1982, celebrations spread to US military bases in several foreign countries. In 1983, the name was changed to ‘World Marriage Day’, designated to be celebrated each year on the second Sunday in February.

While the theme has been permanently adopted as ‘Love One Another’, this is precisely where the focus must be. Does that happen? Especially in this part of the world, are all our marriages based on love, and love alone? Hardly! Loving one another is a daily decision, simple but challenging.

“I chose to not marry early on. I was skeptical in my late teenage years and knew for sure by the time I got to my 20s. Since then people have looked at my decision as the frivolous thoughts of a naive teenager. I used to challenge them about my conviction but I’ve come to realise that it’s not something that will be easily understood. So I let it go,” says Mumbai-based communication professional Padma Gore.

Marriage, like god, holds a sacred place in human life. It is built into our psyches from a young age and so we find ourselves pacing out our lives according to when we should marry and everything that follows. If you challenge such an age-old institution, it leads to a breakdown of many things we know as members of society. “Because I think you can’t see marriage for what it truly is in isolation,” Gore insists, adding, “It is a documented contract, signed between two people — sometimes known and sometimes unknown to each other — to be together forever. That’s a very presumptuous premise. Because forever is a long time, people change and then it is only the contract that keeps them together.”

While she has quite firm opinions about the institution, there are others who are constantly torn between family pressures and individual choice. Pune-based Chartered Accountant Suresh Kilam* says that he is not too fond of the concept of marriage. But the Indian society will not mature soon enough to accept any other relationship.

Kilam, who is in a live-in relation with his partner since August 2016, says that for social as well as legal purposes in the long-term, getting married is the only option he sees but says that the major advantage of a live-in relation is that they both know that they “can happily live together, without parental and extended family pressure”.

Agreeing to Kilam, Mumbai-based writer Sree Sen says that dependency on marriage leaves no room for human independence and the maintenance of one’s individuality. “I believe marriage is a social construct for mostly economic reasons. I have been earning sufficiently and can afford to live on my own. I have hence consciously decided not to get married until the institution gives me something more than just financial stability,” she says.

The truth, Sen says, is that several marriages around her fell apart while she was growing up. “Yes, I am in a relationship. I have found companionship without the obligation of designated roles of husband and wife. Moreover, with plenty of marriages falling apart, I have more conviction in my relationship since both of us choose to be together; it’s not out of a legal compulsion,” she believes.

Pune-based Yohan Adrianwalla too thinks that marriage is just a legal obligation. “Live-in is definitely a better idea and I believe that humans aren’t meant to be with just one person for eternity,” he says.

The generation gap
While some members of the young generation express these opinions, not all do, and not the least the elder generation. Prakash Kumar, who has been married for the last 27 years, says that he absolutely believes in the institution of marriage and swears by it. “I want both my children to get married in time and settle down. At this age, kids don’t realise the importance of tying the knot, but they will know sooner or later. We don’t want them to regret later and hence think it is our duty to guide them,” he stresses.

But where does one draw that thin line between guidance and pressure? The line is often crossed in our society. “I have so many cases where youngsters are frustrated with the kind of pressure their parents exert on them in order to get them married,” informs Parul Khona, city-based counsellor.
The times are changing, and so are a lot of things bound to.

“The average age by which youngsters now marry is easily 25, unlike the earlier 21-22. Parents simply cannot stay in the era where marriages happened early. Another issue is that of not accepting your children’s choices,” she says, pointing to our issues with inter-caste marriages. “I had a case where this young 27-year-old girl was beaten up by her mother for dating a boy who did not belong to their sub-caste,” she tells us.

All this does not diminish the value of love in our lives though. Marriage, no marriage or late marriage, love is here to stay. “I have high regards for love, commitment and the interdependence of human beings. I do believe we cannot get by in this life on our own and I very much cherish a partnership, and do also appreciate when two individuals who have an evolved understanding of each other want to marry,” says Gore, who is in a relationship for six years.

But when we are forced into believing that marriage is the only path that must be taken, when we make it a fundamental truth — then that limits us. “That limits our sexuality, ambitions, minds and our ability to survive as individuals,” Gore says.

Among the many suicides, honour killings and deaths that we read of everyday in the newspapers, so many are because girls and boys were not allowed to marry the person of their choice, girls being burnt for dowry and so much more. This is in year 2018. “At the root of the issue is the amount of significance we give to this institution, making it a compulsion. This has many layers,” Khona says, adding, “I often hear things like ‘first get married and then do what you like’. Give me a break, it doesn’t work like this. We all know it. Especially for girls, who are then obligated to their in-laws, and their professional and other life decisions are then affected.”

Also, with the breakdown of the joint family system in India today, many old, widowed people are having a tough time coping because the thought that they would end up alone never occurred to them — never had to occur to them, because we are raised in a manner that assures us of a wedded companion for life.

Some parents, however, are understanding of their children’s choices. Adrianwalla says that his parents are open-minded and have accepted a live-in relationship. “However, they would like me to get married at some point. Preferably sooner, rather than later. But finding a place to rent when you opt for a live-in would be a challenge one faces in the orthodox Indian society,” he stresses.

Biological CLOCK
Another worry in the Indian society is that of sexual encounters. With sex being a taboo, the only accepted way is to get married and have kids. “If you are single for too long, parents often worry that you will end up having pre-marital sexual encounters and that cannot be approved. So they will force you to get married and have kids,” Khona elaborates.

Gore, who has decided to give a marriage a skip, is worried of her ‘biological clock’ though. “At 27, I am thinking of children. Biologically my window is closing. So if I want a child with my genes, I have to decide to have them in the next five years. Though there’s not much going on on earth that encourages me to have one right now, I have a few more years to put that decision to rest,” she says.

Her decision to not be bound by a legal relationship has also changed her priorities, she says. “Work comes first. Family a close second. Travel a close third,” Gore says with a smile.

The way forward
Having said all of this, Khona believes that there are no differences that cannot be resolved through communication. Counselling, to youngsters and to parents, can resolve many of these issues. “I have had so many youngsters getting their parents to me, and believe me, the parents are willing to hear me out. They get the point and calm down,” she says.

Khona usually tells these parents about the unfortunate repercussions that a forced marriage can have on the youth. What’s the point of being in an unhappy relation and then separating, or worse, going through depression? “I have had cases of depression simply because these people were in a marriage that wasn’t of their choice,” she says.

Parents believe that since they could successfully live with a partner chosen by their elders, their kids can do so too. “But so many things have changed. Girls now are so much more educated, independent and ambitious. These things do affect their personal life choices and decisions and they must be respected at any cost,” she concludes.

The need of the hour is to raise children in a manner that they are capable of making the right decisions in life and then trusting them with these, as also empowering them to stand by their choices and face the consequences that might result out of their actions.

“The institution of marriage is not obsolete, but society’s idea of it is still antiquated. We need to revamp and redraw the constituents of marriage to make it more relevant in today’s day and age. Mostly, the seniors in our society must make it a celebration, not a tortured occasion based on caste, creed and religion,” Sen insists.

This World Marriage Day, let us resolve to be a more love-oriented society, instead of being a marriage-obsessed one.

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