This Article is From Mar 19, 2013

Blog: Happily single in India? Don't count on it

Blog: Happily single in India? Don't count on it
"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.


"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. 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 )

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

(This blog was first published on Reuters website on March 7)

© Thomson Reuters 2013