Story of Indian women who reach the ‘right age to get married’ – comprehensive coverage
There’s No Escaping the Knot for the Indian Woman
An Indian woman could land on the moon, win Olympic medals, cure cancer or scales the heights of Mt Everest, but in all likelihood, the question in the minds of her relatives will be: that’s all fine, but when is she getting married? In the psyche of the average Indian parent, her wedding is the single most important event of a woman’s life. Everything else is secondary.
So what happens when the ‘right age’ comes around? With time, the way Indian women pick their husbands have changed. Earlier, the choice was made entirely by parents and other elder members of the family. It was unthinkable for the woman to have a say in the matter. But these days, it is a joint process, half-arranged, half-love, that is the norm with middle class families. This is true for both men and women. Love marriages have also become acceptable to more Indian families.
In India, men and women don’t get married, boys and girls do. The average age of marriage is India today is on the lower 20s for both men and women, according to Census data. However, the concept of ‘right age to get married’ has been undergoing changes. Statistics show that more women are marrying later in their lives now. Compared to the 2001 data, when the average age when Indians married were 18.3 and 19.3 for men and women respectively, the number has risen to 23.3 and 22.6 respectively. This also means that less number of women are marrying before the legal age of 18.
These are of course, data from relatively affluent classes who educate their daughters and more or less treat them on a par with their sons. However, in the rural areas, almost 69% of women have been found to get married before the age of 16, putting the mean age of first pregnancy at around 19. Even within middle-income groups, at least half the number of women had not had any kind of interaction with their future husbands before the wedding- either through phones, messages or in person. They had not even seen a picture of the man they were going to marry, a 2011-12 data has revealed. This is also true in cases of rural families, actually more so.
It is also worthwhile to note that while states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu have traditionally seen women marry later compared to most other states, the average age in these two states has dropped slightly in the last 9 years. This is a rather worrying development.
There are differences in age of marriage among religious groups as well. A study by the organisation Nirantar has found that Jain (median age of 20.8 years) and Christian (20.6) women tend to marry later, while Muslim and Hindu women (16.7) marry the earliest.
There are still darker realities. Child marriage, that ancient bane that refuses to fade away, ruins many a girl’s life all over the country. This is very definitely the ‘wrong age’ to get married. According to Girls Not Brides, India has the highest number of child brides in the world. Around 47% of girls are married before they reach the legal age, mostly by poverty-stricken families that look at girls as additional burden.
Honour is also an important factor. In fact, it is so important for some that they are ready to kill over it. Even Tamil Nadu, which along with other south Indian societies are seen as progressive societies, has recently been grappling with many cases of honour killing. In states like Haryana, however, honour killings have become usual news.
Coming back to the subject of age, we can observe that despite the rise in median age when men and women get married, the median is still relatively low. Let us analyse some of the issues associated with getting married at too young an age. In many cases, marriage pronounces the end of educational and professional aspirations for women. With early marriages, this mean that they might not have achieved even basic levels of education or ever worked outside their homes even for a day. This can have lasting effects not only on their personal lives, but on the lives of children who come under their care, as they are unable to assist them well in their education.
Marriage is not all romance and roses, as many unmarried people doubtless imagine it to be. It demands lot of work and ability to understand and empathise with each other, as two people with different backgrounds have come together to share a life. Thus, a mature mindset and understanding of human psychology is necessary to make a marriage work. This can only come with age and experience. Often, young girls growing under the shelter and pampering care of their parents are directly replanted to a different household and expected to become mature women overnight. Failing this, their lives become a nightmare or they end up divorced, to the pain of everyone involved.
With really young girls who get married, there are considerable health risks involved as well. Early pregnancies take a toll on their health. Possible risks include high blood pressure, low-weight babies and premature births.
And what happens to women who get to the ‘right age’ but refuse to get married? Or are divorced or widowed? According to data, India today has the largest number of single women in the country, with a 39% increase in the number of single women between 2001 and 2011. Their lives, however, are not easy. Binitha Parikh, who collected data from around 400 single women for a book on living as a single woman in India, found that almost all of them face social stigma because of their unmarried status. They also enjoy less financial security and family support, while growing more vulnerable to sexual harassment. Men in similar situations, although they face pressure from their circles to get married, do not face the institutionalised isolation that women do. In essence, it is bad when you are in, and bad when you are out.