India’s arranged marriage traditions live on in U.S., yet can cause conflict

While approximately 95 percent of marriages in India are arranged by parents, one University student found 91 percent of young Indian-Americans prefer searching on their own.

Patricia Drey

As soon as Mayank Gupta began working at age 22, parents of single females began sending information to his parents about their daughters.

Gupta, now 24, a paper sciences graduate student from India, wants to be engaged by December.

Rather than dating, many people in India – and some University students such as Gupta – hope to find their spouses through parents in arranged marriages. But for others, the topic can be a source of conflict between their parents’ traditional ideas and their own more Westernized ideals of love and marriage.

In India, typically when a man or woman is ready to get married, his or her parents use matrimonial ads – similar to newspaper personal ads – or network through friends and family to find possible candidates to marry their children.

He said the woman’s parents will seek out a man for their daughter to marry, but sometimes the men’s parents send their information to the women.

Sometimes after the parents select potential candidates based on the written information, the parents will meet them before recommending potential suitors to their children.

Gupta has already met seven girls but none he wanted to marry. He said he spent about one hour with each of the girls.

If he had not moved here eight months ago, he said, he would probably already be married.

“My parents are not imposing anything on me,” he said. “What they are saying is, ‘I will select some girls for you,’ but my decision is final.”

Gupta said he is not opposed to finding a spouse in a different way, and if he met someone he wanted to marry, his parents would probably accept his decision. He would not marry anyone without his parents’ approval.

In India, the process of arranged marriage has changed from one totally dictated by the parents to more of a team effort between parents and their children. In the past, the engaged man and woman usually would not see each other before the wedding. Now, parents act more as matchmakers for their adult children.

No exact statistics are available, but according to U.S. News and World Report, approximately 95 percent of marriages in India are arranged, and divorce is almost unheard of.

“When you enter into an arranged marriage, you know you will not find someone who’s perfect,” said Shramik Sengupta, a biomedical engineering graduate student. Sengupta came to the United States from India in 1998, and said he will probably have an arranged marriage.

“You will have to adjust to his or her idiosyncrasies,” he said.

Neelu Babu’s parents moved to the United States from India in 1981, when she was three years old. Babu, a rhetoric graduate student, did an informal study of 162 other first-generation Indian-Americans to learn about their perceptions of the subject.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents in her survey said arranged marriage is an alternate method they would use if they could not find a spouse on their own. Ninety-one percent said they would prefer to find their own partner.

While many of their parents still believe girls should not date, Babu said, many Indian girls have secretly dated. Because dating is not acceptable, any public displays of affection among unmarried Indians are “risky and taboo,” she said.

Differing views on dating and marriage can cause tension for children of Indian ancestry who grow up in the United States with traditional parents.

Even though Anjali Gandhi’s parents were married only 10 days after their parents introduced them, they are allowing her to find a spouse on her own.

“Most people want to find their own special someone,” said Gandhi, a business and management information systems senior. “My parents are going to let me have that opportunity.”

Although Gandhi would prefer to find her own spouse, she said if she was still unmarried at age 26, she would consider having an arranged marriage.

For Mallika Arudi, a cultural studies and comparative literature junior, growing up in Woodbury while having parents who both grew up in India forced a lot of negotiation on issues like dating and marriage.

When she was younger, her parents just expected she would not date and have an arranged marriage like they had. But as she grew older, her parents were willing to compromise.

“It’s almost like we’ve all grown together,” Arudi said.

Although she used to vehemently oppose the idea of arranged marriage, she said, now it just would not work for her because she is not necessarily looking for the same characteristics in a spouse as her parents. Characteristics such as caste or Indian background are not as important to her as her future mate’s personality.

“Now I just don’t think it’s right for me,” Arudi said. “It’s just as important to find someone who is compatible with me in so many other ways.”