Happily single in India? Don’t count on it

March 7, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

“Are you a student or are you working?” asked a middle-aged woman who squeezed herself into the space between me and another in the women-only coach on a Delhi Metro train.

“I work,” I said, tugging a bit at my dupatta, which she was sitting on.

“Married?” she asked, still breathless from the dash she made for the seat after boarding the train.

“No.”

“Your parents must have started looking.”

“Really? You know them?”

“Girls should marry by the time they are 25-26,” she said. “Otherwise later they will only get widowers and divorcees.”

I shut the book I was reading – “The Women’s Room“ by American feminist Marilyn French – and offered my seat to someone else.

I wish I hadn’t retreated so politely. I should have asked her to mind her own business. Maybe I should have told her that her words offended me. Or maybe I should have used the words of Rahul Gandhi, the scion of Indian’s illustrious Nehru-Gandhi dynasty: I want to be an anti “status quoist“.

Those are the words he used this week. And judging by my travelling companion’s words, neither Gandhi nor I are about to win a fan following among India’s middle class.

There may be a number of rich and successful men and women in India who have avoided marriage, but to an average Indian, having a single 40-something offspring is like a death sentence.

It does not matter if someone does not believe in marriage and is happily unmarried. Our marital status is everyone’s concern. Neighbours whisper about possible homosexuality, strangers give unsolicited advice, and relatives present them with prospective matches.

It is common for parents to begin a pursuit for a suitable match as soon as the child graduates from college. From poring over website and newspaper matrimonial ads to word-of-mouth prospecting, and paying hefty fees to marriage brokers (anywhere between 5,000 rupees and a million rupees), this task becomes the most crucial endeavour of their lives. Of course, it does! Without parents to act as a moral compass for as long as they can, where would the children be?

According to professional matchmakers, parents should start looking for a husband for their daughters as soon as they turn 22 because they may lose their innocent looks once they hit the mature age of 25. Men often get more time to play, but not much more. They are expected to marry by their late twenties.

Nor is the new generation showing signs changing en masse. According to a survey conducted by the Taj Group of Hotels, which hosts many lavish weddings, 75 percent of Indians prefer arranged marriages.

The survey, based on interviews with more than 1,000 people aged 18-35 in 10 cities, said that nearly 82 percent of women prefer an arranged marriage. In such marriages, a partner is usually chosen by parents and is from the same religion, caste or community.

It is not as if marriages cannot be blissful. Of course, they can be. But it seems our country simply refuses to explore the other side or to at least stop vilifying those who choose to be single.

If the majority of young India refuses to mess with the status quo, I don’t just wonder what I’m going to do. I worry about what Mr. Gandhi will do as well.

(Follow Diksha on Twitter @diksha16 )

9 comments

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The difference lies in the culture of different societies. In the west being single (i mean not being married) and still being with someone or having an affair with someone is not considered taboo. In India, its considered sin irrespective of how much educated the person is.So if you are single and not having a casual affair, you are still safe in India. But if you do decide not to marry and have an affair (because you are a human being and you like to be loved), it’s as if you have sentenced yourself to death. The change that is needed in the society is the way marriage is being considered. It should not be taken as a mandate rather a willful promise to someone to be with him/her all your life. And if you don’t find that someone, it’s better not to marry and still fulfill your carnal instincts.

Posted by Indrajoy | Report as abusive

I am 25 and still single. Its not because my parents are not enthusiastic to find me the best match, but because I have intentionally turned down their frequent requests for almost past 3-4 years. I receive frequent calls from my relatives and they kind of remind me that time is running out. And its recently that I cleared my intentions to remain unmarried for rest of my life in front of my parents and close friends. No one is happy. Its an ugly situation where everybody inquires you about your future plans and how you will manage? I work and live alone in New Delhi. Its not easy but what you do? you cannot marry anyone just because he earns well and is educated and comes from a good family background. You cannot marry for comfort and security? But sadly thats what people do. that is exactly what the society expects from us.

Posted by Swati1717 | Report as abusive

1. An individual is far more changeable in his/her views preferences than society at large.

2. Changeable views of an individual can easily swing to-and-fro on all topics including marriage, multiple times in his/her lifetime.

3. OTOH, societies are aimed at greater good of all people, not just a few individuals and hence constitute culture – shared common code of conduct for social living. Culture as a social tool evolves, gets refined and strengthened over millenia, by cleansing itself of time-bound purposes and practices – an essential requirement for culture to survive through the ups-and-downs of time-bound natural/human events.

4. Refinement/strength of a culture expresses itself in the power of its language and scriptural knowledge – aimed at bringing together the experience of all the countless lives (both human and divine) lived in its mainstream.

5. Hindu culture has strength of Sanskrit language and Vedic/Puranic scriptures, not found anywhere else! Not all cultures are strong in the same sense, and hence there are differences in strengths as well as cultural pitfalls.

6. Some individuals view these differences as options and some as opportunities available to them to fit their individual karmic &/or instinctive propensities – usually at their personal risk and potential gain/loss of what they have already been-through/acquired by the time (12-16 years of age) they are mature enough to make so-called choice.

Posted by rcomment | Report as abusive

I am afraid that Diksha and Rahul have so little in common, that the supposed likeness used in this article will completely go in vain. Maybe Diksha ought to have asked the lady on the train to mind her own business before writing this article.

Posted by jamhotjammin | Report as abusive

I agree with most of the article, but, unfortunately you lost me with a reference to Rahul Gandhi. How does Rahul Gandhi claim that he wants to be an “anti status-quoist” ? by inheriting the Congress party and The Democratic India ? Find better references, you work for Reuters.

Let’s say this, the day journalists stop using Nehru-Gandhi family as crutch to their argument and as an escape from better journalism is the day when indians will change en-masse.

Posted by Venkat_Akkineni | Report as abusive

Diksha,
your words “but to an average Indian, having a single 40-something offspring is like a death sentence.” is harsh. But anyway thats the truth .
regards
vinodh

Posted by vinodhindia2 | Report as abusive

Women education is means to strength herself in the society and educate her children.

But the otherwise is happening.

More women are into career, put the children in some top school with fat fees, and later can they expect their children to be like them ? When their mind is totally or partial into Career.

Women must understand that family comes first, then career.

I’m in 30, I expect to marry a women of age 22 to 27 and not below.

Mr.Right has settled down or been taken of the marriage market.
Its high time women understand this nature.

The Leftover women of China is also happening in India.

Posted by Bangalore681 | Report as abusive

@Swati1717 – You described my current situation to a tee.More power to you!

Posted by saranyaiyer | Report as abusive

I’m 35 male from Bangalore. Love to be single, but also love to meet educate women with respect to their choice of staying single. However, I feel it is quite difficult to meet another self respecting single without they doubting your credentials. Is it true among majority of Indian singles ? Sometimes it makes you think …. how wonderful it would have been if we could be happy singles and have some consensus romance too. I’m I expecting too much .. ?

Posted by Sandy_Cmy | Report as abusive