To live with thee and be thy love
December 26, 2017 3:36 PM   Subscribe

" 'Love = Destroy life of many people who belong to you,' Dawinder texted me one evening. Later, another message came in: 'What is the point of any of this?' " Writing for Harper's, Mansi Choksi explores what's at stake when a northern Indian couple marries for love - which is permitted by law but not by tradition. Social consequences can be severe. Honor killings, for instance, go virtually ignored by the federal government, in part because politicians are hesitant to anger khaps, local councils of unelected elders who enforce traditional rules of the caste system.

In Neetu and Dawinder's case, their marriage required Neetu to drug her parents so that they could flee to Delhi, where they took refuge at a shelter called Love Commandos. But their problems were only beginning. Neetu's narrative in particular is very sad, and serves as a reminder that feminism has a long way to go for Indian women of working class and/or lower-caste status.
posted by desert outpost (12 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
[Folks, having the meta-conversation about How Metafilter Talks About X doesn't belong here. Let's focus on the actual article. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:22 PM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's a great article. I hope they have the happy ending they deserve.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:01 PM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is heartbreaking. The cast system is something that I find extremely difficult to understand, being raised in a very western worldview. A part of me wants to accept that, okay, it's a cultural thing and not my place to judge. On the other hand, the brutality evinced here is disgusting and I'm struggling to contextualize it.

I'd love to hear from any Indian MeFites who could shed some light here.
posted by Alensin at 6:15 PM on December 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe it's a better use of your time to do some research and scholarly reading as to the history and cultural nuances surrounding the caste system rather than expect a South Asian person to come in here to defend, explain, or denounce the system on behalf of all South Asians.
posted by Karaage at 8:54 PM on December 26, 2017 [13 favorites]

The Indian media has also followed the story of a young woman Hadiya, her marriage, her conversion to Islam and her right to make her own decisions quite closely lately, which is also a pretty fascinating legal/ethical/personal quandry, at least from my insider-outsider perspective.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:05 PM on December 26, 2017

Guilty as charged. I apologize for demanding explanations and general hand-ringing in that comment.
posted by Alensin at 9:25 PM on December 26, 2017

I know an Indian woman who met her husband in grad school in the US. They didn't get married for years because he was from a lower caste. They're married now but I understand that it was ultimately still against the wishes of their families. They still live and work in the States; last I heard years ago her family was still angry about it.

Now, I knew those familial rifts were a possibility--sort of like marrying outside one's religion or ethnicity. Which, of course, you can pretty much find in families in any culture. But I didn't realize that honor killings were still a threat. Granted, while any death is horrible, 251 in a country of 1.3 billion, when maybe 15% of marriages are "love match" marriages--well, it isn't exactly an epidemic.

The Love Commandos organization is one of those really interesting examples of the spaces that form when older traditions clash with new ones and technology gets integrated in between. Like, when it comes to arranged marriages the Internet has opened up a whole new world. It's a lot easier to get to know someone in a "proper" setting if you can Skype instead of having to travel to their place or them to yours while both of your are supervised. Your social network also gets a lot wider--your choices still come from within that network, but now there's a lot more options through the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, rather than just the friend-of-a-friend.

it's a cultural thing and not my place to judge

I think it is possible for one to recognize how a cultural practice evolved and the role it plays in a society and still acknowledge that it is extremely shitty. Practices like FGM and child marriages are rooted in genuine issues of economic and social survival, but that doesn't mean that one can't call them fucked up and advocate for a society where they don't have a place ethically, socially, or economically.

That said, I think the primary issue with the practice of arranged marriages in most cultures is not the concept of arranged marriage, but the social pressures to do so and the inequalities and domestic violence those pressures bring along with them. I think there's already been posts about this on the Blue, but there are legit arguments to be made that arranged marriages have upsides that love marriages don't.
posted by schroedinger at 10:40 PM on December 26, 2017 [13 favorites]

What a sad situation.

Just because something is cultural, doesn't mean it can't be fucked up. My great grandmother was the first generation in her family to not have her feet bound as a child and I think it's great that cultural tradition is all but extinct.
posted by dazed_one at 12:59 AM on December 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

One of the sad things about this story is that this couple were obviously very young, and did not actually know each other particularly well. In a society that allowed young people to make their own decisions, and treated women as people, these two might have married—or not married—in a year or three, after having had an opportunity to actually get to know each other. Their lives could have been enriched by their experience of attraction to each other without being immediately narrowed, and endangered, by that attraction.

This is why I think the love marriage v arranged marriage framing is not that helpful in thinking about these issues. My cousins and friends who had arranged marriages had just as much leisure and freedom to think about the decision as my cousins and friends who fell in love. The problem here is not about the motive for marriage—prudential, romantic, something in-between—but the total absence of freedom surrounding the decision to marry or not-marry (or even to interact with a member of the opposite sex, in these rural communities). These kids are just trapped in a social system that doesn’t offer them any autonomy at all, unless they physically escape it and run away to urban India (and that then strips them of all social support). Caste is only a small piece of the story. The anger in the community comes from any defiance or show of autonomy by the young, whether in selecting a different-caste partner or a partner who is not pre-approved for some other reason. Look at the recent awful case in Pakistan. There was no issue of caste there; those two children were killed by their families purely for being so disgraceful as to act by themselves in choosing a partner.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:24 AM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

If aliens are looking down on humanity, charting our progress and characteristics, one thing they will have noted is our inexhaustible capability in every culture and nation for subjugating each other according to the ancient principle of Because It's Always Been That Way, That's Why.
posted by delfin at 5:34 AM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I think Aravis76 really has the heart of the matter. It’s not about love marriage is versus practical marriages. A lot of practical marriages turn out fine, and are entered into voluntarily even in America now. The problem is the lack of choice, which doesn’t allow the understanding to make that choice reasonable and possible. I really appreciate how the reporter lingered on the family, and didn’t end the story in any of the easy places, where the narrative would’ve been simple. We don’t know that this would’ve been a happy couple, if they had been allowed to marry. It might be that a year or two of open courtship would’ve made them realize they were not right for each other. But the forbidden nature and secrecy brings people more strongly together than they would ordinarily be. It reminds me a little bit of combat friendships, but at least with combat friendships, you don’t have to live with the person afterwards.
posted by corb at 9:21 AM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I read this when posted, and Neetu has haunted me ever since. It breaks my heart knowing that she's out there, pregnant and vulnerable, trapped by a system that denies her support, surrounded by people trying to put her in her place, and denied even her husband's comfort.

Dawinder engineered this whole situation, and he's entitled to be angry at the terrible consequences. But I'm so frustrated that he's taking that anger out on the wife he moved mountains to marry.

I keep thinking, god, I hope she's okay-- then realizing, she's not. There's not the slightest chance that she's okay. What a terrible, terrible price to pay for love.
posted by headspace at 1:31 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

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