Date Culture

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Dating and Marriage customs in Northern India

26th January 2006

India has much diversity in terms of cultures and religions. Dating habits differ widely in all these areas. People in North India, spanning from Jammu province to Central Indian states Delhi and Uttar Pardesh (zone 2 on the map) call themselves an ‘Aryan’ race, and believe they are a racially superior warrior class.

Map of India


This article is about area 2, which is comprised of Sikhs and Hindus. In most cases, dating in this region starts after parents arrange marriage. In this article, we will look at the culture and past of this region. It would be really very difficult to comprehend the dating habits of this area unless we have a look into historical background of this region.
 
As said earlier, people in upper North India are known as a warrior class, as historically all the invasions in India were through this route. Muslim invaders, beginning with the Muslim King ‘Babar’ entered India through this route. During invasions, the looting of property and the rape of females was common. It was normal to abandon the raped woman even if she was married and some fathers would abandon a girl child if she was raped.
 
People practice monogamy almost as a religion here. Though not as true now, divorce was a major taboo. At the time of the wedding, the bride’s father would sing the folk song “Teri Doli jaayegi te arthi hi aayegi”; meaning “I am sending you off as a bride and may you come out of your husband’s house only on a pyre and not otherwise”. Another famous saying is “Sada Suhagan Rahe”, meaning “may you never become a widow”; that is you should die earlier than your husband.

In the lower North India state of Rajasthan, ladies used to observe ‘Sati’  – a lady would sit on the burning pyre of her dead husband and burn herself alive. Satis are worshipped and there are many temples in that state. Now sati, though still there in some small areas, is illegal. While widowers had no restriction on getting married again, widows getting remarried was absolutely forbidden, even in cases where a girl becomes a widow at a young age (for example in her twenties).
 
These values had an enormous impact on society. This area witnessed generations and generations of illiterate women. Women, till the 1950s, were generally not very educated, and certainly not professionally qualified. There are many older females here who did not see their husband before marriage. This all started changing from 1950 onwards but drastic changes started coming in the late 1980s.
 
Today
 
This area has a highly uneven male-female ratio, about 795 females per 1000 males as per 2005 statistics. Girls are considered a liability here and female infanticide or foeticide is prevalent.
 
Alarmed by this trend, prenatal tests to determine sex of unborn child are illegal here. All laboratories here have to display in a very prominent manner that they do not determine the sex of unborn children. Any offence in such cases is punished heavily.
 
So much is the growing concern that the supreme Sikh temporal body ‘Akal Takhat’ (equivalent to the Pope for Christians or Mecca for Muslims), issued an edict that anybody aborting a female child will be known as ‘Kudimar’ (“Kudi” is girl and “Mar” is killer; meaning Killer of a girl). Four years ago, the head of this body, Mrs. Jagir Kaur, allegedly got her daughter killed as she eloped with her boyfriend during dating. The case is pending trial.
 
Dating and Marriage
 
Marriage is arranged by parents in about 80% of the cases. Parents first look for a suitable match. After they choose one, the boy and girl are made to see each other. If they happen to like each other (They are supposed to say “Yes” or “No” either the same day or in the next few days), dating starts from this point onwards. In case of love marriages also, it is generally expected that both boy and girl seek parents’ approval. In many cases, father of the girl has to give approval even against his wishes because it would bring bad name to family in case girl elopes with the boy. In cases where a woman does marry without her father’s approval, any younger sisters would find it difficult to get a match for her.
 
 
For choosing a date, social considerations weigh very heavily. At the time of marriage, the bride’s father has to give heavy gifts to relatives of the groom, known as Dowry. Before marriage, a list of such relatives is given to father of the bride to be. In Bania community here, even Dowry is negotiated based on the expenses incurred on the son’s education and how much the boy is earning. Dowry is illegal, but still it continues unabated. It is insulting for a boy to get a bride without a dowry, and even today, on and off one can hear instances that a new bride is burned alive because of insufficient dowry.
 
Physical Intimacy
 
People here accord great sanctity to virginity. Almost as a rule, while it is desirable for a boy to be a virgin at the time of marriage, a girl must be a virgin. In love marriages also, therefore, the girl has to be cautious to marry the same boy whom she dates else she would be branded as “kalmuhi” (Kal is Black, Muhi is face i.e. girl with blackened face). This term comes from ancient times where a common form of punishment was to blacken the face of guilty and take him around the village riding on back of a donkey.
 
