Project India: Hands of Hope

Indian, American brides embrace similar values

By Brooke Hines
Chart Reporter

Wedding bells ring
Wedding bells ring in India on the first days of marriage,
but sometimes from bracelets and ankles in contrast
to America's churchbells.

Deep red sari laced with gold. Mehindi-stained skin. Stage covered with flowers, overflowing with gifts. This is the scene of an Indian wedding reception, where the new couple feeds cake to the mothers-in-law and the entire audience takes pictures with the new bride and groom.

In many cases in India, a traditional Indian woman of marriageable age is arranged with another man of corresponding caste, a dowry is set, a wedding is planned, and the festivities are sometimes expensive enough to put the bride’s father in debt for 10 years. In the most traditional scenarios, the woman will then live with the groom’s family. There, she will be responsible for cooking, cleaning, and bearing children.

Neeru, wife and mother of two, was arranged for marriage at the age of 23. Her family journeyed to Varanasi where they met each other for the first time. When she saw her husband’s eyes, she instantly knew they would be together forever. One month later, they were married.

While serving tea and smiling sweetly, she confided that her marriage was a good match. “My husband is my everything,” she said.

Sadly, not all arranged marriages are as blissful as Neeru’s. It is a bittersweet move for most families when they give their daughter away. Failure to properly perform such a commitment can result in the utmost form of disrespect for a family’s honor. In some cases, the results are tragic.

The expectations put on the bride by her new family sometimes lead to abuse. In the most tragic cases, the woman is killed. These cases are commonly referred to as “bride burnings.” In some cases a kitchen fire is blamed for the death. Then, the family is free to find another wife to serve the family.

Not only is the wedding different, but the development of the marriage sometimes differs as well. While most Americans are taught as a child that marriage comes when one finds love, other cultures have different opinions.

A friend and father of three in Hyderabad described one perspective.

“Indians see respect as the ultimate threshold of marriage,” he said. “When you respect your spouse and honor your dharma (eternal duty), you will grow to love the other person. Like when two frequencies are very different, but after time grow to beat in similar rhythms until you can barely tell them apart.”

Some people in India suggested that divorce in this kind of marriage is less likely than with a marriage declared out of love. Closer to home, some “just know.”

Marissa Fahrig, a 22- year-old student at Missouri Southern, has been married for nearly two years. “We just knew,” said Fahrig, a senior health science major. “We talked about it even before we said we loved each other. We just knew we were going to get married.”

The assurance in her voice was reminiscent of Neeru on the other side of the world.

“At first they weren’t too receptive because I was pretty young, but after they were done lecturing me, they were very accepting,” Fahrig said about her parents’ reaction. “They helped with the wedding and payment.”

Fahrig’s experience is a sharp contrast with Neeru’s marriage. From choosing the time, the meals, the dress, the service and the man, there are entire families invested in the process.

The American perspective on wedding planning may be less of a hassle, and it’s also less of a party. Some Indian wedding festivities last for three days and involve hundreds of guests.

Both views of marriage are considered beautiful in their own right, both holy to the bride and groom, and both easily condemned by the other culture.

The Indian love of family, tradition, and celebration is reflected in their familial involvement, three-day festivities and smorgasbord after the service. In contrast, the American priorities of success, self-determination and time-efficiency could be reflected in their half-hour weddings, classic white dresses and personal decisions.

Such a consideration may reflect how humanity reflects similar needs in different ways

Perhaps Neeru and Marissa would get along nicely, maybe even gush about their husbands in similar fashions. Might this be the beauty of a world separated by oceans and tied together by a common humanity?