Two days ago ethnic clothing brand BIBA released a video about a young man and his family “meeting” the family of a young woman over a marriage proposal. It’s been getting a lot of praise and some criticism too. The video has been shared over 70,000 times in two days on Facebook and has been viewed over two lakh times on YouTube and it’s not hard to see why it’s popular.
The father of the girl asks that his daughter too be allowed to see whether the man knows how to look after the house and family, whether he knows how to cook or not. That’s a thumbs up for equal relations between men and women in a relationship – for once there’s a semblance of a man being judged by the same standards as a woman. But it’s not enough. Watch the video:
There are two flaws with the position that the video takes. One is the understanding of equality without challenging the status quo. This brings us to second flaw, which is the perennial blind spot of public discourse in India – the intrinsic role of arranged marriages in keeping caste alive.
While appearing to judge the man on the same plane as the woman, the video ends up making the Fair and Lovely / Fair Handsome argument. For feminists who asked why women should make themselves fairer, the cosmetic industry came up with an answer eventually: Fair and Handsome. Now, the cosmetic industry would also subject men to unrealistic standards as was being done to women. However, the moot point always was that pandering to social denigration of dark skin, especially women, and holding up certain physical features as “ideal” beauty and promoting them was just wrong.
A YouTube user who commented on the video hit the nail on the head: “Girl: How can i decide to marry a guy over just a samosa?? Dad: Take the decision over a samosa at the boy's house then.”
This is sort of equality is not the one would wish for.
Mainstream criticism of arranged marriages has rarely touched on the manner in which endogamy keeps both caste and patriarchy alive.
“Looking for a boy (or girl) starts with the sub-castes and then moves upwards to sticking to within your varna. This is done to ensure that the caste remains “pure”. The caste needs to remain “pure” because men directly benefit from keeping women subjugated and within the confines of the house – to do labour that is never considered of any economic value.
Breaking away from the business of arranged marriages is the real revolutionary act – wherein historical inequalities of gender are challenged.