George Bernard Shaw had this to say about marriages.
“When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”
Love marriages in India have always been a controversial topic.
Countless men and women in love struggle in convincing their parents about the choice of a partner. Some of them marry against their parent’s wishes while some of them break off their relationships for the sake of falling in line with their parent’s wishes. For those that fall in love with people from other religion or caste, the outcome could be deadly!
Intercaste marriages and honour killing are closely linked in certain parts of India.
In this article, we will take a look at the different aspects of love marriages in India, its evolution, real life challenges faced by couples, and its future.
Love marriages in India had a late start
In the book “History of Marriage” by Elizabeth Abbott, there is an entire chapter on the age of the bride at marriage. The chapter focuses on the practices of different societies from around the world when it comes to when women married. On India, the book summarises the following.
- Marriages in India where Hinduism is popular was seen (and continues to be seen) as an activity guided by God or divine intervention.
- Women were married at a very young age as young girls were seen to be more malleable and can be moulded or trained to fit into the husband’s or in-law’s household.
- Between 1921 to 1931, the number of child wives rose from 8,56,5357 (8.5 Million) to 12, 271,595 (12.3 Million).
The book also quotes Mahatma Gandhi who was married at thirteen and later took a strong stance against the custom of child marriage. This is what he had to say about this issue.
“Little did I dream that one day that I should severely criticize my father for having me married as a child.”
You might be surprised to note that the problem of child marriages in India continues to be serious in this day and age. Just look at the chart below. Darker shades represent lower age at marriage. The all Indian average age for brides is 20.2 years. You might think that’s a great number. But the fact it is an “average” and even the average age at marriage is 10 years younger than those of brides in Western countries.
So why are we discussing child marriage? Child marriages are forced marriages and always arranged. Children neither fall in love or have serious romantic inclinations. So the question of romance or dating never arises in the first place.
But it is not gloom and doom. With greater exposure and education, women in India are now getting to meet their husband before marriage. While this does not automatically mean that women prefer love marriage, it definitely indicates a greater choice or say when it comes to marriage. Just look at the chart below. As you can see, a greater proportion of younger women met their husbands before marriage. This trend is accelerating indicating a couple of things:
- Younger women (as a result of a changing culture and improving education) have a greater say in who they want to marry.
- Greater choice means a greater possibility of having a romantic relationship.
When did love marriages in India catch on and why?
Love marriages are nothing new in India. The Hindu religion depicts love marriages among Gods, we have had love marriages among Kings and Queens have had love marriages well before India got its independence. Interestingly, the history of India would have been different had it not been for a love marriage that angered a king! Here is an extract from an article published by a non-profit organisation
A single love-marriage between Prithviraj Chauhan and Samyogita, daughter of his cousin and king of Kannauj, Jai Chand, perhaps played a more significant role in changing the history of India than several other factors. Though the mothers of both were sisters, Prithviraj eloped with Jai Chand’s daughter. In return, Jai Chand––unlike other Rajput kings and chieftains, who supported Prithviraj––allied with Muhammad Ghori, who succeeded in capturing Delhi in his second attempt in 1192.
There is no authentic information or data (based on our research) on the number of love marriages in India spanning the 6 decades since independence. However, there are some broad trends that point to a more conducive environment for the growth of love marriages in India.
- Literacy rates are climbing steadily. Increased levels of education directly translate into better job prospects and financial independence. All these factors become critical requirements for love marriages to flourish.
- Increasing urbanisation and migration of population from rural to urban areas create opportunities for men and women to interact with diverse people and cultures. They no longer bound by diktats of the village elders in matters of relationships and marriage.
- Nuclear families, as opposed to joint families, are popular in India. the number of nuclear families grew from 135 Million in 2001 to 172 Million in 2011. Nuclear families that have migrated to urban centers tend to lose out on the social connections needed to initiate arranged marriages. Hence, we are seeing a greater reliance on matrimony sites as well as love marriages.
As you can see the growth of love marriages in India is a direct result of increasing urbanisation and education levels. These factors also have an impact on culture as Indians in urban centres get exposed to new ideas through local as well as foreign media and brands. Case in point is the changing dating scene in India and the growth of dating apps.
How Bollywood promotes love marriages in India
Most Bollywood movies involve a plot that includes the hero falling in love with the heroine. He invariably goes up against the wishes of the heroine’s father or her villain uncle, only to emerge victorious after either winning her father’s blessings or beating the hell out of the cruel uncle. Voice of America published an article that explored the impact of popular culture and laws in promoting love marriages. Here are some extracts that point to the impact of Bollywood in promoting love marriages.
Observers cite one conduit of popular culture in particular – the Indian film industry and its common theme that love can overcome all differences.