A girl who has had a dating relationship in the past would find it difficult to get a suitable match and may have to settle for a match from an economically weaker background. Therefore, while raising a girl, the family takes all possible precautions to keep the girl under watch. A girl usually takes her mom into confidence before and during dating. The mom apprises the father (privately and not in front of the girl) and the father pretends as if he is not aware of anything going on till some time before the marriage fixing ceremony called “Thaka” or “Roka”.
 
Due to the importance placed on virginity, dating boys and girls are free to move around, but not go to bed. Going to bed, before marriage (even if marriage is announced), is a big no-no. A child born before nine months of marriage is hot and spicy news. People in a town will keep the event in active memory for almost a lifetime. Boys would generally like to be seen around with a girl while girls prefer silent and isolated places which offer some privacy. A couple can move together in Cinemas, discos, parks or anywhere but the girl must be back at home before sunset.
 
In addition to remaining virgins, girls can not drink or smoke. A drinking or smoking girl is looked on as being easy available. Invariably many heads would turn towards a drinking or smoking girl, that is if you are able to spot one. In movies here, how do you conclude about character of a girl? A heroine would never be drinking or smoking and a villain probably would
either be carrying a drink or shown smoking.
 
Dating Economics
 
Economic considerations remain active in background before choosing a date. A girl would wish to get married into a more prosperous household than her father’s. Therefore, the girl usually will not be better qualified or earning more than the boy. This region is one of the most color conscious areas in the world and girl must be fair complexioned. For boys, probably the first factor in mind is skin color. People here have various complexions ranging from a dark tanned one to a fair pinkish glow. If a girl is fair skinned than many traits (such as a poor dowry) would take a backseat. While parents’ choice for a girl is usually the one who can cook better and manage a household better, boys often choose an earning partner because of growing materialism. Among the salaried class, the choice of which girl to dated comes to who earns better. Boys in business generally look for a date that is beautiful, preferably from the same community and someone who would be happy sitting at home and not working.
 
This area is one of the most prosperous regions of the country and people are known to flaunt their wealth. This weighs heavily during dating. Both have to be dressed smartly and especially the boy, has to flaunt his material possessions (car, mobile or other gadgets). Expensive cars and the latest mobile gadgets are ultimate symbols of prosperity. A Boy is expected to give expensive gifts to the girl during dating. It is an insult for a girl when she is not able to flaunt the gifts among her friends. Boys are expected to be macho, and able to save a sweetheart single handedly from any untoward incident.
 
Length of dating
 
In the case of arranged marriages, dating starts after the parents fix the marriage. This continues, for around a month, and then the next ceremony is announced. Called “Roka” or “Thaka”, this simple ceremony, attended by about 20 guests each from either side, binds both parties not to look around for another match.
 
In the case of love affairs, dating usually starts during the last stage of college education, continues for few months. The girl may break off relations (because she wants to or because of pressure from her parents) if the boy does not get settled well in his career. No father of a girl would marry his daughter to a boy who is not yet settled in life. Sometime dating continues until the boy is successful enough to marry.

The girls are very choosy here and generally use ‘head’ before deciding to date, while boys are obsessed more with skin color and go after their ‘hearts’. Because of the strings attached to being a girl, as discussed above, typically the girl forces a “Roka” or “Thaka” ceremony, soon, say 4-6 months, after the boy starts earning.
 
After ’Roka’, dating proceeds to next phase. The time from Roka to marriage must not be longer than around 9 months maximum and rarely would exceed a year. This is because if during dating, the pair breaks up, it would be difficult to get another match for the girl. During this period, the boy’s family would give some money to the girl’s family for the girl to choose dresses for herself for post marriage period. This is called ‘Wari’. Likewise, the girl’s family would also give money to buy clothes for the boy. This is part of the dowry. The next ceremony is ‘Shagun’ where close relatives for both parties meet and the Girl’s family gives large baskets of sweets, fruit and some gifts to the boy’s family. This is generally a week before marriage. This ceremony is followed by ‘Chuuni’ where the boys family offers a wedding dress to girl, which she wears during marriage ceremony.
 
Now is the time for the ringing of marriage bells. Marriage is a very expensive affair here. If a middle-income man has three children to marry, he would have nothing left for himself after the marriages, well almost nothing.

This article on Indian dating culture was written by R S Chawla, a 43-year-old male accountant from India who has traveled in 14 different countries with a passion for understanding various cultures. The author now lives in Canada.

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