Indian woman rants about arranged marriages on Reddit, provides some interesting insights into the arranged marriage system.

Recently on Reddit /r/India, user ibarmy wrote a long rant about the trials and tribunals she was going through while looking for an arranged marriage. By reading the post, one can come to the conclusion that she is upper middle class, well educated, internet-savvy and has some experience in the dating scene. It is also evident that she is in the age range of 27-30, after which her chances of getting married will become much slimmer. Yet, she remains stubbornly picky and entitled. Even her user flair reads “Unicorn ki talaash mein~~” or “in search of the Unicorn”.

She begins by describing how most Indian women (including expats and their descendants) eventually realize that the attention and validation they receive on social network are worth nothing. The men they fancy are not worthy of marriage because they are too “poor” or a “mama’s boy” (meaning they will put their family before their wife). At this point, they begin to fall back on the aid of their relatives to snag up a rich smuck through arranged marriage.

She admits being envious of women who are fair and pretty, with C-cup breasts and taller that 5’5″ (a common Indian beauty standard), as they will be able to hitch up with a workhorse quite easily. She claims that her “manual” is for women who are unable to snag a fish even in a skewed marriage market like India (amid a scarcity of females), despite being willing to pay to large sums of dowry. What she does not realize is that the price of dowry is soaring because women like her are hypergamous and encourage others to be like that. As a result, the top 1% men are able ask for large dowries. She also says that her manual is not for women who want true love as most Indian men are regressive and want “hot kinky girlfriends but nice docile girls as wives”. This accusation is mostly unfair as Indian men are quick to jump into commitment and any ordinary man trying to walk away from a relationship can be easily slapped with a rape charge. It would be more accurate to say that the rich bad boys, for whom they are willing to be kinky, are not willing to marry them.

She then describes how women spend hours at a professional photographer’s studio to get the most flattering photographs taken. Many Indian photographers actually specialize in this pre-matrimonial ad-like photography. These mostly photoshopped photographs are then sent off to fool prospective grooms. It is should be called false advertising by any other name. Then she has the audacity to call it pesky and tiring. She then turns her ire on prospective grooms who do not get their photos taken professionally, and send in selfies or casual photos. If anything, they should be applauded for honesty. The author of the post wonders if men are too busy watching shitty movies on the weekends to go and get their pictures taken.

The subsequent section is dedicated to the criticism of the bio-data the prospective grooms must send in to the bride’s family. This is supposed to be an advertisement of their academic credentials and earning power. The author of the post criticizes them for their bad composition. Interestingly however, she talks only about three types of academic credentials. These are most sought after ones.

The first one is the graduate from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). These public-funded universities are considered to be the premier institutions of technical education in India. Every year graduates are snagged from their campuses by recruiters from multi-national firms. The salaries offered to these kids are actually reported as news by national newspapers. India produces only 10,000 of these graduates annually. Given that the IITs have a male-to-female ratio of 10:1, these men make some of the most eligible bachelors in India and among the Indian diaspora. Every year millions of aspirants (mostly male), try to crack the entrance exam. Many among them go ronin for 2-3 years after graduating high school and study everyday for hours at cram schools, only a small fraction of them make it. The suicide rate among these ronins is quite high. It is understandable that most girls won’t be interested in wasting 2-3 years of their youth on such silly pursuits, especially when they are confident (or deluded) enough to think that they will be able to snag one of these sex-starved geeks when they graduate.

The second one is the engineer with an MBA. People who fail to get into the IITs tend to buff up their CVs by adding an MBA. Though the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are preferred, but any MBA school will almost double the salary of an engineer with some work experience. Several MBA schools have popped up in recent years to cater to this crowd. But in the end your salary is determined by whether you went to good expensive school or a cheap one. Even the public-funded IIMs charge up to INR 2200000 (USD 31,000) for a two year post-graduate course. This obviously requires a loan on the part of most Indians.

The third is the doctor of medicine (not to be confused with dentists or practitioners of traditional medicines). The author admits that she is under a lot of pressure to marry a doctor. This is mostly because India is facing a scarcity of doctors, thus having a doctor in the family would provide quick access to the medical fraternity in these days when getting an appointed can be very difficult. This would also reduce the extended family’s medical bills in this age of soaring healthcare costs, by providing free medical consultations to all her relatives. However, the doctors prefer to marry other doctors, failing which they prefer stay-at-home trophy wives. These wives are expected to hold the fort while the docs are off doing 12-hour shifts and doing private consultations on the side to pay off 10-12 years worth of student loans. (See, a site where gold-diggers go to seek doctors.) This irks the author to no end. (It is doubtful these accomplished men would have time or care to get a photograph taken professionally.)

