This essay will attempt to argue that while there are both benefits and drawbacks to arranged marriage for Bengali women, the choice should ultimately be up to the individual.
Anirvan Chatterjee’s Personal View of Arranged Marriage
In January, 1997, Anirvan Chatterjee took a personal look at Bengali women’s history of arranged marriage, because growing up in the west did not afford her the cultural identification and understanding of this particular tradition. She writes about how, in her American mindset, could she possibly understand how these women from Bengali, including her mother, sometimes travel thousands of miles away, to marry someone they never met? Arranged marriages not only baffles the author of the essay, but also many, if not most Americans, and other westerners in general, due to the cultural divide. Understanding that women in Bengali, even in the high caste system of the Hindus, would expect marriage and family without regard to their own personal desires, such as higher education, presents as “normal” in that society, and even in some western circles where it appears that family, friends, media etc. look to preserve the arranged marriage custom. Being that in Bengali, the women come primarily from the two religious traditions of Hindu and Islam, there are some differences in the custom of arranged marriages. For the women in the Hindu faith the caste system is very important. Most marriages stay in the same caste rank, though it is allowed in some circumstances for women to marry upward from their caste level. But the Hindu women are essentially prohibited from marrying a man who is a step below in the caste system.
Understanding Maliveka Kalekar’s Voices from Within
In the book, Voices from Within, the author, Malavika Karlekar takes on the challenges that Bengali, Hindu women face during late 19th century and early to mid-20th century. She takes on the traditional culture with women taking a “back seat” when it comes to plural marriage and child marriage, which was consistent with what was happening at the time of Kalekar’s orientation. Women lived in domestic quarters together called the antahpur. This was a place where women were more invested in each other’s advancement, although it ended up as more of an impoverished existence. Karlekar inquiries into the various sects of the Brahmans as well the Western influence on the women’s education, gender roles, wardrobe, and the like, during the English occupation. She also conducted a survey of emotional upheavals that the women might experience through the traditional path versus western mindset of arranged unions. Because of the westernization of India as a whole, women were becoming more aware of their opportunities and options without the necessary benefit of marriage. Progressive thought, though, does not always follow with ameliorative code of practice. And depending on whether the marriage is based in the ever trending, contemporary cities or in rural India, the women and their husbands might share the same societal, developmental ideas.
On reading Bengali Women, by Manisha Roy
In the decades from 1950 to 1970 Manisha Roy created a composite woman taken from
an Anthropological view, studying the Bengali woman and dissecting the demands and expectations put upon her involving connections with in the Bengali woman’s life. This including relationships with her father, mother, other familial members, and of course her husband before and after prominent events in their lives.
The ideal of marriage for the Bengali woman is to focus her attention on the family needs first, not herself. And it is her duty that family and cultural traditions are still breathing whether she is in India, America, or another part of the world. Arranged marriages still occur regularly, but Bengali women now, are viewing both sides of the marriage coin, and are making choices best to suit their individual personality. In the U.S., many view arranged marriage as backwards or anti-feminist. Though arranged marriages can certainly end up badly, they have also resulted in long, happy and successful marriages for many traditional women (and men). Those who prefer to have an arranged marriage often talk about the benefits—no playing the dating game, family approval, connection to tradition and heritage. While Americans may find the concept of arranged marriage disturbing or old-fashioned, it is a perfectly valid option and Bengali women must have the agency to decide how they want to find their partner.