Understanding Indian Arranged and Choice Marriages

For my project, I’ve chosen to look more closely at both arranged and choice marriages among Indians living in the United States. As someone who personally has zero interest in getting married anytime soon, I’ve struggled to explain to myself why I’m so interested in this topic. But that itself may be part of it – the fact that social structures and gender roles are changing, and, for what may be the first time in history, it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable and common not to marry. So how does the addition of this relatively new, third option in the arranged-vs.-choice mix affect the lives of those who come from a culture that is so deeply steeped in collective, family life?

I think that on a broad level, I want to try to understand as many different experiences and life choices as possible; as both a reader and a writer, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do – to connect with characters and the people in my life – but before I started college, (in typical first-generation-American/Joy-Luck-Club fashion), I rarely made the effort to turn that curious, empathetic eye toward my own culture. In the last four years, however, I’ve practiced reading, writing, and speaking in Hindi; accepted and even grown to like the cheesiness of Bollywood; studied Indian media “Beyond Bollywood”; studied Indian history; written essays and papers about my family and culture; etc.

But I’m still looking for more, somehow – particularly at a time when I myself am confronting the totally open, blank future ahead of me after graduation, I’m looking to understand how people choose to build their lives. For many, the question of marriage is a big part of that process. Combining my curiosity about Indian culture with my interest in gender and women’s studies, I’m going to focus on women in particular.

I don’t want to compare or evaluate what kind of approach to marriage is “better” or has a higher chance of success. I want to explore:

  • Motivations behind and attitudes toward both arranged marriages and “love matches”/”choice” marriages
  • How Indian women of different ages living in the U.S. conceptualize the role of marriage (and perhaps, though not necessarily, love) in their personal and social lives – is it economically necessary? Emotionally fulfilling? Integral to the family structure? Etc.
  • The day-to-day, human experience of marriage (both the hopes or goals leading up to it and the lived experience of it) as opposed to surface-level stereotypes of either arranged or choice marriages.

(Sorry, lots of parentheses and interjections. I’m still figuring things out!)

The notion of digging past reductive stereotypes of “barbaric” arranged and “foolish” choice marriages to expose the rich, diverse realities of women’s married (or divorced or widowed) lives is really the part that excites me most. This past summer, I stumbled upon old pictures of my parents – whose marriage was arranged – and seeing them as a young couple not yet rooted in the role of “mother” or “father” made me want to know more about what their lives were like before they became parents. What was it like living with a near-stranger and getting to know them? What were their common or independent goals? How did they spend their days?

My parents’ wedding (1978)
My mom!
My mom!
What are these outfits.
What are these outfits.

Now, of course, this wasn’t the first time I was conscious of the fact that my parents are, indeed, human beings in their own right, independent of the role they played in my life. But seeing those photos of their early married life reminded me yet again how easy it is to see only the surface of another’s life and not the memories, choices, and feelings that have shaped it.

That’s what I’m looking for, hopefully via interviews with Indian women on campus and also others of different ages. I will supplement with stories/interviews from my own family members as well as more analytical and generalizable scholarly research, but mostly I hope to talk to women who come from different backgrounds than my own. Finding them and getting them to open up will be the tricky part! As far as form goes, all I know at this point is that I want to weave together a narrative, or perhaps a collection of intimate stories, rather than just a synthesis of data. Outside research will definitely help me structure and analyze these stories, but my main goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the human experience of marriage.

2 thoughts to “Understanding Indian Arranged and Choice Marriages”

  1. Okay first off I love that you immediately tie in the third non-marriage choice to firmly relate it to a modern day American audience. Very nice. And second, I really, really emphatically support your objective of exploring the different options rather than explicating why one is “better”. I think that gives your project a very documentary-esque feel–there’s no judgement, just an exploration of what is. Third, the “What are these outfits” caption definitely made me laugh out loud.

    While it’s hard to recommend what kind of structure might be most helpful or fitting for the content, I have a feeling it will get clearer as you research and compose those narratives. Perhaps you’ll write descriptive essays about the different life options and then include some sub sections that are the narratives of women who took those paths. Maybe it will be something completely different–that seems to be part of the fun with this project. But as always, we’re around if you need eyes and ears to bounce ideas off of. Looks great so far!

  2. Wow, those photos are extremely powerful!!! It would be really interesting and cool to be able to incorporate those photos into your final project. What are you thinking for the format? You could structure this project almost as a history of your owl family, using the photographs, interviews, anecdotes from your parents and grandparents and using your own opinions about love and marriage to make some points about your research. Are you at all interested in exploring the effects that an arranged marriage versus a love marriage can have on the children? That would also be interesting to connect to your own thoughts and opinions. Lastly, your decision to focus on women will strengthen your arguments and make for a more specific and powerful project! I am impressed and excited to learn about your research!

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