Arranged Marriages, The Dowry and ‘Kitchen Accidents’ in India


Most westerners cannot fathom marrying someone they do not love or barely know, however, in India arranged marriages is not fought against no is it a source of protest among the young in India. Arranged marriages are actually encouraged and are prevalent. Many of the youth in India prefer arranged marriages since it gives them more time and ability to enjoy their youth without having to worry or struggle with relationships that come about in western culture. What can come to a shock for many is that in Indian culture, arranged marriages make up a form or healthier and happier kind of love than most westerners experience.

Arranged marriages are believed to have risen to prominence in India when the historical Vedic religion (ancient Hinduism) gave way to classical Hinduism and displacing any other alternative that were once favorable.

As cast based rules guide the Indian population within terms of behavior and traditions, arranged marriages are important and valued in the Indian culture. Most Indians look at marrying a person they don’t know as a lifetime opportunity to learn to love them. An arranged marriage in India is based on commitment rather than feelings.

These marriages consist of a family affair, a daughter is said to marry into a family. Marriage is perceived as a relationship between families and not between two people. Since many Indians live in joint families where the wives enter into and live with the husband’s family. For example, a family with seven sons will have their wives and children all living together in the same house.

Usually, the arrangement of the marriage is made by the parents. It is the father’s responsibility to choose and make the arrangements for a husband for his daughter. Religion and caste systems make this arrangement a daunting task.

There are various factors that come into play when speaking about arranged marriages. For instance, what limits the choices is the fact that marrying outside of one’s own caste is frowned upon. Also, as most Indians are Hindus and believe strongly in astrology, the matchmaking will also be based on the couple’s astrological perspective to find a suitable match.

In addition, the father will want his daughter to marry into a good family which demands a lot of investigation before any arrangement is made.

In the Indian culture, the issue of having to arrange a marriage is one of the biggest responsibilities parents are faced with. Although most westerners do not believe in marrying someone they barely know or do not love, arranged marriages do have its practicalities, showcased by a divorce
rate of 2% in India compared to a whole 50% in other parts of the world.

Granting all this, it does not mean that arranged marriages are more successful or healthier than love marriages but it does show that there is another side to the stories we hear about arranged marriages not working out in today’s world.

So how exactly are these arranged marriages planned? Well, as mentioned before, there are various factors which are considered when parents do the matchmaking. Potential bride-grooms come under close scrutiny for several areas of the matching process. Do they have enough means to support the bride? Do they appear to be men who will make good husbands and fathers? Do the women of that household seem well-cared for? Does the family have a good reputation? Also, the girl must come from a good family and have good manners since it is a commonly held belief that brides are the embodiment of that family’s honor and pride. She should have a good reputation, with no taint on her name. Does
she have what it takes to be a good mother and wife? There are endless factors to consider, which can make this task of match-making a headache.

However this turns into an interview process where photos are provided and a small courtship period where the bride and groom can meet and talk under the careful watch of a guardian. Contrary to popular belief, if either one or the other does not want the marriage, it will likely be cancelled.

Very few families today still force marriages upon their children although that within any given society, there are always people who do not change or adapt. Therefore, there are places in India where there has been no progression and people continue to live the way their parents and grandparents lived. Consequently, there are still some forced marriages and child brides.

An underlying in every arranged marriages is that of the dowry system.
The dowry system has been in place since before the written record and it has been used by parents invevery country imaginable, including America in older times. Dowry or Dahej is the payment in cash or/and kind by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family along with the giving away of the bride (called Kanyadaan) in Indian marriage. Kanyadanam is an important part of Hindu marital rites. Kanya means daughter and dana means gift.

The dowry system was originally something honorable in intention and provided for the independent wealth of the bride if something were to happen to the husband. While this system is still in place, it has become more of a ”bride-price” system. The parents of the girl must come up, along the course of her growing up, with a respectable dowry in order to have a ”good match”. If a respectable dowry is not provided, the girl is less likely to find a good match and more likely be a victim of harassment and abuse within her marriage.

This leads to the ”kitchen accidents” issue. The practice of dowry abuse is growing in India even if the dowry was legally prohibited in 1961. When
the dowry amount is not considered enough by the husband or the in-laws, the bride is often harassed, abused and put under misery. This type of abuse can take many forms and even escalate to the burning of the bride. Usually, they will pour kerosene on her and light her on fire, often killing her. However, the official records of this are low because the family or the husband will report this as an accident or a suicide. These so called accidents have been named ”kitchen accidents” often insinuating that the woman burned herself on the stove for example. In Delhi, almost every 12 hours there is a woman who is burned to death and the number of dowry murders is increasing. This not only shows deep rooted prejudices against women in India but also the lack of official registration of these crimes. Thousands of women suffer from this form of abuse and have no one to turn to.

(Danie Michaud)

2 thoughts on “Arranged Marriages, The Dowry and ‘Kitchen Accidents’ in India

  1. Very well explained.
    It’s really sad to realize that most of the crimes and abuses are related to women. Also, in many countries still to this days, women are still been abused and killed by their husbands, and it is seen as normal due to the fact that the women has to be obedient.
    Also, did you know that the bride rarely keep here dowry after marriage. In rich families the wife keeps the bed and cooking pots and some jewelry’s. The dowry is used throughout the house expenses used by the family of the men.
    Again very interesting text
    (Dina Aznag)


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