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Saheli Discusses The Complexities Of South Asian Arranged Marriages

Gouri Banerjee

Saheli Boston’s new women’s support group, GupShup, held their second lively discussion on Saturday Jan 14th at Burlington Public Library. The topic, this time was the Complexities of South Asian Arranged Marriages. Twenty-three women attended.

Usha Vakil introduced the idea that although South Asian marriage is often differentiated between ‘arranged’ or ‘love’ marriages, the ultimate goal is the same: to ensure healthy and happy relations among partners. She suggested that arranged marriages are changing rapidly and asked whether some in the immigrant community are frozen in time with regards to the idea of marriage.

Srila Srinivasan, PhD, a family therapist, gave a brief historical sketch of arranged marriages in South Asian families and pointed to the significance of caste, class, and other criteria in the ‘old days.’ Variations of ‘love’ marriages go way back to the 1960’s in her own family with significant mixing between caste and language. In her work as a family therapist, Srinivasan has observed that regardless of how one is married, a successful marriage is hard work, and partners have to work at it. Constant communication about expectations, needs, and preferences among the partners, rather than silence and withdrawal, is the best way to establish a happy marriage. Resolution of conflict is best when done quickly and in a respectful way. Srinivasan suggested that a new name is needed to describe the ways in which South Asian young people choose their spouses today, both the words arranged and love have lost their original meaning.

Manisha Prasad, Coordinator of Saheli GupShup, shared the results of a survey she undertook about how mother/daughter relationships impact the process of choosing a spouse. She found that although arranged marriages are a family issue, somehow mothers and daughters think more, quarrel more, and have more conflicts around this controversial topic.

Neelam Wali concluded the discussion with the idea that whatever way one chooses to marry, empowering young women to make good choices, parental acceptance and respect for the choices made, are very important. She believes that keeping an open mind is most critical in supporting the institution of marriage in immigrant communities.

GupShup is a new Saheli initiative started in fall 2011 to address the lack of forums where South Asian women can come together to address issues of common concern. It was started with a grant from Community Health Networks (CHNA) Area 15. GupShup is seeking new members for its next meeting on Saturday, March 10th at the Burlington Public Library from 2-4:30pm. For topics of discussion, directions to the library, date and time, go to www.saheligupshup.org or write to manishapd2000@yahoo.com.

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