“Bollywood’s movies are really amazingly portraying that ‘love is everything’,” says Dilip Amin, who runs a website dedicated to giving advice to Indian interfaith couples.
“Bollywood films generally have been an interesting kind of place where a lot of conflicts and issues about Indian society have played out,” Rohit Chopra, a lecturer at Santa Clara University, says. “The theme of ‘love conquering all’ was actually a theme that was reflected in many films,” he said.
Chopra says many movies in India highlight the conflict between traditional and modern approaches to life.
“On the one hand, they have tended to, I think, on the whole, reaffirm conservative values about family and about authority, and about the role of women…and generally, the male being the authority figure. But on the other hand, even while generally making an overall conservative point, they have explored these issues,” he said.
Bollywood movie stars have also led by example. Love marriages and intercaste marriages are common in the industry. Here is an extract from a research report.
The above image is an example of how Bollywood has helped confront restrictions against love marriages by setting a great example.
Love marriages in India – Challenges & Tips
The extent of challenges couples face with love marriages in India depends on whether they were able to convince their parents to agree to their marriage. Some couples elope while others manage to convince their parents to agree to their marriage.
However, couples realise that their struggle to get married doesn’t really end with just the marriage. As with any married couple, couples in love marriage also face challenges that need hard work and patience to navigate.
Let’s look at some of the common issues couples face with love marriages in India.
- Interaction with parents: Depending on the extent of relationship couples continue to have after love marriage, there is a degree of underlying tension and disharmony when dealing with parents. Parents are keen to justify their opposition to the marriage while the couple is keen to project how “normal” they are in dealing with the day-to-day life. Lack of trust and clashes pertaining to food habits, clothes, and customs can make every encounter with parents miserable.
- Raising children: Be prepared to raise children without parental support. However, there are instances where children become a conduit for repairing frayed relationships with estranged parents! Children can also face identity issues because of inter-religion / caste marriages in India and in some instances, they may even face discrimination in social activities. Taking the arranged marriage route for children belonging to intercaste or love marriages can be a little more challenging.
- Social life: In situations where couples relocate after marriage elope, the complete lack of family and friends network to lean on can create enormous strains on married life.The couples’ education and economic background can play a big role in helping them adjust to a new place and establish social connections that can provide support.
- Culture, religion, and money: It is surprising that the same forces that couples fight to get married i.e. culture, religion and in some cases, money, resurrect later on to pose a new set of challenges for love marriages in India. As passionate love gradually fades away in the face of the day to day monotony of married life, all lifestyle differences dictated by the couple’s background can become major points of contention.
However, it is not all doom and gloom with love marriages in India. Here are practical tips that can help you overcome these challenges.
- Love marriages in India are aligned with the underlying philosophy of India i.e. unity in diversity. Embracing the concept of ‘love overcoming all other differences’ is something that every couple in a love marriage should be proud of. Remembering this fact alone can give couples in love marriage a significant spring in their step!
- Cultural or religious differences (if the marriage is intercaste) can provide a great opportunity for discovering new practices and cultivating a greater understanding of the world around us. Couples in a love marriage are in a way better off as they have more opportunities to learn from one another.
- Men and women born to parents that went through a love marriage or intercaste marriage, tend to be more open in matters of their own marriage. There are plenty of instances where men and women are open to intercaste arranged marriages as they have had a flexible and open upbringing in an intercaste family.
- Couples that can really look up to their partners with admiration tend to have a successful marriage. Putting this in practice is a great strategy to sustain your love in the face of challenges.
- Dr Susan Krauss Whitbourne, in her article titled “The 12 ties that bind long-term relationships” explains that “People who approach their daily lives with zest and strong emotion seem to carry these intense feelings over to their love life as well.
- Couples should see each other in their element when they are confident and know what they are doing. For example, if you watch how good your husband in the local cricket league, you probably will love him more.
- Cultivating a greater tolerance for your partner’s beliefs or cultural red lines or a clear separation between love and beliefs can help create harmony in love marriage.
Love marriages in India is certainly an uphill struggle as there is a need to overcome the deep-rooted traditions and perceptions about the institution of marriage and its purpose.
Inspiring love marriages in India
Here is a couple of news stories that chronicle incredible love marriages in India. These stories really serve as great inspiration for couples in love marriage.Just click on the images to check read the details.
Much of the world believed in the philosophy that love should not be seen as a reason to get married. It was seen as lust, as something that would dissipate. However, education of women, urbanisation, and job growth turned this assumption upside down.
India is not immune to this change. Love marriages in India are bound to grow in the coming years as the country sheds its past and becomes a middle-income country.