SHAADI, or marriage, is the most sacred institution in India. The marriage ceremony is the thirteenth ceremony among sixteen ceremonies in a Hindu’s life. It is a holy sacrament solemnized in accordance with rituals enjoined in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. In Indian families, from the moment a baby girl is born, parents begin saving and planning for that momentous occasion when they will give their precious child to her husband to love and to cherish. Vedic scriptures describe the wedding ceremony literally as the gifting of a young maiden from her father to her future husband, or Kanyadaana. When Indian parents successfully get their children married, it is considered a huge accomplishment, and they feel tremendous joy and relief from fulfilling one of life's most important responsibilities.
For centuries, marriage between Indians has been a commitment for life. The concept of divorce is still taboo to the vast majority of the Indian population. If a husband and wife don’t get along, the wife is expected to adjust and make things work. Some amount of flexibility is expected in any new relationship, yet in Indian society this burden falls primarily on the wife. Women are instructed by their mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers to concede to their husband’s wishes and expectations, with the hope that they will be able to win their husband’s heart and ultimately lead a happy life together.
The Hindu belief in karma and dharma also impacts traditional perspectives on marriage. Karma, the belief that everything happens as a consequence of past deeds, is integral to the Hindu faith. If a woman or man has an unhappy marriage, the community assumes it is because of some bad actions they committed in a previous life. There is also an important Hindu belief that one must do his duty, or dharma. Dharma requires men and women to marry, as that is an integral part of being a householder, which is a key stage in life. The Vedas divide human life into four stages, brahmacharya ashrama (student), grahastha ashrama (householder), vanaprastha ashrama (retirement), and sannyasa ashrama (renunciation). Dharma forces one to remain married, even if it is an unhappy or difficult relationship, in order to fulfill responsibilities to family and society during the grahastha stage.
Another very important cultural factor for many Indians is saving face. An Indian’s reputation is a critical part of her identity and self-respect. Being divorced in Indian society carries with it a strong stigma. Couples often prefer to remain in an unhappy marriage in order to protect their image as an ideal Indian family, regardless of the pain and heartache the marriage may bring each day. When an Indian marriage fails, there is often a tremendous sense of guilt, shame, and fear of social rebuke. As a result, couples strive to remain together, no matter how painful the situation, in an effort to protect their reputation and children from the challenges associated with divorce, and to save face in the community.
Although India can proudly declare that nearly 100 percent of its marriages are a success, recent urbanization and women’s growing financial independence are causing the divorce rate to rise. Gender equality is now giving rise to ego clashes between the husband and wife, especially if the wife is also well educated and employed. The empowerment of women has stimulated the
dissolution of marriage in urban areas in India and among Indians around the world. Indian women are now open to the option of ending their marital relationship, as opposed to silently bearing lifelong abuses, as generations of women did before them.
As an attorney and mediator of Indian origin, over the past twenty years I have assisted hundreds of divorcing or separating American families in resolving issues related to contested custody, visitation, and support matters. I have also helped numerous men and women of Indian origin deal with issues of marital discord, domestic violence, adultery, alcoholism, and desertion. Because the idea of divorce in Indian marriages is no longer as unimaginable as it once was and the number of divorces is steadily rising, I am concerned about the future of the sacred institution of marriage in the Indian community. The commitment to India’s system of marriage is waning among the younger generation. The paradigm of the traditional Hindu marriage and the premises upon which it is based do not translate logically in the twenty-first century. The viability of the Indian marriage and the family unit is dependent upon younger generations of Indians better understanding the purpose of Hindu marriage traditions, thoughtfully considering which customs and values they wish to retain, and determining how they choose to honor and preserve the sanctity of marriage in the modern era.
The purpose of this book is to provide an overview of the factors Indian families have traditionally relied upon in arranging Hindu marriages, and to highlight that primary consideration of these criteria today may no longer lead to successful marriages. Contemporary approaches to identifying a compatible partner that blend a commitment to the Hindu values of trust, respect, love, and friendship, as well as good communication and effective conflict resolution skills are examined to provide a more practical approach for younger generations to enjoy a successful marriage.