By Arun Kumar Sahu*
It has always made me uncomfortable to convince a youngster, especially a girl to get married in the pretext that she might be losing time in “settling down”, making a family of her own and “motherhood”. It makes me even more uncomfortable to “suggest” a bride or a groom. I believe marriage is an important decision in an adult’s life: he or she must be fully prepared to delve into this social institution and it should be done at his or her own volition and risk. The role of family and friends in this matter does not go beyond maybe enjoying a day or few days of fun and frolicking.
I am fully aware of the general psychology and economics behind marriage, matchmaking, dating and celebration. Nevertheless, what I am suggesting is that the decision to be part of this process of procreation and the mechanism of providing skilled, semi-skilled and highly-skilled labour for the progression of human kind, possibly till eternity (at least that’s what we believe) should be taken solely by the “individuals” likely to be involved in this process.
In many developed societies, parents sniff an anomaly if their young adults don’t have boyfriends or girlfriends. They believe it is only natural for a biological organism to look for a partner and that this is also necessary for the emotional stability of an adult. And what they have successfully managed around these alliances is adequate legal safeguard so that neither of the partners is without economic and legal protection.
In India we have elevated the institution of marriage to the high pedestal of an inalienable part of an individual’s so called “rites of passage”. Both “stigma” and “social compulsion” are at play, more for the girls than the boys, without adequate legal safeguard. All hell will break loose if a young girl refuses to begin or takes her own sweet time in beginning a relationship or if she decides to wait a few years to realize whether she is ready to be part of the marriage industry. Most of us believe that it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that their children are “happily settled” before their own eyes. We also presume that most marital alliances, laboriously worked on by family members and relatives, emit marital bliss, which reminds me of the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “All happy families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I have wondered over these years how others, external to a relationship, are so sure of the outcome of it.
Maybe the time has come for us to shun the whole idea of “settling” our children before the eyes of aging parents or grand parents. Instead, we can improve on equipping them with education, skills and knowledge that will help them make their own decision. The best we can hope for is that with the freedom to choose, they will make the most productive choice and stand by it. We must also provide the necessary legal structure so that neither partner is exploited.
Happiness and unhappiness have their own relative coordinates. A seemingly happy relationship may not be the most productive and vice versa. They are also not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, multilayered and webbed. As our children make choices, we can only stand by them and help them prepare to accept, equally valiantly, both happiness and unhappiness, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.
*Arun Kumar Sahu is the Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada. He may be contacted at [email protected]
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