Posted on 10-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

From my experience of conducting executive training workshops on selling automobiles, I can genuinely empathize with the tension the salesperson goes through. In India, the world’s most heterogeneous society, not a single customer buys a car in one visit.

Multiple visits are made to the dealership to determine the purchase decision. Customers go to competing dealerships as well as to competing automobile brands. It’s a spectacular show when the joint family comes to buy a car. Without the whole joint family’s approval, there’s no question of a purchase. The younger brother will never buy a vehicle more expensive than his older brother’s one unless the latter gives him permission. The salesperson is hard pressed to check the eye movement and determine the body language of different family members. They are all influencers to his achieving the sale. Suddenly a sister-in-law may say the headlamp’s no good, a nephew the wheel rim ugly, his mother may find the horn sound very jarring. Already they’ve visited this showroom 7-8 times, and visited other brands too. This showroom’s salesperson is at wit’s end to convince them by meeting everybody’s need and desire. At the last moment, just when the purchase is about to materialize, a family member can declare that his friend says the mileage this car gives is too low. So everything dissolves to naught. In selling a mass car, you can imagine what a genius the salesperson has to be to address his heterogeneous customers in India.

Our socially arranged marriages happen in more or less the same way, but with more discipline. The bridegroom is always in a position of power, so squeeze the bride’s family all the way. Carrying that mentality, the boy’s side go bride hunting to even 20 different homes, and they’re entertained everywhere. His has two regiments, the men’s group for investigating the bride’s wealth; the women’s group for examining the bride as product quality. In general, the criteria determining man-woman compatibility include matching of horoscopes, family reputation, religion, caste, vegetarian or non-veg diet, the bride’s docility, skin colour, fecundity. The groom’s profession commands the dowry price. The highest weightage goes to IPS/IAS officers, followed by doctors, then others.

The boy’s side arrives like a winning battalion expecting to be extolled. I’m not generalizing; just narrating some childhood observations from being present in the arranged marriages of our joint family members. Different women have since confided in me their frustrating, resentful feelings. In multiple visits to the same girl’s family, it seems the boy’s side feels free to criticize, even abuse feminine sensitivities. Humiliating comments from accompanying people are: she doesn’t walk demurely; when she smiles all her teeth protrude; she doesn’t sit gracefully, she takes long, man-like steps; her glamour disappears when her gums appear on smiling; she speaks too loudly; she doesn’t serve to with humility.

When the bridegroom’s men get into wealth assessment manoeuvres, the women’s regiment goes for surprise checks to investigate the family’s living standard. They follow the would-be bride into the kitchen purportedly to check her art of cooking, washing and serving, so essential in a joint family. Actually at close quarters, her real body color vs. fairness cream usage is minutely ascertained. If she sings or dances its counted as added product value although she may be disallowed from using these skills later. If her career is accepted, it’s for the extra income the family pool will get. Clearly her patience and adjustability are winning factors.

On a recent visit to an old friend’s home, I found everybody in a mourning mode. His daughter’s marriage cancelation story tumbled out. It was worse than the analogous joint family car purchase cancellation upon hearing about low mileage, a quality they’d not experienced yet. The marriage decision was solidified several months ago after the bridegroom’s family verified everything. Before the “real” religious ceremony marriage, a “new” trend nowadays is to legally register the marriage. These formalities were happily concluded at the court amidst joyous family members. After reaching their respective homes, the bridegroom’s side called off the marriage. My friends were dazed. I don’t know how you, my reader, will take the shocking reason for discontinuance.

Present in the court was the bride’s maternal uncle who has some skin de-pigmentation on his face. On returning home someone whispered to the bridegroom that skin de-pigmentation can be hereditary. So he promptly cancelled the marriage. Skin pigmentation is a beauty issue that does not interfere with general health. Its likelihood of occurrence in the next generation is rare. Can you imagine this innocent girl’s horrible plight? She’s legally a divorcee. When I narrated this to my 86-year-old father who also has skin de-pigmentation, he had no answer. He confessed to always having a sense of impending guilt, and relief that my son, grandchildren or I have no skin de-pigmentation.

Perhaps my friend’s daughter is fortunate she escaped this family where trust is so fragile. But the bridegroom’s behaviour is proof of how arranged marriages are treating women as products that have to perform to exacting standards laid down by men. Luckily a new trend has emerged where a girl and boy who want to marry beat the system by involving go-betweens, making it appear like an arranged marriage. The pretence is to avoid shocking their parents. This is love, yet an accepted marriage according to India’s social system.

Over centuries, amongst royalty in Europe, India and Japan, marriages were political, arranged for empire building. Daughters were useful currency to help form strategic alliances and strengthen the country’s military position. In India, women’s dignity is wiped away by arranged marriages that making her a mere embellished commodity. I believe in marriage that results from love and affection between two individuals. Others may enjoy its celebration but without interfering in the couple’s private decision. Society must concede equal rights to women, at par with men, to select their partner and boldly stand by their choice.

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