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August 22, 2020

Indian Matchmaking: The Perks & Pressures of Arranged Marriage

The reality TV show Indian Matchmaking flooded Netflix with popularity this past month and let me tell ya…it’s pretty accurate. As a South Asian Punjabi woman, when I watched it, I was conflicted between laughter and frustration.

The premise of the show is about upper class South Asian singles who are on the hunt for marriages with the help of matchmaker Sima Taparia AKA Sima mami (auntie). Sima mami helps rich eligible bachelors and bachelorettes find suitors for marriage and basically hooks them up on dates throughout the show. When each single is shown a potential partner, Sima mami gives them a “biodata” about each potential date. A biodata is basically a resume describing the person’s occupation, location, age, appearance, height, weight, interests, religion, caste, and more. Crazy right? But yes, biodata’s are real in the South Asian community when searching for a partner. I know this because I have received biodatas before too from potential suitors when I turned 25 (lol). Do you see how SERIOUS marriage is in South Asian culture? Not to mention your status and accomplishments playing a role in who you can and can’t marry. Not sure still? Let me break this down for you.

American weddings on average roughly cost $30,000. South Asian weddings on average cost anywhere starting at $65,000 to 6 figures ($65,000 is a fairly cheap wedding in the culture).

American weddings tend to have about 100-150 guests…that’s a cute cocktail party for South Asians because our weddings usually have up to 500 guests or more.

Traditionally, South Asian parents will discuss their children with other parents they know who have children around the same age to match them up when they are adults. So this means, at birth you could already be promised to marry someone you were arranged with by your parents. Once you are an adult off to married life you go!

Clearly, love does not always play a part or matter in South Asian marriages.

South Asians have an obsession with marriage because it defines their social image. Parents in India feel they are entirely responsible for their children. Their children’s accomplishments solidify the parent’s social ranking within the community. So, of course, the parents will make the decisions about who their children can love and what career path they must go into.

It is disheartening to see that even in 2020, South Asians still define their worth based on relationship status, who they marry, and what career they have. If you are a divorced South Asian woman or marry outside your parent’s wishes, forget it. Your worth is lowered immensely in the more traditional community member’s opinion since the culture is collectivist [prideful in family systems and community]. You have “broken your family” or more importantly, the family name and reputation.

When we really sit down and analyze this, South Asians are perpetuating the idea that “you are not complete unless you have a partner”. ESPECIALLY amongst women in the community.

As a South Asian woman, I can firmly say this is so unjust and wrong. It is time we engage in our own forms of SELF-love, intimate love, and pursue our true passions. I will warn you that it will not be an easy journey when setting boundaries with your traditional South Asian parents, but at some point you have to decide what will make YOU happy. I mean, this is YOUR life after all isn’t it?

You can find duality between being a child of traditional South Asian parents and being autonomous. It’s not impossible!

News flash:

  1. You can live your life in a way that makes you happy and still be a good child.
  2. You can still take advice and guidance from your parents and still realize that parent’s might not always know what is best for you.
  3. You can love your culture, family, and community and speak out against injustices or problematic beliefs.
  4. You can speak up for yourself and still respect your parents.

You do not need to embrace thinking in only black and white beliefs, you can sit in the grey areas as well. There is no benefit to black and white thinking anyways.

Please reach out for therapy services if you are struggling as a South Asian woman. 

Some great resources for us South Asian women to connect more are:

The Indian Feminist

Brown Girl Therapy

The Little Brown Diary

Dil To Dil

Pink Ladoo

Brown Girl Magazine

South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA)