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Arranging Families

By Melody Heath

            While in India, I wanted to try to do something that I would not be able to come back and do on my own.  One of those activities was the chance to visit a Dalit Village.  Dalits exist outside the normal caste system; beneath everyone else.  It is not something they chose, but are born into.  During this trip; I interacted with young women who were attending Nursing School for free as part of a program to improve their status in society.

            A skit that they performed for the group of students that I visited the school with stands out in my mind as I recall the stay.  It carried many traditional Indian ideals, with the underlying theme; “every girl must receive an education.”

            This skit started off with a couple celebrating their sixth anniversary.  The wife was unhappy because they had not been able to have any children yet.  So, together they went to a doctor who performed a “medical surgery” that enables the women to have two children.  The wife is so happy now because she has children even though they constantly nag their father for money to buy things with.  One day, the father leaves the house and she receives a call saying that her husband died from a heart attack.  She is devastated and has to tell her children that their father is dead.  At the worst possible moment, a man comes to the house and tells her that her husband took out a loan for money and she needs to repay the loan right away.  She begs the man to give her some time to raise the funds and eventually he agrees to give her until the end of the month.  In a moment of strength she declares that she will get a job and support her family and pay off her late husband’s debts.  In an epilogue, the woman explains that because she had an education, she was able to get a job and support her family.  Her son and daughter were able to go to school and she paid off her late husband’s debts. 

            As demonstrated in the play, the wife did not feel fulfilled because she had not been able to get pregnant.  Giving birth to biological children is the only way this woman could feel complete or happy. 

            All at once we were bombarded with traditional, Indian family ideals and a new more modern concept that the women of this school idealize.  When asked at what age they will get married they quickly reply, “Twenty-one” and they all agree that it will be arranged.  The director of the school confesses that a lot of the students who stay in the area don’t work after graduation, but simply get married and raise families.  It is expected that Indian brides stay home and soon have children to take care of.  Their husbands will work to support their families and the wife will only work if something happens to him or if a second income is needed. 

            Serena Nada talks about the emphasis Indian culture places on the importance of family.  The article depicts her experience talking to young people about how they feel about arranged marriages.  I realize now that by allowing the parents to arrange their children’s marriage, the process involves the entire family in the decision.  In every level of Indian society, family plays the most important role.

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