The institution of marriage is firmly embedded in the Indian culture with an intensity that makes it both fascinating and quaint. As a norm typical of the Indian society, it transcends barriers of social class, education and religion. Marriage has everything to do with karmic destiny and aspires to the holy unions in the pantheon of Hindu gods - Shiva and Parvati.
Traditionally, people heeded the cultural definition of marriage devised by the other keepers of society's traditions, with its insistence on family, harmony and shared values rather than individualistic notions. Contented togetherness was the idea rather than passionate.
At work was the cultural norm that operated subconsciously - custom, tradition and interests of the family system demanded that new roles and relationships were geared to discharging family obligations and duties, preserving the unity of the larger family and keeping the family values intact, socially and morally.
The idea of holy matrimony though has existed from time immemorial, some of the stereotypes are seen to resurface in the modern times, such as the saas-bahu conundrum (the tension between the 'cruel' mother-in-law and the 'suffering' daughter-in-law), critical social attitudes and distinct concepts of arranged and love marriages.
Today, the urban Indian psyche has to be understood against the backdrop of changing dynamics of marriage with changing power equation - the modern cosmopolitan male and female are looking for partners with whom they can have more in common than just family approval or the tug of heartstrings. If they find a strong match, they wouldn't think twice before marrying outside their caste and even communities.
The yardstick for happiness has changed - 'like-minded people' are the perfect fit.
Marriage is seen to be enriching two individuals' lives, so the youth today that has had massive levels of exposure to different worlds, relationships and have been there done that at a young age want more than just love - a marital relationship within the nuclear family framework with transparency, element of fun and romance is their idea of conjugal happiness. They like to fend and fight for marital harmony on their own.
Today's marriage has its own demands with expectations from both sides to be rich and socially conscious, hip but down-to-earth, foreign travelled, hip, suave and possessing the best cars, latest gadgets and vacationing abroad.
The partners constantly feel the need to have a clear focus and incentives to make marriage work.
Equality in marriage
The perception that marriage in India is loaded more in favour of men is dying away with everyday cases of extraordinary understanding between married couples in normal marriages.
Along with this, there has been the exposure to western trends via satellite television and the internet, where the western working woman is viewed as a role model for the urban Indian woman, and this trend is slowly permeating into Indian society."
Gone are the days when women had to maintain an immaculate home, tend to the kids and serve her in-laws without any help from her spouse. In today's urban society, many men are stepping into a new world of domesticity and homeliness.
This change has been more dramatic in urban areas. It is evident in those areas of society where the woman has received higher education, and is in a managerial post which gives a huge pay-check and demands long working hours and travelling on the job at times. More and more women getting into engineering, business administration, the financial sector, the civil services, and other well-paying and demanding professions has been the turning point of this change in psyche.
For a long time, Indian women have faced subjugation and been relegated to the confines of their house as a homemaker. The younger generation of women finds this in itself motivation to orchestrate change. It's not surprising that women are now seeking a balance through what has been their traditional area of dominance - their kitchens. It is merely a metaphor for the change that has been sweeping through the metros amongst the urban, middle class of society.
Women of course are trying to seek equality at home with regard to the husband pitching into equal homemaking or sometimes even more than her." But she also mentions that there are instances where women want to be treated as equals, but also want to be mollycoddled by their husbands in a throwback to conventional husband-wife roles.
Situation like these cause confusion about expectations from the husband, as Navin Ghelani shares, "There are times where my wife wants to be treated on par and demands that there be no discrimination. At other times, she projects herself as being vulnerable and needing assistance and calls it being 'feminine!' It leaves me clueless as to how I should approach the situation." Despite this shift in balances, women continue to tread along the path of equality within their homes.
While men in previous generations pooh-poohed the idea of being involved in the kitchen, many men, now view it as an equal responsibility. There are men who are as involved with their homes as women. "My wife works long hours and works doubly hard to raise the kids. I think it's unfair to let her do it all by herself. When we both work as hard, why shouldn't both of us help out at home?" asks Sunil Nair, a travel professional. While Nair may have noble intentions, Dr Bhonsle opines that the current generation of men is coping with this change because of the dual-income scenario.
She states, "While men are far from accepting the role of 'house husbands' in India, there is a shift in terms of sharing some household chores. This shift is solely due to the couple making a decision prior to marriage to be a 'double-income' family i.e. the women bringing large pay-checks with long working hours, and the husbands pitching in at home to keep the income coming from both sources. It is easier for men to deal with this change in their roles if they focus on the 'good life' that the 'double-income' can buy them and which they have consciously chosen." "
However doing away of clear-cut roles, has its drawbacks as pointed out by Dr Bhonsle who notes, "There is a confusion right now in Indian society, which is in a 'transition' phase, with women wanting to emulate the western working woman and the western family system with both genders performing both roles i.e. provider and homemaker; while simultaneously wanting to hang on to the tradition roles of man being the provider and the woman looking into all affairs related to the home. The dynamics are changing in such cases where roles are being demarcated and re-negotiated, and especially finances are under the scanner, with the concept of 'my money', 'your money' and 'our money' being discussed."
The interaction between these netizens is quite unique - their values are now transaction oriented and more corporate based - the higher the position in the company the higher the salaries and level of lifestyles.
However, she also highlights conflicts that arise due to this very situation as sometimes the focus changes from the 'good life' to times when the man likes to view himself and his wife in conventional socially acceptable modes.
No longer are roles demarcated in the traditional mode, viz. - the homemaker and the breadwinner. With roles intermingled, today's woman has far greater control over her home and professional aspirations. Also, children growing in households, where both partners contribute equally to the household in all areas, are breaking out of the traditional family roles as they are seeing both parents participating equally, undeterred by gender.