Society: the changing narrative of love, sex and marriage in India
We bring you a special anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!'. We asked writers to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes. Ira Trivedi writes about how young Indians have started to believe that love and sex are the main themes that matter in relationships, particularly marriage.brunch Updated: Feb 11, 2015 18:32 IST
The first issue of Brunch in Delhi came out on February 1, 2004. Nine months later, with the launch of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Brunch was introduced to readers there as well. The Delhi Brunch completes 10 years this month.
And so we bring you a special two-part anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!' We asked writers and specialists in their field, to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes.
In this essay, bestselling author Ira Trivedi talks about India's new social revolution in marriage and sexuality and status of women.
The yoke of tradition
A decade ago, my grandfather, Dadaji, took me aside after a family puja, and nervously told me that I should get married quickly because 'women are like balls of dough. If they sit around for too long they harden and make deformed chapattis'. My grandfather believed that a good marriage was like a perfectly round chapatti and to make a skilled, perfectly round one, the dough had to be supple, fresh, and young.
I agreed with Dadaji, and promised him a hasty wedding to a Brahmin boy (an IAS topper if possible). I was his favourite grandchild for a few years, but as years passed and I remained unmarried, I lost my crowning position.
Fortunately in 2014, things have changed significantly. Ten years ago, I would have been considered way beyond my sell-by date, but today it is no longer unthinkable for an Indian woman to be single at 28. Getting married at 18 is considered by most, even by Dadaji, as precocious.
In fact, most recently, I heard reports of Dadaji telling his old classmate in our native village of Etawah, that he was happy that girls were finding their own husbands and that he "doesn't have to run from door to door with birth-charts".
Phenomenon called love marriage
In the past 10 years, the mating game so inherent to Indian society - the game that began with marriage arranged by the family based purely on caste and economics, followed by sex, usually for the first time for both people, and then 'love', if the couple was lucky - has been radically altered.
Love marriage makes up almost 30 per cent of the marriages in urban India today, and is increasing at a sky-rocketing rate. Even arranged marriage has changed. We have gone from the age of newspaper matrimony to the cyber age of shaadi.in, from the age of the pandit to that of the marriage bureau. Even arranged marriage entails a period of courtship, and usually even physical intimacy.
As I travelled the country researching love, marriage and sexuality for my book, India in Love, I spent a significant amount of time on college campuses across India. From the serious bunch of engineers at IIT, to the more carefree campuses of the private colleges, I discovered that today's young Indians have started to believe that love and sex are the main themes that matter in relationships, particularly marriage.
And who would really blame them? They have come of age in the time of Facebook, iPhones, and MTV. Even the most popular Bollywood movies of their times showcase dating and romance as opposed to betrothal and shaadi of those of the past.
Rise of the single woman
The past decade in India (at least in urban India) has been that of women, maybe even the single woman, and the freedom that women have seen economically, and emotionally is a tremendously positive sign.
But a consequence of this has been a breakdown of marriage, and divorce rates across the country have gone up over 100 per cent in India's metros. No longer is marriage the be all and end all of relationships, and divorce is no longer the anathema it used to be. But this has also led to the break-up of families, and perhaps the first generation of Indian children are being raised in single-parent households.
Sex and attitudinal shift
Sexual mores too have been redefined. Never before have Indian women (or men for that matter) been as free about their sexuality. Even in the malls of Indore or Jaipur, we see women wearing shorts and skirts, and feeling safe about it. For the first time, a mainstream movie like Dostana (2008) can bring homosexuality to the golden screen without censorship and more young Indians are receptive to their gay peers than ever before.
Young Indian couples can be seen holding hands and strolling in public parks without prosecution, and even Shah Rukh Khan has given in and kissed on screen. More than anything else, sex is no longer the taboo that it once was, and dialogue has brought sex from out of the bedroom onto the drawing room table.
The unprecedented attitude shift in love, sex and marriage, has led to more fulfilling relationships than those of the past, but has led to multiple crises in society. After all this sort of change, at cyber-speed, is bound to be turbulent.
Repressive forces like khap-panchayats, and sometimes even families and communities try to stop the change by resorting to violence. There is also an over-sexualisation in our consumer culture and this has to some extent led to violence and crime on our streets.
We have miles to go before we reach an equilibrium and there is more strife around love, sex and marriage than ever before, but I can proudly and confidently say that we as a society have evolved in a positive direction and that we are in the midst of major social change, and no one can stop it.
Ira Trivediis a bestselling author. Her latest book India in Love is about India's new social revolution in marriage and sexuality.
From HT Brunch, February 23
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