By Almas Shamim

We are a movie-crazed people. A lot of things that we believe to be a reality, are nothing more than what movies have fed into our minds. One such thing that I remember ‘learning’ from Bollywood is that ‘The End’ is usually around some happy wedding. The whole movie could be about how incompatible two friends are but at the end, they fall in love, get married and “The End”. There have been innumerable movies (in all the so called ‘woods’, I mention Bollywood particularly since that is the ‘wood’ I follow), the purpose of which have only been, so it appears, to get the hero and heroine married. What results is a sub-conscious belief of ‘Marriages’ being one of the most important aims of life. 

Add on to this the fact that we see so many ‘married’ people around us, so many ‘wedding parties’ and ‘sagaai’ and ‘lagan’ and what not, that this extolling of marriages continues unbridled. Accompanying it is the pitying and criticism of unmarried men and women. And let’s face it- a tad more criticism for unmarried women, because aren’t women supposed to be taken care of and protected by men? Isn’t this what ‘religion’ says? Well, let’s not even step into the pandora’s box that is religion. Anyway…

So, by the time I was 18, I was sure that I wanted to get married, and that too, SOON. Of course, I would marry AFTER finishing my studies, but, SOON AFTER! Now, call it my good fortune or whatever, this plan never materialized. I read a bit more, thought much more, interpreted even more and lo and behold! Marriage didn’t seem appealing anymore. I am to turn 28 soon and still feel unprepared to climb the mountain that is marriage. Now, the question is not about whether or not marriages are important or required. The question is more about whether or not a person’s decision about his/her own life matters. The question is whether we can pity or criticize a person for doing something with his/her OWN life as long as it is not harming others.

The issue boils down to a society that is not used to the concept of ‘individuality’. This lack of respect for each person’s ‘individuality’, each person’s ability to think and choose for himself/herself, forces people to do things for the repute of their parents, elders, khaandaan, samaaj, religion and all things far and wide, except their own thoughts and feelings.

This is precisely what leads to forced marriages- and trust me, sometimes the bride and groom are not even aware that the marriage they are stepping into is ‘forced’, the entire process is so subtle that all you believe is that ‘my family wishes and knows what is the best for me’. It is a subtle process of undermining a person’s ability to think for himself/herself; a subtle process which turns a decision to spend your life with someone into yet another developmental milestone that has to be reached by a certain age.

Marriages, far from being made in heaven, are made in the living rooms and dining rooms of our homes, over conversations about caste, religion, status, education, money, fair complexion, astrological charts and prospects of going abroad- most of which were criteria created by humans.

‘Love marriages’, as marriages that overstep the futility of ‘everyone deciding for your life instead of you yourself’ are called, while increasingly accepted, still have to go through those conversations around caste, religion, status etc… with acceptance being directly proportional to the number of criteria matched. Something like- ‘you are permitted to love a Muslim, but not permitted to love a Hindu’, ‘You are permitted to love a guy with a stable job and not to love someone who is yet to get a job’. Even so, our islands, have been more accepting of love marriages than many places in the rest of India.

But, the one thing which plagues the islands as much as other places is the persistent criticism of people who have chosen not to marry- this choice could have many reasons- ranging from a refusal to a long term commitment, an inability to find someone as per one’s checklist of qualities in a life partner, to a simple disregard for the institution of marriage. The fact remains that each one of us is an individual and has the ability to think and choose for himself/herself. Forcing a person into marriage, even if emotionally, takes away a person’s command over his/her life, career, sexuality and freedom.

A forced marriage may not just harm your child but also the partner involved. What if your son is a transgender? What if your daughter is a lesbian? Forcing people of different sexualities than the conventionally accepted ones have led to many suicides, unhappy families and marriages.

It is way over time that we as a society start allowing our children and families to live their own lives, than live lives that we want for them. 

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.