So what does marriage mean to traditional and conservative Indians?

It seems a lot of Indians, even today, see marriage as a means to get someone to ‘look after’ the husband and his various requirements and responsibilities.

This is not an exaggeration or sarcasm.

Please read,‘Four kinds of marriages in modern India. Which ones would you ban?‘ about (amongst other marriages) a hundred year old man marrying a 60 year old widow to have someone to look after him in his old age.

“Soon after my mother’s death, my father requested us to find him another wife who would look after him.

Read this (link shared by a regular reader)

Thane: Drought leads to polygamy among farmers

The farmers in its villages are resorting to polygamy, so that there are more hands to fill and carry water from wells that are over two hours from their villages.

CNN-IBN visited one such family, where the farmer and his three wives have lived happily for over 30 years now. The family said it was a practical solution to the acute water problem the village had been facing for decades.

For the farmers, more wives meant more hands to carry water, because it takes at least four hours for a single person to carry two pots of water from the only well near the village.

One of the women inside the house said, “One lady takes care of the house and two of us go to fill water. We make two trips a day so getting water takes up all our time.”

The farmer (name withheld) himself said, “Water is available only for one month after the monsoon. For the rest of the year we have to walk four-five hours to get water.”

Why do women agree to such marriages?

Here’s why. Marriages are sold to Indian women in a glossy cover…? In short women in Patriarchal societies are not really given much choice. Rules, religion, rituals, customs, family values have been created to ensure women (and their families) agree to these terms.

Women are not allowed to have sex, children, jewelry, festivities etc unless they get married, and then they must Get Married and Stay Married. Self reliance, freedom and divorce are seen as decadence.

Do you think these societies would give up their privileges easily? They don’t really need to worry because most people, including women (the foot soldiers of Patriarchy) have no idea that this exploitation can be challenged. All that’s needed is for Indian people and their parents to start seeing self reliance, and not Get married and Stay married as Indian women’s goals.

Edited to add:

Scaredy Cat’s email shows that the way modern, educated  Indians see marriages is not much different. Here’s comment number 373 from Sufferer, in response to that email. Received just now.

@Another Scaredy cat’s girl yours situation sounds too familiar. Stuck in same kind of situation where i have to behave my in laws want me to right from how i eat/drink/see/act and the my so liberal n cool husband also thinks that this us the only way how things should go without even realizing what i go through with all of this. All he wants is a loving family where in he is provided with a comfort zone of his parents and parents are taken care of and I..well I work work n work, I have to sit with them after coming from office even when want to cuddle into my bed for sometime and just relaxxx and read which i love. Well this is considered as being rude and then my husband tells me that this way you will be left alone so should sit with us without releasing what i want and wish to do.
Lots of simple issues actually turn into daily hard chores and the problem is i simply cant blindly follow someone be it my husband/in laws as i have my own eyes and my own way of doing somethings.

For @SC :: please be more sympathetic with the girl you will be going to get married as we are also humans with our own little wishes that needs to be taken care of and we also need someone to whom we can just share our thoughts blankly without being judged for good/bad, things that pinched us that sadly your parents did as there are bound to be such situations. Even if all the people in your home (your parents) and your wife n you are all goody goody there are bound to be situations of conflict as each has their own way doing and seeing things. So give a shoulder and your 2 ears to listen to her worries as well as in the end its you too who will have to live together.
So enjoyee it :)

34 thoughts on “So what does marriage mean to traditional and conservative Indians?

  1. IHM,
    I am soon going to write a post on this. I have been hearing a lot of stories around me of this so called “system”. The worst part is that the boys are well educated and well placed software engineers and they have made the life of their wives hell. They piss in their pants everytime their mother raise a finger.
    The only answer I can think of is – Control. For what? That is something I will never be able to figure out. Why do parents want to control the life of their sons?
    I will be a better “bhudape ka sahara” if my parents give me some freedom.
    I think it is embedded so deeply in our society, we don’t even think twice before making someone’s life miserable.
    I pity the farmer’s family. although it was an arrangement between adults, it is still inhuman to marry so that someone could fetch water!


