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Matrimonial ads point to changing times

Monday 27 September 2004, by KANNAN*K.

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 26: An analysis of the matrimonial advertisements that have appeared in newspapers over the past 50 years shows that marriage patterns in India have undergone a sea change. There is a noticeable shift from an exclusive focus upon the physical attributes of the bride and economic assets of the bridegroom to the intellectual and economic characteristics of the bride and personality-related attributes and career prospects of the bridegroom.

The analysis carried out by a premier Delhi-based consultancy firm and used by the non-government organisation Centre for Social Research (CSR) for secondary research reveals that modernisation has resulted in empowerment of women and change in choice-making thereafter. Mediators such as matrimonial columns and marriage bureaus are playing a very critical role in contributing to the rise of a nationwide and sometimes trans-national system of information and choice-making in the context of marriage.

Another important trend emerging in most Asian countries is the rising age of marriage. The reasons are intensive exposure to international media and the changing job roles of women who are now frequently taking on the role of breadwinners for the family. Increasing intervention of the judiciary in resolving marriage-related conflicts is also an outstanding feature associated with modernity.

"While the traditional pattern of marriage was marked by arranged alliances between two families through classical matchmakers such as family priests and relatives giving a minor role to the bride and bridegroom in decision-making, contemporary marriage is based more on an understanding between the about-to-be-married man and woman along with attention to the views of family elders,’’ argues the analysis.

In the 1960s, while caste and family were important, the girl’s "merits’’ were the prime concern. Beauty was more in terms of talent (singer, accomplished), than physical attributes (only two ads said that the girl was slim!). In the 1970s, education and caste retained their importance. Specific physical requirements such as height and fairness began making an appearance in the ads. In the 1980s, physical beauty clearly started becoming very important to the detriment of "accomplishments’’.

Working women are here to stay and income has become a virtue to be flaunted. The 1990s was the age of the professionally qualified, physically perfect working woman, who was certainly not "pretty’’. There was also a growing yearning for the homely bahu (bride), chosen through a matching of horoscopes.

For the groom, the trends for the same years were slightly different. In the 1960s, age and caste were predominant attributes. Occupation and income were important but a lot of the men "who were still studying but had bright futures’’ were also in the marriage market. In the 1970s employment, income and caste retained their importance. Height suddenly became a desired attribute and other physical attributes also were mentioned. There was an emergence of the trend of NRI’s (Non-Resident Indians) or would-be NRI’s. In the 1980s, men started laying a great deal of stress on their background and family as well as the part of the world they came from and wanted to settle in.

In the 1990s, professional qualifications were in and education was out. Job profiles were in, income statements were out. Geographical considerations were key, decent marriages certainly were not. Individual characteristics which define the desired persona were here to stay. Men were needed to be anything from "teetotallers’’ to "broad-minded’’.

"Physical attributes have always been important and act as parameters of success in the marriage market. There is increasing specificity of requirements in the face of decline of the joint family system and this specificity is out in the open. Romance is seen as secondary to marriage which is a rational life choice. The change is in the attempt to accommodate some of the needs of the individuals concerned (bride and groom) in the terminology of the ad. The format of the "matrimonial ad’’ has proved flexible enough to accommodate this change,’’ says the analysis.

See online : The Hindu

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