Most of our Indian weddings have a strange dynamic. By virtue of being the family of the groom, an entire set of people are given superior status over the bride's family, who is supposed to bow and scrape and generally kowtow to them. It is part of a set-up wherein the parents of a daughter are burdened from the time she is born. With all our liberal thinking, this is something that has not changed significantly over the years, barring a tiny minority which includes many of us on this forum.
A few decades ago, when we lived in Thailand, we were struck by a great contrast in the expressions of the airport staff at Bangkok airport and the Delhi airport. The Thai staff at both customs and immigration, were uniformly smiling and cheerful, while their Indian counterparts were generally grumpy and grouchy looking. We had also discovered that in Thailand a young man had to pay a bride price to the father of the girl he intended to marry, and would work and save towards that, and both youngsters would work and save towards the wedding expenses. It was essentially the people who were marrying who were working towards it. Whereas our poor Indian fathers were burdened with the cost of the girl's trousseau, if not actual dowry, and the need to provide acceptably lavish hospitality to the groom's family. No wonder the grouchy men at the airport. I agree that it's a very simplistic observation, but it has the ring of truth.
According to me, an ideal marriage would be one in which the bride and groom would be equal partners in the entire equation, with both sides sharing the expense of the ceremony and subsequent hospitality, proportionately according to the number of people each side has invited. The parents of both bride and groom would, instead of 'giving' their children away, would welcome the new member to be a part of their family, and then proceed with whatever form of ceremony they desire- civil or religious, hopefully in a language that is meaningful to the couple taking their vows.
The old mindsets can change only when the onus of choosing a partner is on the man and woman concerned. It is about being responsible for your own decisions and how you want to implement them. Some of our glorious traditions need to be broken- and the tradition of having any kind of marriage which leads to spoken and implicit demands, needs to be changed. Till date, some banks advertise loans for a son's education and a daughter's marriage.
The Rational Fool had this to say, as a comment on Usha's blog http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-many-more.html#5685165301382537508
"as parents, let's begin by washing our hands completely of our children's marriage. Let's restore to our children, especially our daughters, their inalienable right to select their mates. Completely, unequivocally. No if's and but's! The kanniga is not a property of her father to be given away as dhanam to a nincompoop who happens to have the planets and the stars in the right position at the right time.
p.s. I am out of the loop. My daughter is happily married to her college senior. Neither my wife, nor I, had anything to do with it - not even the expenses. With the pleasant exception of both of us walking the aisle with her".
I had read this several months ago and it has stayed with me.
In his own post, Girls Interrupted
he has this to say," many social ills in India pertaining to women, such as female infanticides, honor killings, forced abortions, and the dowry system, would be eradicated, if and when women reclaim their inalienable right to mate selection. Even casteism and communalism, the twin scourges of India, would cease to exist, if women selected their own mates instead of relegating that power to their parents".
It is a major change of mindset: from a historical system where the word of the patriarch was law, and where he was also responsible for the well being of each member of the family, to a system in which an adult is expected to be responsible for his own life and his own decisions. I recall a cousin's wife telling me how good the arranged marriage system was, because if things went wrong you could always blame your parents. I found this statement utterly appalling. We need to accept responsibility for our own actions. (If you are caught speeding, kindly pay the fine instead of invoking the names of the powerful people who can come to your rescue).
Even when youngsters do select their own partners, the 'boy's people' syndrome doesn't go away. So often you hear of women losing respect for their in-laws because of the way they threw their weight around at the time of the wedding, or in making arrangements to suit their family members rather than something mutually convenient to both parties. It is not a power equation. It is about the happiness of your children, and your own future happiness. If you have a friendly and loving relationship with your daughter-in-law and her natal family, everyone benefits from it.
Our Indian traditions are deep-rooted. Our first reaction to a child's love affair becoming known to us is usually disapproval. (Some atavistic urge seems to prevent both parents and children from recognising each other as sexual beings).
Which tends to create far more problems than it solves. Please give the youngsters time to see where their relationship is headed. Allow your children the freedom to bring friends of both sexes home. You will know their friends, and there would be far less need for hole-and-corner meetings. Disapproval may catalyse far more powerful attractions than a general willingness to approve of their friends.
As parents we think we know what is best for our children. The best we can do is accept their adulthood. We may not be able to save them from heartbreak. But we can console them without saying 'I told you so'. We have to be there for them at all times, and yet not interfere in their lives- a fine balance indeed!
A friend was telling me about events in her family some fifty or more years ago. They were four sisters and a brother, all of 'marriageable' age. They came across some matrimonial correspondence between their father and a gentleman of their community for the eldest sister which upset them all- apparently, not only were stipulated amounts of cash and jewellery to be handed over at the time of the wedding, but also on the occasion of the birth of the first child and on various other ceremonial occasions. There were also suggestions that the brother take a hefty dowry to help meet the expenses of his sisters' weddings. The siblings decided then and there that any such kind of marriage was insulting and not required, and collectively absolved their parents of their responsibility to get them married. They were all well educated, enterprising people who wished to live life on their own terms. Four of them did find matches on their own terms, and the fifth never married, and yet is one of the happiest, most emotionally fulfilled people I've ever known.All have had fulfilling careers and satisfying lives. They could do this in the
nineteen-fifties. Why can't we do it now? People may not explicitly demand dowry these days, but even the assumption that the father of the bride foots all the bills is, to my mind, questionable.(Unless of course the groom's family refuses to participate at all, which is another matter).
At the very least, be willing to question the status quo. Be the change you want to see.
Edited to add: The Indian Homemaker's latest post is even more radical. Do take a look.