Indian women may be shedding their clichéd demure image, but when it comes to matters of choosing life partners they still opt for the traditional, conventional ways. According to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), 2011-12, a significant share of women in the country continue to get married without even the most basic forms of communication with their to-be-spouses before their wedding day.

Consider this: only half of the women in the age group of 15-32 years who were married as of 2011-12, had interacted with their spouses in person or through phone or email or had even seen a picture, reveals the survey.

The numbers were even worse in the case of women of the older generation. In some categories, only about one in six women have had some form of interaction with their to-be-spouses before wedding.

Expectedly, a higher share of urban women has interacted with their to-be husbands. In rural India, less than half of the married women had any form of communication with their partners.

According to Ravinder Kaur, professor of sociology at IIT Delhi, this may be because the idea of dating before marriage is still not accepted, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, and arranged marriage continues to be more prevalent.

“Often it may be that people are hesitant to admit that the couple had a love marriage and so they instead answer that they had no communication prior to the marriage. It becomes a question of the family’s honour... but now things are changing, especially when the marriage is between two communities of the same class and stature," Kaur said.

As seen from the chart, a higher share of the younger generation is now breaking this trend.

Higher age of marriage

That there is more communication before marriage now could be also owing to women now getting married at an older age. As per United Nations statistics, the mean age of marriage in India as of 2011 was approximately 21 years. This is higher than the mean age of 19.3 years in 1991.

IHDS data shows that while an increasing proportion of women are now delaying marriage, the mean age of marriage for women in India continues to remain low.

As of 2011-12, almost 41% of the married women in the age group of 15-32 years, i.e, the generation born after 1980, were married between 16 and 18 years of age. Over 24% of women in this age group were married between 19 and 21 years of age, and only 11.5% were married between 22 and 25 years.

A research paper by UNICEF in 2011, titled ‘Delaying Marriage for Girls in India: A Formative Research to Design Interventions for Changing Norms’, conducted in Rajasthan, revealed that fathers play a critical role in altering child marriage practices. The survey revealed that poverty was the biggest reason among fathers for pushing for early marriage of girls. Other reasons included social pressure/ chastity, sibling marriage and school dropout or lack of inclination towards education.

Changing attitudes

The good news is that there is a visible change in the attitude towards daughters in the society. For instance, 44.75% of women in urban areas, who have been married at least once, were open to receiving financial support from their daughter in old age, up from 32.8% in 2004-05.

More women were also willing to live with their daughters in their old age, a contradiction to the age-old tradition in India that parents should only live with their sons and not with their married daughters. The percentage of women willing to live with their daughters at later stages in life showed a 10 percentage point increase between 2004-05 and 2011-12.

Rural India proved to be slightly more conservative in this regard, although a similar change in attitude was visible in rural areas too.

Reassuringly, the younger generation of married women were more open to relying on their daughters in their old age. As per Kaur, one reason for this could be that more women are now educated and are earning. “But of course it won’t be uniform across regions. Maharashtra and other southern states would have more such women, while in states such as Bihar, UP and Haryana, such a trend may not be as visible."

This story shows how women are slowly gaining more freedom in issues like choosing their partners or breaking erstwhile taboos of supporting their parents after marriage. Tomorrow, we use data to show how they still have fewer rights than men in terms of choosing to marry or remarry in India. Watch this space.

Close