Archive for the ‘Arranging Marriage’ Category

Her dream was to go to school, to have the freedom to study and learn. But to alleviate her mother’s financial burden of care taking both her and her brother, nineteen year old Neetu agreed to get married instead.

It was her mother’s friend who made the introduction to the 20-year old suitor. They had only met for about 20 minutes, and because she was not happy about the arrangement, Neetu stood with her back to him as they spoke. She didn’t see him again until the day of the wedding. Admitting she liked the way he looked, she did not feel they were a suitable match. Being married to him, she said, was a compromise.

The daughter of a single mother, Neetu never met her father. After a drunken rage in which he tried to kill her and her brother, her mom left the marriage.

When I met Neetu, she had been married for seven months. Matrimonial bangles graced the arms she kept demurely wrapped around herself. During our conversation, her sister-in-law sat by her side, impeding Neetu’s ability to freely speak. It was only when she was asked to go to the kitchen and make tea that Neetu was able to reveal her concerns.

Though no dowry was given, gifts were presented to her husband’s family at the time of marriage. As is sometimes the case, after a few months, her new family started to indirectly speak of material goods they did not have, but wanted. Neetu felt is was only a matter of time before their demands started. Not wanting to worry her mom, she didn’t talk with her about it.

Her desire to continue her studies was out of the question with her new responsibility to take care of her husband’s family; an additional concern for her. There was a visible sadness and a longing in Neetu. She was stuck in her life circumstances.

Maybe that is why – from the bed she shared with her husband – she doused herself with kerosene and struck a match. The news of it came in an e-mail shortly after I had left India, several months after our meeting. Our mutual friend and interpreter wrote to tell me that Neetu was unhappy with her husband because he had a problem with alcohol. So she set herself on fire. In her critical condition and without the four lakh rupees needed for treatment, she and her five month old fetus died.

Because fire is a common form of assault against women in India, incidents that are deemed accidents or suicide are looked upon with suspicion. Women do sometimes take their own lives, however. Sometimes as a way to escape their fate, or to alleviate their families of the burden of a dowry demand. But other times the in-law family fabricates a story around their crime, calling it a kitchen accident, or self-immolation.

With the concerns that Neetu wanted to speak with me about, I also had my suspicions. Her death leaves a haunting hollowness in me.

My intention of collecting stories from women who have endured the systemic degradation, oppression and violence for being born female, is to celebrate those who have made a triumphant exodus from their circumstances. To highlight their liberation as a testament for other women, to show them that it is possible. Neetu’s story is a grim reminder that sometimes women only find liberation in death.

I am humbly grateful to Neetu, and all the daughters of India who have graciously welcomed me into their lives with the courage to share their stories with the world. Through the telling and retelling of their stories, and the demand for the safety, freedom, and equality for women everywhere, one day soon we will be free, to be female.

barbara raisbeck


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Love Commandos Helpline: 9313784375

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Love Commandos: Helpline for couples in love

In the battle against repeated honour killings, there is finally some ray of hope, not from the system, but from the people. Help is now at hand for couples who fear for their lives after marrying against the wishes of their family.

Sanjay Sachdeva and Harsh Malhotra call themselves the love commandos. They run a helpline for couples who fear their lives may be in danger because they fell in love with people their parents didn’t approve of.

The helpline Love Commandos is just one-week old with just one number, founded by Sanjay Sachdeva. But the phones have not stopped ringing. On some days as many as 300 people call, pleading for help and terrified that they may be killed.

Sunil Kumar and Chanchal have been in hiding ever since they ran away from their North Delhi homes. They secretly got married in a temple last month. Both feared Chanchal’s parents may kill them. It was then that they dialed the Love Commandos helpline. With their help, the couple approached the Delhi Commission for Women who, in turn, have now asked the local police to provide them security. Full Story

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Arranged marriage is an intrinsic part of India’s culture. Families choose their children’s spouse for them, matching compatibility criteria with horoscopes and family status. For the family of the groom, how much dowry the bride brings tops the list of priorities. The more educated the groom, the bigger the dowry demand. Doctors and engineers, and grooms living in America with their increased earning power, are costly commodities.

Most westerners cannot conceive the idea of their parents choosing their marriage partner for them. Making a lifelong commitment with someone that they do not know. But in India, the general thinking is, who better to do the choosing then one’s parents, the ones who know you the best? Loveless nuptials is not considered, love is said to grow after marriage. Love marriages are often felt to be frivolous and fleeting, so are still relatively rare in India, though there are couples that are defying the system and following their heart instead of tradition.

The first time I went to India, in 2000, strangers would come and ask me where I was from, immediately followed by the statement, “Oh, America, where half of all of your marriages end in divorce.” They seemed to derive great satisfaction in highlighting our marriage failures.

While the divorce rate is stirring in India today, many still don’t dare speak of it even if the love after marriage never materialized. Being coerced into the partnership does not offer the freedom to simply leave an abusive or unsatisfying marriage.

Marriage is a monumental step in life, one that asks that we, with certainty, are committed to devote our life to another person in a ‘day in, day out’, existence. The recommended period of engagement that allows for a slow cultivation offers no guarantee. Many marriages topple under the pressure of expectation, unfulfilled promises, and the faces that emerge after the ‘I do’s’ are said.

It’s in this knowledge that some feel arranged marriages may offer something more substantial than love marriages. While there can be merit in an arranged marriage – some of them work out famously – the issue is one of choice. The freedom to choose, firstly, if one wants to marry, and if so, whom they want to marry.

In a February 2006 issue of National Geographic on the topic of Love, Renu Dinakaran – who thinks that many arranged marriages are acts of “state sanctioned rape” – was interviewed for a segment of the story. She tells how, at the age of 17, she was forced to marry her cousin. She says that she wanted to learn to love her husband, but the more years that passed, the less love she felt for him. It was the movie “Love Story” that convinced Renu that there was more to marriage. This knowing gave rise to bitterness, but it also helped her to move out of a loveless marriage, a courageous step for an Indian wife with two children. Liberating herself of that arrangement allowed love in when she met Anil, who she is happily married to today.

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