How do young Indian Americans navigate the traditional expectations of arranged marriages?

By Allyna Mota Melville, Medill, Immigrant Connect

[Read related Immigrant Connect stories – Arranged marriage: A tradition endures among Indian-Americans and Digital disruption: Arranged marriages adapt for Indian Americans]

Most American kids don’t want their parents to have any hand in their love lives. In India, however, it’s almost expected.

Karishma Naha*, a sophomore at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, respects her parents’ story. Their marriage was arranged. That doesn’t mean it’s for her.

“They pretty much said they would be good with marrying each other after two to three months of getting to know each other,” Naha says. Her parents, from Andhra Pradesh, India, immigrated to the United States more than twenty years ago. She and her nine-year-old sister have lived in the U.S. all their lives, and are keenly aware of the cultural differences in having parents married in what has become to them an unconventional way.

“The stigma [of getting married without parental involvement] makes sense—it’s an uncomfortable thing to do,” Naha says. “My aunt, even after twenty-plus years, still hates her husband only because she believes she was forced into the marriage.”

Raj Naha*, her father, sees a greater mobility in the arrangement process now than there was in his time—especially through India’s centuries-old caste system.

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“[The caste] is traditionally based on who you are, and what your social practice or profession is,” Raj Naha says. “Within the very specific caste, it revolves around an expectation of different milestones in your life.” One of these, he says, was marriage.

Typically, these marriages would occur within a specific area, so there are similar behaviors with respect to religion and food—and these hold the strongest power in a match. However, Raj Naha says, this process is community driven and non-binding.

“It’s arranging to see if there’s something there, and then the parents take a back seat,” he explains. “It makes sure that 87 percent of the process is already taken care of.”

Looking to his daughters, Raj Naja would like to keep some of the more casual aspects of the approved match system, mainly that he knows who the man is.

“He can be Indian or non-Indian … and I would love to know the families and I do not see that as a wrong thing,” he says.

“My parents have never pressured me into thinking I need to have an arranged marriage,” Karishma Naha adds. “There aren’t many ‘matches’ out there that my mom approves of anyways.”

Priyanka Godbole, a Northwestern sophomore, doesn’t anticipate that an arranged marriage is in her future. Her parents, who have been married since 1995, met in a way she describes as “speed dating.”

Her parents’ parents were like her parents who “met with a bunch of people to see who they would get along with,” Godbole says. “When it happened, it was super fast—they went on dates for a month and then they got married.”

Like the Nahas, Godbole says her parents take a back seat on her love life.

“They know I’m basically white,” Godbole jokes. “They pretty much tell me I can do anything I want.” Even when “boys are being dumb,” they refuse to intervene with any arranging.

“It isn’t really a big thing except for in rural India,” Godbole says.

However, 74 percent of young Indians prefer an arranged marriage over a free-choice one, according to a story in India Today that cited a survey by IPSOS, an international consulting firm. Raj Naha sees this as nearly unchangeable, saying that “it’s in the DNA.”

“This doesn’t change this quickly. There is no revolution against arranged marriages,” he says. “The hybrid system is the best of both worlds … flexibility with avoiding some unknowns.”

The prevalence of the practice on the Indian subcontinent is not lost on Karishma Naha.

“My mom still actively looks for matches for my cousin [who lives in India],” she says. “I definitely think that if we grew up there, she would be doing the same for me.

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*Some of the names have been changed to respect people’s privacy.

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