  2. Regarding the farmers, rural India is stuck in the 19th C so it’s no surprise that marriage remains a purely practical institution and, of course, geared to suit the dominant ones in classic survival of the fittest mode. If people cannot even fulfill their basic needs, such as have access to food and water, they’re hardly going to be looking for higher order needs such as emotional fulfillment with a partner. Can they really be blamed for being practical?

    And why do women agree to this? I hardly think it’s a glossy cover sold to them. In a drought-prone area, it’s quite simply ally yourself with this man and have half a shot at survival.

    I can only feel sad for everyone involved in these situations. Yes, the women as usual have it worst, but the men hardly much of a life either.


    • They have not mentioned if the women were adults when they were married (for fetching water!?) thirty years ago, and I also feel, women don’t really have any choice in these matter, even if it is seen as practical option for their husbands.


  3. about the so-called liberal husbands, I do have a few wors to say….they probably just want a eaiser life where they are not dragged daily into the soap-like melodrama of the house and thus, ask the wives to agree with everything his own family say without even giving a single thought about the needs and wants of the wife. that’s what I have observed in my limited experience.


    • I find it surprising that men/ husbands are seen as something outside of the ‘soap-like melodrama’ of a house- as though that is solely made and enjoyed by women. And what does ‘easier life’ mean?


      • well yeah men don’t really take part in the family khit pit!!! you know the word bouncings between mom-in-law and daughter-in-law or such things…that’s what I meant….very few men actually stand up for their wives and those who do, poor guys, always face choices which is pretty difficult!!! and, most men know of that and opt for the easier way…not to get involved in any family drama and ask the wife to obey everything she is told. you know its the concept that only the girl can keep peace in the house.

        and, I don’t mean that men are weak or anything!!! its just that they are probably already vexed up with dealing with office politics!!!


        • Seems unfair …to get married and expect the partner to relocate and live with their family, when they are not able to ensure they have the time/inclination to deal with related issues.
          It might suit them better to move in with the wife’s family, Indian daughters seem to face less problem in ensuring their partners are respected by their parents. (Often while also dealing with workplace or other stress)


        • concepts such as the girl being responsible for the ‘peace in the house’, ‘family khitpit’ being the preserve of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, ‘poor guys having to choose between the mother and wife’, ‘already vexed with dealing with office politics’ are completely in line with most regressive soap operas.
          Please read these posts by IHM:


        • Why are the men who stand up for their wives “poor guys” ? Shouldn’t it be “poor girls” who must leave familiar surroundings to come and adjust to new people and new surroundings and also have to deal with “khit-pit” ? And why are the guy’s choices difficult – should he not be able to stand with what is right, instead of always asking the wife to obey ? After all his wife is there dealing with the khit pit because of him – should he not have the basic courtesy to support her ?


  4. Yes, I agree. Maybe choice is the wrong word. I guess I don’t find it surprising, nor am I as morally disturbed by it. Human beings cannot rise to being just and kind if even their basic needs are not met.

    What I do find disturbing is, as usual, the TOI coverage. “Living happily for 30 years” it seems. Right, living happily without access to water. What they are trying to achieve with these ridiculous statements is beyond me.


  5. What I disagree with in this post is your title… I think marriage means this to a whole lot of people who do not consider themselves conservative, and in fact lead fairly emancipated personal lives. After getting married I was told by the god-almighty mom in law that i would need to stop travelling (which I do a lot- on work and otherwise) after marriage. I just laughed it off- was dumbstruck and in the early days thought it best to hold my tongue! In social scenarios too, aunties who i’ve met for the first time feel its their business to ask, “oh, but what does …. do when you’re out of town, who looks after him”. When was the last time someone asked the guy that!! But the subtext ofcourse is who feeds him, who looks after the house etc etc. The only criteria of what a marriage really is, even in the 21st century.


  6. I don’t even know what to make of this. IThe Bride’s comment makes sense, if people are locked in a struggle for survival, then they aren’t going to think much about emotional or personal fullfillment. What concerns me is that people still have to struggle to get water in villages in one of the better performing states of India, in a country that chest thumps its economic growth and superpower potential.


    • The world knows exactly how much of a superpower India really is. Our stellar ranking in the human development index proves it beyond all doubt.


  7. “Women are not allowed to have sex, children, jewelry, festivities etc unless they get married, and then they must Get Married and Stay Married. Self reliance, freedom and divorce are seen as decadence.”

