“As long as an arranged marriage was either being planned or taking place, the world was as it should be. My parents had it all sorted: I would finish my school studies; a respectable Indian boy, educated to a level slightly above me, would be found, probably from Britain, but possibly from India and I would marry in my early twenties. Their ideal suitable boy, like the ideal suitable boy sought by millions of Indian parents in Britain, America, Australia and anywhere else Indians lived, was, of course, a medical doctor.
There would be a splendid Indian wedding, probably in the local community hall, after which I would re-enact a scene from a Bollywood movie – I would tearfully wave goodbye to my parents in my red wedding sari, laden with twenty-four-carat gold jewellery, and head for my husband’s house, where I would live for the rest of my life, bearing healthy sons and dutifully looking after my husband and his ageing parents.
There was one slight hitch: nobody asked me if this was what I wanted. I was simply expected to do as I was told. My destiny lay in my parents’ hands.”
Extract from :’Deranged Marriage’ by Sushi Das
Imagine being denied the right to choose who you spend the rest of your life with? Or having sex with a person deemed acceptable by your parents? (awkward to say the least.)
In countries such as India arranged marriages have been in place for centuries.
They are also a reality faced by many young girls and women living in the Western world. For some this is ok, but for others including this week’s Engaging Woman award-winning Age journalist and author Sushi Das, “the very idea was unhinged.”
Sushi’s Indian family migrated to London in the 1970′s, a time of social upheaval. Her struggle to decide her own future is at the heart of her at times hilarious memoir, Deranged Marriage.
The difficulty is she loves her parents, big time, and doesn’t want to trash her family’s honour.
Martine Harte: Sushi you were a modern, questioning girl living in 1970’s London how did the prospect of an arranged marriage make you feel?
Sushi Das: Like I was suffocating. All I wanted to do was be free to make my own decisions and I had a real dilemma which was, how do I live my own life but at the same time keep my parents happy and not destroy their lives in the process? It was an excruciating dilemma.
It’s obvious in the book that you were torn because you love your parents and you didn’t want to disappoint the people you love.
Sushi Das: That was the heart of the problem. I really didn’t know how my own story was going to resolve at that time. You really can’t underestimate the instinctive power to free yourself of oppression of any kind. And when you feel you’re not free you fight to be free and you’re very driven by that.
Can you unpack what it is about you which gave you the fire in the belly to defy centuries of tradition and risk dishonouring your family?
Sushi Das: A whole bunch of things! One of them was being brown in a white world. I think that when you’re really put down through racism, sexism or any other ‘ism, you go to a place where you’re really crushed and you can’t stay crushed forever – no human can – so you end up fighting against that because you know in your heart it’s wrong.
You can’t sit back and just accept it and that’s where that fire in the belly comes from; being an outsider in a country, facing racism and thinking, “this is not right.” So the idea of taking on a system if you like was just a natural progression from there with the arranged marriage, because I felt that too wasn’t right, well not for me anyway.
That sheds light on so many people throughout history.
Sushi Das: No power on earth can stop an oppressed people determined to win their freedom. I think it’s in every human being’s nature to be able to fight for freedom.
What would you like to say to a girl who is going through the same thing as you?
Sushi Das: Think big, keep fighting and don’t give up.
I think those 3 things are, in one way or another, what I try to teach my daughter who is seven and I think those sorts of messages are really important for young women in the world. Don’t lose sight of the big picture, just keep going and don’t give up. That goes for all sorts of things in life, not only trying to fight your way out of an arranged marriage.
As we know many women are victims of violence for going against their families wishes, it didn’t get that bad for you did it?
Sushi Das: No it didn’t, and I’m quite sure it would never be like that in my family. But I do find it appalling that about twelve women die in honour killings every year in Britain. Now if that’s Britain so can you imagine what it might be like in places like India or Pakistan? It’s frightening and I think arranged marriages are an integral part of the honour system. Because largely it’s a woman’s responsibility to uphold the honour of her family, there are repercussions when she fails to toe the line, not just for her, but also for her family, from other members of the community.
The arranged marriage system for me, is really just a system of controlling women.
And you argue it’s just about a feminist choice.
Sushi Das: That’s right. If you strip away the layers it’s about women being able to make their own decisions. And even when they’re told, “you can say no if you want to,” they have genuinely got to feel that they are free to say no. They should not be pressured, and pressure can come in very subtle forms; emotional pressure, coercion etc.
Plot spoiler alert: I won’t give too much away but there is a romantic ending, including a husband and a daughter. If you want to find out you’ll just have to read the book!
Here’s the link, it is a fantastic read http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/
Follow her on Twitter here https://twitter.com/sushidas1