«The third generation of Indians in Britain Cultural identity and cultural change Vorgelegt von: Abgabedatum: 16.10.2008 Judith Frübing 1. Gutachter: ...»
I don’t think its bad thing *having a boyfriend+; I think the most important thing for me is that your parents know. That’s what I did in my case, I told my parents from Frübing, 67 the beginning and it’s made a huge difference. I mean a lot of my friends have had boyfriends and you know girlfriends and not told their parents because they’re scared, which is natural because I guess some Tamil parents you know Asian parents are very strict, they say that you expect the whole arranged marriage thing.
But in my case I was quite fortunate because my parents from *…+ a young age they’d always say to me: Look if you have a boyfriend, let us know. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared … (Ranjitham) The trust and understanding her parents have in their daughter, is probably based in their years as students in British universities. They know that courting is part of student’s live. Like in Ranjitham’s family attitudes and customs are changing in other families, too. This is following adaptations made already in marriage patterns. The modifications in the arranged marriage system provoke that many teenagers are unsure on the topic. Noticing the changes they often do not know where to position themselves. Comparing data from the 1970s and 1980s, Anwar found that insecurity and ambiguity on topics like marriage and courtship increased (Ghuman 1994: 58-59, Anwar 1989: 108).
The results of my study on the topic of marriage were as expected. The youngsters voted towards cultural change. More than ten years after Ghuman’s survey, young British Indians in London were in favour of changing customs (Ghuman 1994: 58-59). In my samples the majority of teenagers objected to the custom that marriages should be arranged by the family. However, 20% were undecided on the question indicating still a considerable ambiguity particularly among girls. This again illustrates that girls are most subjected to the contrasting pressures resulting from arranged marriages. Through passing more time with the family, they are generally more in touch with their culture of origin. But they are more open towards gender equality as considered in the previous chapter. Concerning marriage these attitudes collide leaving nearly 30% of the girls undecided. (Appendix 6.7) Further, age influences the opinions towards arranged marriage; with growing age marriage comes closer. Consequently, older youngsters think about it more realistically. Interestingly, older adolescents, who are closer to the marriageable age, tend to conform more to their parent’s and to community’s conceptions of marriage. This has to do with growing maturity.
In addition, the views and actions of youngsters close to the marriageable age, pose more conflicts then those of teenagers who still have some years to go. In order to avoid conflict, youngsters try to conform to their families’ demands. However, there remains a certain disagreement with parents that results in favouring a middle way between tradition and Frübing, 68 western individualism. At the same time uncertainty increases. Among the youngest age group only 10% were undecided while among those older than 18 indecision amounted to more than 30%. (Appendix 6.7) We have repeatedly seen that the teenagers in the Brent sample are generally less traditional than those affiliated to sampradayas. This also shows in opinions on marriage patterns. Nobody in the Brent sample was unsure about this topic. While a minority voted in favour of arranged marriages, 85% rejected that marriages should be arranged by the family.
Among the sampradayas a lower percentage (60%) voted against arranged marriages but there was hardly any disagreement. Consequently, insecurity was much higher (30%). These findings indicate that a closer contact to religion and the diasporic community can also lead to increased contradictions and divided loyalties. With stronger affiliation differing values collide even more. The young people affiliated to ISKCON and Sai Baba want to preserve their culture and belief, but do not want to give up western freedoms and individualism.
This contradiction also became displayed in the interviews. Apart from Pradeep, who even strongly objected to courtship although having had numerous girlfriends,40 and Veeran, whose reliability is doubted in some instances, nobody wanted to have an arranged marriage. In general however, the interviewees were not completely against it but accepted an open version which would leave them a choice on their future partner. Ravanan’s
comment on that matter was exemplary:
Ravanan: No, I won’t have an arranged marriage. I ‘m unlikely, maybe my mum may like try and find someone for me but I doubt that I actually have an arranged marriage Interviewer: And you wouldn’t like to have one?
Ravanan: Not really, but I mean the arranged marriages here are more like: they look for people and then they just show them to you … Veeran: Yeah and there’s a misconception *…+ about arranged marriages where people confuse it with forced marriages coz arranged marriages aren’t forced marriages.
All of the interviewed teenagers started to explain to me how the custom of arranged marriages functions in their community. As Veeran indicates here, there is a great sensibility of being misunderstood. The teenagers were very aware of their community’s image in the British society. This became particularly obvious concerning marriage patterns – probably because this topic has received so much attention in western media.
Frübing, 69 Interestingly, the parents of three teenagers did not have an arranged marriage.
Respectively, for Madayanti that means that she “…can choose whoever [she] want[s] to”.
This also applies to Pradeep and Veeran. However, in contrast to Madayanti both boys favoured an arranged marriage. Pradeep’s argument fits to his traditionalism and Indianness. Further, his view is also based on his own experience. He experienced the unhappy marriage of his parents in contrast to his grandparent’s long-lasting traditional marriage. In contrast to his divorced parents, his grandparent’s home offered stability and constancy to him.
