Some of the Indian movies that I watched recently , viz., Rab ne bana di jodi, Poo and Mounam pesiyathey, had one thought-provoking thing in common - they had at least one scene where the parent(s) decide about the wedding of a main character. Indian parents, traditionally, have been considering the marriage of their son/daughter as their main responsibility. So, it is not surprising that the mere mention of 'love' meets with resistance - sometimes strong and sometimes weak, depending on how 'different' the lover is, in terms of religion, caste, social status, family background, and appearance. This post is not to support or oppose arranged marriage, but my analysis from a sociological point of view.
Why is arranged marriage the #1 preferred option by the parents? They strongly believe that, due to age and hence experience, they are in a better position to find a suitable match for their son/daughter. The 'horoscope matching' is an important part, since the religious belief that marriages are made in heaven and hence several mismatches between the boy and girl in horoscopes usually means a disagreement from the Gods on their marriage the moment they were born. Marriages are considered to be the union of not just two people, but two small sub-divisions of their caste. Thus, it is a chance for 10-15 families from each side to create a bond between themselves. So, the first thing the parents look for is 'a good family'.
A good family usually means reasonably well-off financially, with preferably educated parents and without any huge 'blemishes' by the members. From this moment on, I am going to start giving examples of the cases that I know of. While trying to get their mid-30's daughter married, the parents found a 'good boy' but the problem was that his father had two wives. Though the boy and girl liked each other from their first meeting and were well-matched in terms of their educational qualifications, the girl's parents were worried as to 'what if the son also gets inspired by his dad and chooses to follow him'. Later, after trying several other alliances in vain, they agreed to accept the boy, but keeping their fingers crossed and half-heartedly. There is a sociological theory called 'Broken windows theory' which says that if one social norm is violated in a place, it is more likely that the same norm and/or other norms would be violated in the same place. The girl's parents must be thinking along the same lines. The boy's grandfather was monogamous, but his dad choose bigamy. So, who was the inspiration for his father? Were they worried that, if the boy tries to pair with another girl after the marriage, his parents would have no moral responsibility to advise him against it?
There is a belief among the Iyers that a girl wedded to a Malayali iyer family would be taken care very well by her in-laws, because they would treat her as good as their own daughter. On the contrary, a non-malayali iyer family would hesitate to accept a girl from a malayali iyer family due to the belief that the girl would have been nicely pampered at their parents home and so would not be obedient to her in-laws. I know of someone who was married to such a malayali family because the boy's parents treated them well during the first visit and the boy is earning well. She had no choice but to agree for the marriage, and, during their communication before marriage, she didnt like several of his qualties, which were of importance to her. So, she entered into wedlock in dissatisfaction and with no choice left. Soon, she gave birth to a son, and hence, according to her family and the society, she is 'happily married with a son'. On the contrary, though the in-laws treat her well, her husband is indifferent to her feelings in almost every sense, and hence she is largely very unhappy with him ever since they got married. Who would believe if she tells that she is unhappy in her marriage?
As I mentioned before, while all lovers meet with resistance from their parents, the resistance is unimaginable when it is out of religion. A girl loved a muslim and the parents and relatives were totally against it. She was hastily married to someone from their own caste, but she was quite adament with her love, so they got divorced within a year of the marriage. She then married her lover, and they lived happily. Her family accepted her only conditionally; she wasnt allowed to attend any of their family functions which included the weddings of her 3 brothers. In another case, a tamil iyer guy who came to study in the US met an American girl, who had converted herself to Buddhism a few years ago. They fell in love, and when he told about it to his parents, they were ultra-dramatic and vicious, until the wedding. Though his mom has sort of accepted her fully, his dad insult her even now. She being a buddhist helped in some extent to get his parents' approval. She is living happily too.
Now, his parents were looking for a boy for his sister. They found a 'good family', 'nice boy', well-educated and good job. As it happens sometimes, he was found out to be even some distant relative, and so got the daughter married to the guy. But, they turned out to be total freaks, and she left him within 3 months. His parents turned nasty and evil against her parents because they were all fake. The buddhist lady blames her sis-in-law for her stupidity in going for such a marriage, because she feels that Indians get education only on what they study, but not on their lives. Also, she calls the Indian parents with such a mindset as hypocrites, since they have the tendency to emotionally blackmail their children whom they claim to love so much. According to her, the Indian parents give unthinkable backlash when the kids dont want their help. Since parents' love should never be in question, their huge interference in the choice of spouse for their children is totally against Hindu teachings.
When we Indians discuss about our marriage process to most westerners, they get shocked at the concept of 'arranged marriages' and ask questions like "how would u know if he wont beat u, how can you love someone whom you hardly know, what if you two are too different in personality that you clash for everything". I strongly feel that there is a huge amount of luck in the arranged marriages, which means we leave the match-making to God. In order to make the arranged marriages to work better, I have a small suggestion, after taking a cue from the movie 'Raman thediya Seethai'.
In the movie, Cheran goes to see a girl and when her parents make them talk to each other in private, he tells her that he doesnt want either of them to decide now. He suggests that they should talk to each other for awhile before conveying their decision to the parents. That is one idea which immediately appealed to me. In the various steps of approval from the boy and girl, usually the two most important steps are seeing each other's foto and talking for a few minutes when he comes to her house with his family comes to see her. How can that be enough to arrive at the right decision? An open-minded time period of atleast a few weeks is required for the boy and girl to understand about the other person to some extent. True, the chance of faking some qualities and hiding some is there, but hey, one has to take this chance for life.
One last example: A guy who is getting arranged-marriage with a girl is finding some differences with her already. She is very good, very sweet and loving towards him but he feels that her love is suffocating him. He says that he says 'I love u' to her just for the sake of it, without any true feelings. She sings for him songs in the phone but he feels that she is not a good singer and she makes mistakes in her 'sruthi' (He has learnt music). He is already showing a forced-love through fone, though she is not demanding. I feel sorry for that girl, and wish that this fella changes for good after the wedding. Imagine how it will be for her to hear from him in one angry moment that all the 'I love u's that he uttered were all fake!
This post is already quite long and I have more to write.. may be in the replies to appropriate comments. The communication between the pair in the arranged marriage system has changed in the last few years thanks to technological advances. So, unlike earlier times when the couple learn about each other's likings, wishes, and other details after the marriage, they do so now by talking in cellfone/fone, skype/yahoo and also getting to meet in person a few times. Ideally, the parents should ask their children if it is OK to choose a spouse for him/her. And, when they stumple upon someone whom they think is a good match, they should give time and space to the kids to make the ultimate decision. In short, the marriages should change from being 'family-centric' to 'couple-centric'.