It should be obvious by now that men with these credentials are as rare as the Abominable Snowman in the crowd that is the Indian marriage market. On top of that, the Abominable Snowman must also of the same sub-caste as the bride. This makes them even rarer. Thus, these rare specimen of the Indian male must be lured with wafts of big wads of Gandhi notes, in other words – dowry. The dowry culture is frequently blamed on greedy men by feminists. But the question is that can these men, who have spent years acquiring these degrees and probably are still paying off their student loans, afford not to be greedy? One may criticize a poor farmer for asking a hefty dowry, but can these men resist themselves a handful when a platter of notes are being offered to them. (Within every sub-caste such a scarcity exists, which allows second-choice men to also somewhat ramp up their values.) The author describes how families sell their properties to pay for the dowry. She may be excused for overstating the value of dowry these sort of men usually require. Most dowries nowadays are given disguised in the form of bridal gifts to the newly-wed couple due to strict anti-dowry laws. Although many smart men nowadays pay for the wedding and avoid taking any form of dowry, even a small amount accepted from the bride’s family can be used as leverage. It is also not unusual for dowry charges to be made up even in cases where none was accepted.

After a groom fulfills all the basic requirements, his and prospective bride’s horoscopes are sent to the family astrologer who then must approve of the match. If the stars align and the match happens, his family is invited to meet the prospective bride’s family and the bride herself. Usually the groom doesn’t attend these initial meetings as the compatibility of the families is more important. The man is expected to be a workhorse, raising kids and taking of the his aging parents. The author describes how to doll-up for these meetings and emphasizes on keeping the makeup balanced – not too ugly and not too slutty. She advises women on wearing clever dresses and contraptions like body shapers to hide the fact that they are fat. Soon afterwards she mocks the grooms who come to the follow-up meetings with balding heads and potbellies. The rotting cadaver of irony can be spotted at this point.

Now she describes how the groom’s family use these meetings to further advertise the man to the point of overselling. (It is not unusual for suspicious women to hire detective agencies to spy on the groom and check veracity of these claims.) She also advises women to set their Facebook feeds to private much before these meetings. She is disgusted by how she is not asked about her academic achievements and instead is asked about her cooking skills and hobbies. The author expresses her dread of becoming an unfortunate trophy wive of a rich smuck.

By the end of the post, it becomes extremely difficult for a man to sympathize with the author. One would think that Reddit /r/India, which is by majority male, would be disgusted and repulsed by the post. However, the white-knights applauded the post and one even bestowed Reddit Gold on the post. Only one user Hades_Lost_Soul pointed out the obvious fact that although the author was portraying herself as a victim who must adhere to high standards to get married, but she herself does not have the self-awareness to see that she holds men to a much-much higher standard. The author doesn’t reveal whether she is an engineer from an IIT or a doctor, to deserve such a highly sought match. (May be she has looks of a divine apsara but it is doubtful, as aspara are not known for wearing body shapers.) A man fulfilling her criteria would do better by marrying an orphan or the daughter of a laborer, he is more likely to receive some gratitude from them, which is unlikely from someone like the author.

A lot of upper middle-class problems described by the author would be solved if women like her were to marry down or marry at par. But unfortunately hypergamy is genetically ingrained in women. They will continued to be kinky girlfriends for rich bad boys and then pine for engineers or doctors in their post-wall years. And these men continue to be labelled as greedy for not marrying down without being lured by hefty dowries.

Indian government to stregthen marital rape laws

After a bit of flip-flop, the ruling BJP government has agreed to strengthen the laws criminalising marital rape. In this post, we will examine the legal and social aspects behind this controversy in brief.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy regarding marital rape in India. The feminist and liberal groups have been demanding that it should be criminalised. The conservatives have been arguing it should not be criminalised.

Some people may get the impression that in India, husbands are allowed to rape their wives. But, it is untrue. The Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code can be used to prosecute marital rape. The Section 498A is typically used to try dowry harassment cases. But it is actually there protect women from “cruelty” from their husbands or his relatives. Here, the broadly-defined “cruelty” may refer to mental or physical cruelty. This, thus, includes marital rape.  Under this law, the maximum penalty is 3 years imprisonment and fine.

