I was surprised and amused to learn about the newly launched app called JoinMyWedding, through which foreign tourists can attend a day or two of nuptials at an Indian wedding. Their site explains it as ‘the ultimate cultural immersion’, and mind you, the app has been launched by an Australian. Such is the allure and significance of a wedding in India, no matter which state you belong to, or which faith you believe in.
With the supposedly booming economy and digital competitiveness, the weddings are also becoming bigger and grander. Live Mint in its article quotes Timothy Chi, Global Chief Executive of The Knot Worldwide, “One in every four weddings worldwide happens in India.” That means 25 percent of all weddings in the world happen in India alone, and along with China and other South Asian countries, 50 percent of all weddings in the world are accounted for. The Times of India reports that the wedding industry is the fourth biggest in India. Most of it is in the unorganized sector.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) estimated business worth Rs.4.25 trillion (Rs.4,25,000 crore) in just 23 days of the 2023 Indian wedding season. In the period between November 23 and December 15, 2023, around 3.5 million weddings were expected to be held, as per a survey conducted by the Delhi-based CAIT Research & Trade Development Society.
Contrast this with the 2023-24 budget allocation for the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India – all of Rs 89,155 crore. The difference is starker if you compare it with the Rs.6 crore allocated to SMILE, the central government’s flagship transgender community development programme run by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
This goes to prove marriage is not just integral but almost the most pivotal event in an Indian’s life. The cycle in an Indian society is birth-degree-marriage-parent-give child in marriage. When a child is born, there are families who immediately talk about how to save for the wedding in case of a girl child or how much they can gain by dowry in case of a boy child. To an extent, even the mithai for the birth celebration gets cheaper when it is a girl. I guess they start saving right then! Today, the calculation of what educational degree and which educational institute will save or gain dowry and wedding expenses starts by the time the child goes to nursery school.
I am fortunate to have been born in a family and culture where such practices are not so prevalent and we do not look at a romanticized version of marriage. However, marriage remains important and a significant milestone in our lives.
Given this background, it is a dream, and more importantly, considered the moral responsibility of the parents to give their child in marriage. It is what they have been taught, explicitly or implicitly. Their parenting success depends on the wedding of the child. No matter who they are and what their children have achieved in life.
Now, if their children come out as queer, the parents cannot seem to figure out how to fit the wedding in the reel called life. Equally baffling is the question of where and how will grandchildren come into their lives. How will they answer to the society about their failure as parents? This is possibly why the recent Supreme Court’s marriage equality verdict was so eagerly awaited by the parents.
When I speak to the parents of queer children, marriage is often the most prevalent concern rather than their children being subject to queerphobic aggression and discrimination, or that their child may be struggling with their sexual or gender identity. The parents are willing to put their children into lifetimes of lies and dishonesty by staging sham weddings. They are willing to let their grandchildren grow up in confused and often violent families. All because it allows them to tick off a check box as they walk into their perceived afterlife. They like to justify it all saying we must make sure our children are not left alone in life. They do not believe that friends and chosen families can be their children’s support system.
So, when the highest court in the land upholds the belief that marriage can only be between a man and woman and is primarily meant for procreation, it only perpetuates a warped notion of marriage in our society.
Jane Austen’s classics also depicted marriage as the ultimate goal in the lives of women, but the times have moved on. Now, we recognize that women can aspire beyond marriage. Marriage itself can be problematic on so many counts and we now recognize that living alone is often better than living in a bad marriage.
In the 21st century, isn’t it important that we re-look at what parenting means? Can we look at parenting with wonder and curiosity? Maybe then both parents and children may be freer and more empowered to find that elusive happiness.
I want to tell all the parents that your responsibility is to ensure your children are safe and loved. Nothing else. You do not have to decide what career your children should pursue, or who they should love or marry, if at all they want to marry. Your children, queer or not, will find their way through life.
Trust them, trust the love you have shown them. Be there, of course, as enthusiastic bystander, and if they trip, help them get up and move on. Enjoy watching them chase their dreams whatever it may be. It is their dream.
Main photo credit: Stanze via Wikimedia Commons