    Have all these conservative people never realized that smart women make better mothers?! If you think about it, who would be a better mother to teach children how to live a good life – a woman who is brain washed to give in to every whim and fancy of her husband and his family, or a woman who can think for herself and refuse to take crap from others?

    If you take ridiculous demands from in-laws, you end up compromising with your children too. So we have generations who create the same dysfunction in their own lives, and things never improve. Your children see you bowing down to other family members, and what do they learn? That it’s OK to be deprived of self respect and dignity. And I think that the children of such parents probably don’t respect them too much either. Maybe when they are older they might understand, or maybe not.

    Wake up and smell the change people!!


  8. Our countrymen revel in upholding foolish traditions coz it is to their fullest advantage. Even today, the situation hasnt change on bit. Yes, when I mention this to few of my friends [who are a bit ahead of the Indian times] they say- people are not like that anymore, you are just seeing few people and judging everyone based on that. But thats not at all true. It is the majority who are unchanged and a teeny weeny bit of minority who have realised its time to change. When they see people like these farmers, they look at you and say- See you are much better than that. This really irks me. How can you look at the worst and ask me to feel better coz I am not in that position. Should you not look at the ideal situation and realise how far behind you still are?


    • Keep pointing these things out to your friends! Only with honest conversations do I believe anything can really change.


  9. I can see how the man with 4 wives happened. I agree with The Bride, it is a matter of survival. I also agree with the person who said that saying these people live “happily” is probably editorializing. Even if they have never known life without that 4-hour walk, I wonder how happy can they be. What a waste of time. The man basically married these women to make them slaves.

    We all know that the institution of marriage was created with practicality in mind, but it seems that while some of us have evolved to include a love and personal fulfillment notion, a good chunk of the world has not. India seems to be somewhere stuck between the two.

    When will young Indians demand their independence? When will they stop allowing themselves to be traded and paraded around like prize livestock for the so-called purpose of carrying on genetic lines? When will people realize that just because something has been going on for thousands of years, this doesn’t mean it’s right? When will people realize that having pride in your culture does not mean ignoring the things that should rightfully make you disturbed? When will people realize that challenging your culture and demanding it to grow and evolve does not have to equal betrayal and shame?

    India does have super power potential. But frankly, there seems to be a serious issue with wasting your most precious natural resource: people. There are too many little girls who are raised to be nothing more than some man’s water-fetcher. And too many little boys who are raised to believe there is nothing wrong with this. Too many people who don’t get a fair shot at life because an imaginary stratification system deems them to be less important. And people who claim to care so much about “Great Indian Culture” but oppress their fellow country persons for their own selfish gain.

    Sometimes culture is more harmful than good. It’s off topic, but this article definitely illustrates that:


  10. When people around say the christian society is liberated in comparison to the other societies of India, I laugh off their presumptions and think of the times I faced discrimination as a woman and outa all the sheer madness i wrote this.! If I finally decide to marry someone in life, I would surely show him this.!

    Every Indian society is patriarchal.! I never knew phenomenon like wife recycling and all existed. This is Taslima’s take on it


  11. Somehow I see traditional marriages equivalent to the sep up in zoos. Its like bringing in an animal, who is perfectly capable of living by itself in the wilderness, and taking away its freedom in return for some food, shelter and of course safety. And on top of that the animal has to entertain visitors, it will be trained to do so. If you compare the animals resting in the zoo with the ones resting in their natural habitat, you can see that the former ones are really sad!!!


  12. Sadly, IHM, it’s not just so-called traditional people who think this way. My maths teacher in high school, was very liberal politically, well-read, etc. but when he was telling me his son was going to get married, he took the, “now that he’s living alone, he does need someone to look after him” line. I guess he had the traditional discomfort with talking about his children’s romantic lives, and was being awkward in general, but that is the first thing that came out when he got awkward. This was a marriage of choice, with the boy and girl having known each other through college, and he knew that and was happy about that. He just didn’t know how to talk about marriage except in “looking after” terms.


  13. Loved the topic. Very well written!
    However polygamy is more of a practical solution to ancient problem.
    The mormons practice polygamy as an effective way to manage a family and a career.


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