Another law, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, explicitly criminalises “physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse” of women. The judge under this law can even evict the man from the shared marital property (which usually means his own house). This law has a maximum penalty of 1 year imprisonment for violating court’s orders and fine. You may have noticed that both these laws protect women only and are not gender neutral. Both of these laws are frequently misused by educated women to threaten their husbands. However, many real victims of marital rape are simply not aware of these laws.

The current cause of controversy is around a particular clause of the rape law, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. The Section 375 is the Indian law that defines rape. It has a maximum penalty of life and a minimum penalty of 7 years. But, it has an exception clause, that a husband cannot be tried under this law, as long as the wife is not a child bride under the age of 16. The feminist and liberal groups are demanding that this clause be removed and marital rape be brought at par with general rape. Some of them think that without this, women who are victims of marital rape, will otherwise have no legal recourse. This is untrue as I have already mentioned two laws addressing marital rape above. Thus,  the actual debate is not whether we should criminalise marital rape, but whether marital rape should be punished under the same law as stranger rape.

This exception clause dates back to the British era. In 1889, a 10-year-old girl called Phulmoni Dasi died after her adult husband had intercourse with her. The British set the minimum age of consent to 12. Thus, as long as a bride was above 12, it was not considered rape by the British.  The age of consent was later raised to 16. (Now, it is 18.)

In 2000, the Law Commission had not recommended criminalising marital rape. However, after the 2012 Delhi gang rape, this became a big issue of debate. The Justice Verma Committee in its report had recommended deleting the exception clause. (The Committee had also recommended making male rape illegal, but it was shot down by feminists.) The UPA government passed a stronger law against rape, however decided to leave marital rape laws untouched.

After the BJP government was elected in May 2014, these was little hope of rekindling the debate, as BJP draws a lot of supporters from conservative Hindus. Traditional Hindus view marriage as sacred and don’t like any laws changing its definition. In October 2014, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reported that 6,590 women in 100,000 were “forced them to have sexual intercourse against their will.” This is a frequently stated statistics on marital rape. (The women’s questionnaire used in the survey looked like this, see question no. 1107).

(I find it amusing that they call themselves the National Family Heath Survey, because they primarily interview women between the age of 15-49. In the 4th NFHS, 625,014 women were surveyed and only 93,065 men. The men’s questionnaire was loaded with questions like “When is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife in?” or “What do you think a husband should do if a woman refuses to have sex with him?” So, you can forget about getting any data about male victims of  rape or domestic violence from them.)

In April 2015, BJP Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told the upper house Rajya Sabha that, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, the mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament.” This statement led to a lot of angry blog posts, tweets and opinion pieces.

In late April 2015, Preetika Rana writing for the Wall Street Journal trained her guns right at the ruling party with the article “Modi Government’s Reasons for Why Marital Rape is Not a Crime.” In May 2015, Hindustan Times published the article “When no is not an option: Marital rape denies right over her body” by Poulomi Banerjee which cited an UNFPA survey that “nearly one in five women interviewed spoke of having faced sexual violence from a partner in an intimate relationship”. (I couldn’t find the details of the methodology used in that survey.) In June 2015, an opinion piece titled “When even rape is legal” by one Kanika Sharma and Aashish Gupta appeared in The Hindu, which cited the above NFHS data.

In April 2016, Minister for Women Maneka Gandhi said the government was seriously considering criminalising marital rape. This is an interesting move, since in India, men cannot be raped by definition, and the MPs of this very government have blocked a bill to decriminalise same-sex acts, another British-era relic.

I would very be interested in how this law would be designed, as it would have to pander to both the feminist groups and BJP’s right-wing Hindu vote bank. It would probably give a lot of legal firepower to women, as many laws in recent years have (like the dowry laws, domestic laws and workplace harassment laws). These laws are usually designed to be too strict on men and lead to a lot of misuse by sly women. They usually don’t benefit the actual victims, as they are usually too uneducated to know about them. In many cases, the perpetrator is also equally uneducated, for the knowledge of the law to serve as a deterrent. In the end, most of these laws primarily end up as means of legal terrorism against educated men by educated women. There is now a strong need that such laws should be designed such as to prevent their misuse.