Pradeep: Yeah, [...] I think arranged marriage is really good. When I think how my grandmother has stuck by my grandfather for three thick and thin, through different continents. [...] That is real commitment, you know. And you see, people break up over the smallest things but my grandparents, no matter what my grandmother’d never ever leave my grandfather *...+. That’s a deeper love then any of this Hollywood-romance crap which goes after [...] the first five, ten years, anyway. What really counts is can we stick by someone through thick and thin and definitely traditional arranges marriages when they find compatible people [... is a good thing. This crap about freedom of choice, the people who go into the marriage suffer, the children suffer, the country suffers, economically everyone suffers, there is no benefit out of this romance love and in fact from having an arranged marriage ninety-nine percent of the time something much greater then romance love comes. So definitely arranged marriage is good.
Interviewer: So you prefer for you to have one?
Pradeep: Yeah, I mean I’d like to have an arranged marriage as long as I obviously had some choice in that.
So, even Pradeep cannot succumb himself to certain western freedoms on this matter, also favouring an adapted version of the custom. Being much younger Veeran’s traditionalist arguments do not always convince. I have already commented on his idealistic and romanticized perceptions of life in Sri Lanka. He showed a good knowledge of philosophy customs and rituals but a lack of personal experience. This leaves the impression that he tries to present himself more traditionally and Indian. Nevertheless, this attempt to portray himself as Indian indicates his interest and affirmation of Indianness as well as his desire for roots and difference.
Frübing, 70 Yeah I think I’m really like much more traditional Tamil then any of my friends. Like I know a lot of Tamil friends who’d just go out with girls but I’m very stick to my old traditions. I’m even more than my aunties and stuff. Like if they wear weird green panties and stuff, I’d be like why you’re wearing green panties where you should be wearing white grown? And like even really really weird things like you should tie up your hair and not leave it out coz that shows that you’re unhappy and stuff like that.
So I’m really traditional. So I’d be completely happy with arranged marriage and I’m very spiritual, so that’s my ultimate goal. (Veeran) Concerning marriages, the answer category “undecided” in the questionnaires may also indicate that the youngsters favour a middle way, which has been described by authors before (Ghuman 1994: 60). Stopes-Roe finds that many teenagers consider their parent’s involvement in marriage decisions as important. They accept and trust their parent’s knowledge and opinions. Therefore, the youngsters accept a modified version of arranged marriage which allows them to decide about their future partner involving their parent’s advice. Further, arranged marriages tend to be more successful and lasting as there are only few divorces in the British Indian communities.41 This reason is often given by young people as seen in the quote above. Nevertheless, tensions about marriage matters remain although changes are evident. (Stopes-Roe 1991: 33-34, Commission on Racial Equality 1978: 27, Anwar 1998: 109) Hardly anyone wants to live with the consequences of loosing one’s own family’s and community‘s support, thus young people try to find an agreement with their parents and kin. Most families find a middle way in which the youngster’s make their own
choices and parents advice them. Ranjitham proposed an interesting compromise:
I don’t really trust my parent’s judgement. *…+ I don’t think their taste would be to *…+ what I’d want. For me personally I mean if I could avoid arranged marriage, then I would. But I think if it got to about say I was about twenty-nine or thirty and I still haven’t found someone then I’d say: Yeah ok let’s go for arranged marriage. I mean it’s important that I would have made the effort first. *…+ I think it is a last minute option *…+. It’s one of those things where you’ve either tried looking for yourself and just not found that person or ehm you know just things haven’t worked out with other people, then yeah arranged marriage is an option. *…+ Well I mean given the statistics they’re more *…+ successful then other marriages. Then I guess you know it’s not a bad thing but for me personally I’d be a last minute option.
Frübing, 71 In conclusion, I can confirm earlier studies about the topic: The young generations generally accept arranged marriage in some altered version. They demand to have a high degree of choice which they are given provided that their choice remains in certain limits which differ from family to family. Like Gillespie Shandrika Shah, who is also working at the Brent Youth Service, underlines that the parameters for marriage change. As indicated earlier, casteendogamy ceases to play a role for the youngsters’ marriage decisions. Instead, qualifications and age become more and more important (Stopes-Roe 1991: 35, 40, Gillespie 1995: 41, 44).
In contrast to earlier studies I found that acceptance of interethnic marriage is growing due to an increase in interethnic marriages over the last years (Stopes-Roe 1991: 46). Ranjitham
…within my family I’ve got about four or five cousins who’ve married either an Irish, one’s married an Irish, another one’s married English… *…+ It is slowly becoming *…+ more accepted.
Ranjitham was not the only one who told me about relatives who have married outside the ethnic community. But Buddhdev Pandya underlined that intermarriage was particularly strong with white British or Irish people; but less mixture occurred with other coloured ethnic groups. There appears to be a latent disapproval if not racism against blacks among some Indian communities which was also observed by Peter Smith. Ravanan comments on
intermarriage with different communities: