If I got a penny for every friend of mine whose partners were turned down by their parents, I could finally go on that Euro trip that I have been planning for five years now…actually seven. The thing with being twenty-five is that most of your friend circle is of the ‘marriageable age’ and although your relationships never lasted long enough to bring up ‘that question’, you always know these couples who are just right for each other. I often covetously admired their relationships and wondered how blissful it may seem to have found your significant other.
I know couples who were just right for each other – ‘sanely’ in love, great jobs and enviable compatibility. One friend of mine envisioned her entire wedding; everything was picture perfect– the dresses, the food, the venue, the honeymoon, until the day the girl decided to tell her parents about the relationship. The picture-perfect wedding plans fell apart when two critical questions were asked – what’s his caste and what’s his ‘rashee’? I was told that their castes and ‘rashees’ didn’t match; in fact, they were of the two opposite castes – the Brahmins and the Shudras and there was no way in hell that they could be united. I thought 67 years of Independence and innumerable History and Civics lessons would have done away with this discrimination, but I couldn’t be more wrong. So, some 365 days and 462 melodrama sessions later, their relationship was formally and finally butchered by their family.
I would run out of fingers if I try to list all my friends and colleagues whose perfectly beautiful relationships were forcibly broken by their parents for one of these reasons - their families did not like each other, their castes were different, their horoscopes did not match, or they simply did not like their children’s partners. Indian parents believe that they love their children way too much to ever take a wrong decision for them. They raise their children believing that they are always right and that their children can never grow old enough to take mature and informed decisions. I remember having conversations around love marriages with my mother. They always ended with her bringing up her the infamous diary of ‘101 love marriages that failed’ and reciting case after case of picture-perfect marriages that ended in either divorce or separation.
I tried to understand why Indian parents tend to be so controlling when it comes to their children’s love life and I came up with a hypothesis based on my observations. I think Indian parents are way too involved in every decision that their children take – the courses they should opt for, the friends they should make, the dresses they should wear and most importantly the career choices they should make. Not surprisingly, the control does not end at determining the career and goes on in selecting the right life partner for their children. In event of their children selecting their life partner without their discretion, the parents are understandably heartbroken. They are not able to make peace with the fact that their kids, who did not even buy their underwear without their approval, have taken one of their biggest life decisions without their consent. ‘When did they grow so old’, ‘I raised you for 25 years, why do I not get to decide your life partner’, ‘I know how marriages work better than you do’, ‘Why would I not want the best for you’, are common arguments that the parents bring up with whenever the ‘I am in love and I want to marry him’ situation comes up.
Control is often confused with love and emotional manipulation is justified because ‘I love you too much to want anything but the best for you’. Indian parents make their children’s marriage more about finding the right child-in-law and less about finding the right partner for their children; them liking the suitor becomes more important than their child liking his partner. The situation is analogous to your friends not approving of your date; while it is good to have a date whom your friends love which would mean that you can all hang out together and have more fun, it should not determine whom you end up dating. Even though we share a lot in common with our social circles, we are unique individuals and the choice of selecting a partner should lie with us and not our social circles.
I often come across people who would voluntarily break up with their partners because they don’t want to hurt their parents. ‘This is the only thing that my parents have asked me for’, ‘They asked me to choose between them or him’, ‘I cannot betray my parents’, and the list goes on. We have been conditioned to believe that sacrifice is the essence of love and that standing up against our parents or having healthy debates are blasphemy. We have never questioned our parents’ views or believes and most of the times happily adopted their beliefs’ as ours. Hence, when we suddenly stand up for our choice when it comes to our life partner, it is not only hard for our parents but also for us to accept this anomaly. We, together with our parents have fostered a culture where dissent and arguments are considered sacrilegious and obedience is an essential component of love.
At the expense of my mom cutting the phone on me sometimes and me throwing my phone in a fit of rage on other times, I have dared to venture into the uncomfortable conversation zone with my mother on a multitude of occasions. I have spoken to her about love, sex, marriages, relationships, my expectations out of life and my perception of the right and the wrong. Even though very few of our conversations concluded fruitfully, I still feel that they helped in establishing healthy dissent in the family. These conversations help in transforming the family structure from that of a dictatorship to one of a democracy. They help in establishing that rebellion is not necessarily evil but could be an essence of growth and progress.
I think it is important to separate love from conformance and respect from submission. I think it’s high we stop glorifying (wo)man-children to be the epitome of parent-child love and start respecting the fact that adults can take important decisions on their own, including that of choosing a life partner. I hope we can together take small steps to make parent-child love less suffocating and more liberating. We can begin with having more conversations with our parents and bridging the ‘taboo’ gap – talk more earnestly about our lives, our dreams, and our understanding of love, happiness and grief. We should let our parents know that their worldviews may sometimes be wrong and their perceptions flawed, and together we can help each other grow into our better selves.
Hopefully, we can work together to create a more tolerant and accepting country for our children and maybe if we try too hard, for our younger siblings. I believe conversation is pivotal in creating an environment more conducive to healthier relationships. I hope we encourage more conversations, both as children and as parents. If not, there are always these new dating apps on the store that let you filter by caste (I am not kidding). My Jain friend confessed to having used the caste filter for finding her latest date, “If I am not dating a girl of the same caste, then I feel that my parents will anyway not approve of her and the relationship will never last!”.