I will keep you updated on any news about this marital rape issue.

Arranged marriage still beats dating in India

Recently on 2 April 2016, the Indian newspaper The Hindu published an article titled “Running in the family“. In this post, I will make some observations about the article.

The article opens by quoting an excerpt from the women’s self-help book – Do you Know Any Good Boys?: A Woman’s Guide to the Arranged Marriage by Meeti Shroff-Shah. The excerpt mentions how the authoress was asked by a relative of a prospective groom if she can cook. The author’s reaction to this was to outrage internally, “If I were a little kid, this could be the moment I flung a toy car at his face.” I think the reaction was rather excessive. Good cooking skill is an essential attribute that almost every men looks in a wife, usually after beauty and youth. I think all men should also have good culinary skills to be more well-rounded and less dependent on women. The article also mentions that the authoress went through about 40 prospective men before she found a man willing to marry her. Quite amusing, if you think about it, since she can admittedly cook only pasta. I am not surprised at all. She probably had very high requirements for her man. I pretty sure her one of make or break questions was: “What do you do?” It is code for “How much do you earn?” Anyway this book seems like a bag of laughs. I will probably buy a copy.

The article then mentions that only 5% of Indians marry outside their castes. I have mentioned it my last post. Many love marriages are actually same-caste marriages. I have observed many women discreetly asking about the caste before they start dating the man. This ensures that there is less resistance from the families at the time of marriage. Thus, even while dating, family is frequently on the mind of the young people. Many people also date the person suggested by the parents before they get married. This they call the “arranged-cum-love marriage”. This kind of arranged dating is also gaining popularity in India. Most young people in urban India nowadays, have at least some say in their marriage, as opposed to the old days when basically most of the decisions were made the parents. The article also mentions that all this is an illusion of choice as various limiters still exists on their choices, such as caste, class, horoscope, food (omnivores vs. vegetarians) etc.

The article mentions to a study from the National Institute of BioMedical Genomics (NIBMG). The study by Analabha Basua, Neeta Sarkar-Roya, and Partha P. Majumdera was accepted by the PNAS in December 2015. The study took DNA samples from 367 unrelated individuals. According to the study, endogamy (marrying within caste) started around 1500 years ago for higher castes. The study also found that male members of higher castes had offspring with lower castes for sometime. But the reverse was not observed, indicating female hypergamy based on caste or higher castes misusing their power. The Marathas continued to draw warriors from the peasant castes, but eventually the warrior castes or the Kshatriyas closed themselves off from the lower castes around 1,100 years ago. Given that the caste system has existed for hundreds of years, it will be slow to fall.

The article also mentions the rising popularity of dating apps. But notes that most people use to apps to experiment and then settle into an arranged marriage. Mostly because there are no established rules and no experiences of elders to draw on in dating. For some dating comes first, and arranged marriage is a last resort if they are unable to a mate by dating. Harrish Iyer’s case has been mentioned, who is gay and whose mother is looking for a boy for him to marry.

Either way the basic rules that I have mentioned in my past posts still apply. If you fulfil those criteria, it will be relatively easy for you find a girlfriend or wife.

Caste, dowry and the illusion of scarcity


Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In my last post, I talked about the origin of dating and the female mate selection strategy. Some of you may have thought that, the traditional Indian marriage is better where parents search for matches for their children. In this post, I will talk about the traditional marriage market in India and try to dispel some of the myths about it.

First of all, the traditional marriage market in India is highly fragmented, due to multiple linguistic divisions, religious sects, castes, sub-castes, gotras, horoscopes, etc. Within each segment there exists hypergamy i.e., the tendency to marry up, especially among the female’s family. In the past, almost all decisions regarding marriage was in the hands of the parents. Nowadays, the parents mostly screen the prospective matches and the man or the woman has the final say. While hunting for prospective matches, parents frequently look for a “good family”. This term usually has different meanings for the parents of the man and of the woman. For the man’s parents, it usually means a family belonging to the same caste segment and economic strata as them. But the girl’s parents, it is just another term for hypergamy.

