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.

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.