My friend has been looking to find a husband for at least five years. She has had no luck. She is a beautiful, well-educated, Punjabi Sikh woman who works as a nurse. She is approaching 30, and it is not getting any easier. She asked me recently to help her find a lifelong partner.
I really didn’t want to get involved in the matchmaking business due to the potential repercussions if the marital arrangement does not work out, so I recommended that she talk to her parents about an arranged marriage. She was a little taken back by this suggestion considering my modern, progressive views on most issues. Nonetheless, I highlighted the fact that the divorce rate is almost 40 percent in Canada and only one percent in India, where arranged marriages are customary. Surely, India must be doing something right, or maybe not?
My friend did not like this arranged marriage idea at first. As a result, we started off by seeking the advice of local matrimonial services and even trying online dating. Why not give love a chance? The problem with finding love is that time is not on her side. She can’t spend forever dating someone who may or may not love or marry her for years. She wants to settle down and get married and have children and raise a family together. She wants to build a life as a “respectable, married woman”, in her words.
That’s one of the great things about an arranged marriage. After a brief introduction and period of time to get to know each other, which is usually approved by parents on both sides, an arranged couple can move forward and plan their life together if they agree to a marital union. The parents have already looked into the education and career compatibility, and family background of the potential partner. It is especially important for the bride to be accepted and get along with her potential future in-laws as she will most likely live with them, at least initially until the new couple becomes established and moves out on their own.
Despite my recommendation, it is important to note that arranged marriages are practised less frequently among South Asians born and naturalized in Canada, from what I have witnessed. I still believe arranged marriages can be an ideal solution if it is difficult to find someone, however. Furthermore, even the dowry system is slowly being abolished and interracial marriages are becoming more common, both which I see as positive steps in the evolution of marriage within the South Asian community. Actor Lisa Ray, professional hockey player Manny Malhotra, and figure skater Emanuel Sandhu are all the product of mixed marriages. Hopefully, their success will work to break down interracial barriers and stigma.
Marriage is big business in Canada within the South Asian community. If love marriages have such a huge chance of failure, it may not exactly be a great investment. Marriage takes work, commitment, and compromise, which I have discovered as a counsellor and social worker. Both partners still have the individual choice of agreeing to the marital union. They have the final say. I am opposed to forced marriages, which are essentially a form of institutional rape and can result in no love and adultery and infidelity, not to mention domestic violence and resentment within the couple. If a person is given a choice whether or not to marry, then he or she can own that decision and put in a solid effort to make the marriage work. They would be included as part of the marital decision-making process.
My other problem with arranged marriages is that they can be a form of discrimination and racism. Many parents only want to marry their child into a certain caste, class, or high-status family, preferably with money and high education. In addition, I have read many advertisements seeking a woman with fair skin tone. Furthermore, who knows how many hearts families have broken by rejecting a potential boyfriend or girlfriend as a husband or wife due to their background, religion, ethnicity, or status in life. I feel this is morally, ethically, and spiritually wrong, although it may be sensible for a family looking out for the best interests and future well-being of their son or daughter or should I say themselves as a family unit.
There may be many reasons why the divorce rate is so high in Canada and so low in India. Perhaps, the availability of contraception, gender roles, women’s rights, and social programs makes it easier for a woman to seek a divorce in Canada? In India, it is probably much more difficult to divorce due to it being a cultural taboo and the fact that the women may be dependent on the husband and his family financially. In addition, it may also be difficult to re-marry once a woman has been divorced in India especially with children.
In conclusion, my friend is having some luck on the arranged marriage front. Well, she has had a number of promising coffee dates. I have taken the liberty of opening an account for her on Shaadi.com because I hear the Internet is the future of everything including love and marriage! We will see what happens. Stay tuned.
Alex Sangha is a registered social worker in British Columbia. He is the author of the social discussion book The Modern Thinker and one of the winners of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Awards of 2011.