The woman’s parents typically look for a prospective groom who is more educated than the woman and has a higher income. If the woman is less educated and unemployed, then the man’s education and wealth is compared to the girl’s father’s or to that of other relatives. Now, there may be several men fitting these two criteria for a women in their town or city, but the additional criteria like religious sect, caste, sub-caste, etc. reduces the number of prospective grooms. Thus, an artificial scarcity is created. This raises the value of the grooms greatly. The parents of the grooms also apply several of their own criteria while bride-hunting, but there remains a degree of flexibility. Due to the perceived scarcity of grooms, there occurs a bidding war in the form of dowry price.

The concept of dowry may sound counter-intuitive because of the high male to female gender ratio in India. The value of females should ideally be higher in such a society. In China, for example, there is the concept of bride price, where the man pays a hefty sum to the woman’s family. But in India with its segmented market and artificial scarcity, there is still dowry. Even though asking for dowry it now illegal, it may exist in the form of bridal gifts given by the woman’s family at the time of her marriage. These gifts usually include whatever it is thought to be essential to start a new household, like a vehicle, a television, kitchen appliances, furniture etc. Expensive jewellery, clothes, watches etc. may be included. Sometimes it may also include an apartment or house. The high cost of dowry has been one of the primary cause of female infanticide in India since the medieval times. This continues today in the form of female foeticide.

Usually, the tradition of dowry is blamed on the greed of men, but it is actually a side-effect of hypergamy. The castes were originally based on occupations. They are from an era, when the son inherited the father’s property and followed him into his vocation. They don’t carry much meaning in today’s urban society where public education is almost free and there are a variety of occupations which are open to all. Rural regions in India still cling strongly to caste though. Yet, caste lives on the minds of many Indian parents in urban. There can be only so many educated and high earning men within their sub-caste. Since they are unwilling to look outside their own sub-caste, they are forced to raise their bids. This usually done by increasing the dowry or value of the bridal gifts. Some parents spend hundreds of thousands of rupees educating their daughter. The degree is almost never used as the woman becomes a trophy wife. This is another way of raising value of one’s daughter in a groom-scarce market. Some states which introduced affirmative policies in their universities, like reservation of seats for women or subsidised fees, saw their plans backfiring as they essentially created factories for trophy wives instead of empowering women.

Men also face scarcity as there are also a fixed number of young beautiful women in their sub-caste. The men who are the bottom of the barrel in their segment have to be flexible and look outside their traditional criteria. In states like Haryana, where the bride-shortage is acute due to the skewed gender ratio, men are looking for brides in states as far as Kerala. The men who are the cream of their segment, can easily get a bride. But, sometimes after marriage they may feel that the dowry given was below their worth and may demand more. In some other cases, many men enter marriage without knowing how much marriage costs and find that their dowry money doesn’t cover it beyond the first few years. This sometimes results in the bride’s torture, suicide or murder.

I am not absolving the men who do these things. But, a lot of the problems caused by the artificial scarcity can be fixed, if it were not for the caste system and hypergamy. For example, if they are unable to find a good groom in their own segment, parents could look for a similar groom in a lower caste or settle for groom earning a lower salary. With the blurring of caste lines, we will some of these happening and the segments disappearing. At the same time, the dating market will continue to expand. But, hypergamy will continue to exist as its genetic for women. According to a survey, only 5.4 percent of the total of marriages in India are inter-caste marriages. Some of the government policies such as reservation of university seats and public-sector jobs for lower castes, may have slowed the downfall of the caste system. Some lower caste women from those scheduled castes may find themselves reluctant to marry into a higher caste, because their offspring would lose those benefits.

At the end of this all, Indian weddings tend to have the most elaborate and expensive rituals and traditions. For the middle class, a wedding can wipe out years of savings of the couples’ parents. It is typically way more expensive for the woman’s family. Thus, many prefer a boy child to save on wedding and dowry costs later. Indian weddings tend to be an event to show off to the neighbours, relatives and acquaintances. Some banks even offer wedding loans but for small amounts. The total amount that a middle class couple will save, if they simply get married in a family court, can usually serve as the down payment for a house or apartment. But, most Indian parents are concerned about their prestige rather than their savings. Frequently, the groom’s family claim to be offended if the party thrown by the bride’s family is not lavish enough. In my opinion, the groom should insist on getting a court marriage and use the total money saved from his and the women’s parents to buy a house or make an investment. A single dinner feast with close friends and families should be enough.

So as you saw, traditional marriage market has its own share of headaches. The dating market may erase some of the lines but will create more competition. In upcoming posts, I will talk about these topics in greater detail.