Wed, 15 Aug, 2018Basmah Qazi

Then and now – how the concept of arranged marriage has changed throughout the years

Then and now – how the concept of arranged marriage has changed throughout the years

At the age of 24, Meera Patel had set her sights on finding a husband within a year, and she did exactly that with the help of her parents and the age-old tradition of arranged marriage.

Having never dabbled in the world of dating, let alone marriage, the Sydney pharmacy student made sure to keep her expectations realistic. Speaking to the ABC, she said that she wasn’t planning on “casting positive thoughts into the universe".

As a Gujarati Indian woman, the concept of arranged marriage is common but over the years, it has modernised to become adaptable with today’s society. The method, which is a popular form of matchmaking in South Asia, dates to thousands of years.

A study on the youth of India conducted in 2016 found that 84 per cent of married couples had an arranged marriage.

The tradition – which has a stigma attached to it – has evolved over the past 50 years, according to Nonie Tuxen, a PhD student and resident of Mumbai.

“If you speak to a lot of people here in India over the age of, say, 75, many of them did not see or speak to their spouse prior to their wedding,” she said.

“Whereas nowadays, young people both here in India, and in the diaspora, have a great deal of say in who they marry.

“There’s a lot of confusion about whether an arranged marriage is forced in some way – it never is, forced marriage is an entirely separate issue.

“The decision ultimately lies with them … it doesn’t lie with their families.”

Which is why, when Meera believed the time was right, she asked her parents to help her find a husband.

Meera’s close friend, Hemangini Patel, says that the lines between “love marriages” and arranged marriages are blurring.

“I just thought that your parents introduced you to someone and you had to get married in, like, a month,” she says.

But according to Hemangini, Meera felt overwhelmed by the world of dating once she had reached her 20s, which is when marriage becomes a commonly spoken about topic amongst the Indian community.

“I was doing a Master’s degree which was a two-year course … so [I had] no time to think about anything except for work and studying” says Meera.

“I would have no idea where to go and look for a person.

“So, when my parents approached me with the idea [of arranged marriage] … I’m like, ‘Yes! You do all the work for me and I’m happy with whatever!'”

But Meera was never dreaming about Prince Charming, and her list of expectations in her potential partner had nothing to do with outward appearance, but rather she was focused more on his culture and beliefs.

Meera’s Prince had to be Hindu and belong to the BAPS Swaminarayan faith.

“I’m very religious, so I wanted someone with the same religious background as me, to make it easier for us to understand each other,” she said.

“We have some dietary requirements – we don’t eat onion and garlic, and we’re very strict vegetarians, as well, so I wanted someone who can understand that.”

Language was also an important factor that had to be considered. The BAPS Swaminarayan faith, which was established in the east-Indian state of Gujrat, has a majority of Gujarati speakers.

“I wanted someone who could not only communicate with my parents but everyone else in my family,” says Meera.

After Meera approached her parents about the possibility of an arranged marriage, they got in touch with Gujarati families across the world.

While they went through many potential suitors, it was ultimately a New Zealand man, Rushi, who stole Meera’s heart.

“My dad contacted his dad, and after that we exchanged numbers,” she said.

After getting to know each other through text and phone calls, Meera and Rushi flew to one another to meet each other’s families.

That was two years ago. Now, as Meera and Rushi get ready to marry each other in January, they know each other better than they know themselves.

“It’s going to be a big wedding from what I hear because it’s going to be planned by parents fully,” she says.

“As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”