There’s this complaint that many people have against feminists, vegans, right-wing supporters, and really, anyone with an opinion — that they impose these opinions on others. This is why I found truly surprising that the ten people I spoke to for this story, all of whom either don’t want to get married or don’t believe in the institution, don’t force others to think this way. Many of them said that even though they don’t see the point of marriage, they don’t mind it when others express a wish to get married.
There are many reasons why these eight people do not believe in this institution. Meeta Tarani, 21, emphasises that weddings, the superfluous consumerism that comes with them, and the misery it induces in those who cannot afford them, put her off. Michelle Saju, 21, says that she doesn’t appreciate the idea of marriage because of the number of restrictions that come along with it. Seventeen-year-old Shivani Sharma says that she finds dowry and the Indian notion that the girl should move into her in-laws’ house appalling.
Jasmeet Soni, 28, first had this thought last year. “Since I turned 28 and have very well passed the “traditional” age of marriage, I have started considering the practical side of it and if I really want to get into it,” she says. Forty-four-year-old Sanjay Rajoura highlights just how involved third parties are in a matter that should ideally be between two people. “It becomes problematic when you realise that the State has such a big say in your marriage. You have to register it, and even when you want to end it, the State won’t let you go your own way. It tries to persuade you to stay in the institution,” he explains.
For twenty-three-year-old Cynthia Lewis, who doesn’t believe in marriage as an institution but wants it for sentimental purposes, disbelief in this institution began when she listened to her mother complain about her own marriage. For many others, this attitude stemmed from watching the bad experiences of other married people. Their thoughts have been moulded by watching people get out of abusive marriages, witness cousins getting pressured into settling down, and see loved ones insulted for being unable to pay dowry.
Before this change in thought, many of them had a neutral stance towards marriage, didn’t really think about it, or were confused about the rules it involved. Some, such as twenty-two-year-old Amla Pisharody, did want to get married until their stance changed radically. “I thought marriage was a rite of passage because this was a rite of passage for people all the world. But once I started questioning it, I realised that the institution has always been patriarchal and I can’t really be a part of it and be equal,” she explains. Jasmeet, too, imagined that she would get married at “the right age”. But now, she wonders what it is that marriage can offer to her that she cannot get while being unmarried, whether it is love, financial security, or children.
Interestingly, many of them speak about it using the metaphor of a paper or document. “It’s just a piece of paperwork,” says Shivani. “It’s odd to think I want the government to eternally bind me to one man for the rest of my life. I should be able to do that without a paper to say so,” says Eden Dias, 21. “Why is a piece of paper so important?” asks Michelle. “Do I need my partner to sign a particular document because I would like his companionship for a long period of my life?” questions Jasmeet.
None of them face direct pressure from their parents to get married. Maybe this is what allows them to take a step back and question the concept of marriage, as well as the rules that govern it. Most of them say that they know that their parents would like them to settle down; that they drop hints once in a while.
But on the whole, the parents of these people are liberal and want their children to be educated and financially stable before they can take decisions of this sort. “Once in a while, these discussions do come up at the dinner table. My parents have gotten around to the point where they ask me if I have found someone I would like to get married to,” says Jasmeet. Cynthia says that her mother actually hates that she wants to get married.
One of the aspects about marriage that has always baffled me is why it is considered the “next step” in a relationship. Almost all the people I spoke to did not believe that getting married would take their relationships to the next level, unlike what a lot of romantic movies say. “Getting married to meet some sort of traditional expectation, or maybe because you’ve been dating for long enough, or you’re at a certain age, or because your family expects it aren’t good enough reasons to marry someone,” says Shivani. For a lot of people, a live-in setting is a more significant decision than marriage, as is a deeper and more meaningful emotional connection. “The longer we live with the person, the more we discover them, and the more levels we climb up the relationship ladder. I think that’s what matters,” explains Sahil Bhalla, 24.
However, Cynthia has a very different take on this aspect. She says that she does think of marriage as a new level of commitment, but the meaning she attaches to it is different. “I define it more as both of us literally leveling up and making a choice to celebrate our love,” she says. But at the same time, she does not measure the worth of relationships by how long they last. “The point of marriage is not committing to be together forever, but just that you love each other more than anyone else right now. You make each other happy and you want to try and do that for as long as you can,” explains Cynthia.
I asked them if they would believe in the institution of marriage if they could frame its rules themselves. Most of them said no, and perhaps this is because they just don’t perceive it as a milestone they need to achieve. Eden says that she wishes she could eliminate the permanence that comes with marriage and the difficulties involved in ending it. “But maybe that’s the whole point of the institution – making it absolutely impossible to leave it,” she says.
Some of them feel that the institution must be entirely done away with because of how it compromises the position of women. “Marriage only obfuscates basic human rights. And it’s not just India, every country uses marriage as an excuse to rob a woman of her rights. Every government or corporate form still asks for husband/father’s name. It’s f**king ridiculous,” says Cynthia.