Today’s arranged marriages ‘far different’ than past

Many Indian students said they believe a forced marriage is wrong.

Neil Munshi

A traditional custom in Indian culture, the concept of arranged marriages is still an issue that affects the lives of modern Indian students at the University.

Some Indian students at the University said today’s arranged marriages are far different than those of the past, reflecting the modern mindset of a new generation.

Senior entrepreneurship student Joe Thomas, who is Indian, said his parents had an arranged marriage. Thomas said he wouldn’t oppose being involved in an arranged marriage.

“I see it more as a dating service,” Thomas said. “Your parents can hook you up with someone, but if it’s forced, it’s wrong.”

Most of the Indian students contacted said they believed a forced arranged marriage is wrong, but many said they do not see the modern version as falling into that category.

“If parents don’t set you up, then there’s a lot of cases where friends set you up, even in the American tradition,” said Meenal Kapoor, a premedical senior.

Echoing Thomas’ description of a “dating service,” Kapoor said she sees the modern version of arranged marriage as a way for Indians to meet other Indians. It’s much like a blind date, not an impending marriage, she said.

“I would never go in for a traditional arranged marriage, where my parents would have the final say on who I would marry,” said Brij Bhasin, a computer science graduate.

“But I would definitely be open to the fact that my parents could introduce me to someone, or tell me about someone I should check out.”

A misunderstood heritage

Historically, arranged marriages have been an institution of Indian heritage, but are often misunderstood by other cultures.

Most Indian students grew up in environments where arranged marriages were acceptable, said Achint Agarwal, a management information systems and accounting student. In fact, most of their parents were destined to have arranged marriages, he said.

“It’s all upbringing, and our upbringing is different from Americans’,” Agarwal said. “The (U.S.) media also doesn’t have that kind of image portrayed like it does in India; TV shows and soap operas have that sort of lifestyle portrayed, and people have parents and friends with families who grew up in that environment.”

Amit Patel, a biomedical engineering senior, said U.S. citizens don’t understand that the marriage concept used to be a part of everyday Indian life.

Embracing modern times

In the modern scheme, where arranged marriage is a setup, Kapoor said she could see herself involved.

“If it really came down to it, I wouldn’t have a problem if I thought that my parents could do a better job of finding someone else,” she said. “They know what I’m looking for.”

She said that within the Indian community, parents have more say in their childrens’ lives than most Americans. From choosing what schools they attend to their majors and standards for a spouse, Indian parents are deeply involved, she said.

Milan Shroff, a computer engineering senior, said most people who participate in traditionally arranged marriages don’t really date. He said he could see how it might work for other people.

“If you haven’t dated anyone Ö and you’ve found someone with the same values or with a nice degree, I could see that working,” he said.

There seems to be a consensus among Indian students at the University that the face of arranged marriage is changing, at least in the United States.

An ancient Indian practice is being infused with the freedoms of the new century, and while this change hasn’t impacted students who are too young to consider marriage, Bhasin said he could see it someday coloring their conversation.

“It depends on the upbringing. Some kids would be completely against it, they would say it’s an absurd, old practice, but I know a couple of kids who would go for it, if they came to that point in life.”

Bhasin said people know what they’re getting into when they have an arranged marriage.

“But all marriage is a compromise. You have to come in between; both parties have to decide what’s right,” he said.