Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Two-Lives, One Partner: Indo-Canadian Youth between Love and Arranged Marriages*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Two-Lives, One Partner: Indo-Canadian Youth between Love and Arranged Marriages*

Article excerpt


Indo-Canadian youths say they are living two lives: one in Canadian secular society, the other in their Indian ethnic community. They experience two family systems, particularly different in the ways marriages are decided. On the one hand, there is the "love-marriage" taken for granted by their Western peers and, on the other, the "arranged marriage" experienced and advocated by their parents. This study asks how Indo-Canadian young people negotiate between the two possibilities, and how their discussions and decisions bring about cultural change.

In 2001, the Canadian population of South Asian origin surpassed 900,000, representing 3 % of the nation and 23% of Canada's visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2001). Although the first immigrants from India arrived at the start of the twentieth century, only in the 1970s were they admitted to Canada in large numbers (Basran, 1993; Buchignani, Indra, & Srivastava, 1985; Kurian, 1991). In the 1990s, the children of these immigrants began to reach marriageable age. This generation was thus the first to face the love-vs.-arranged marriage dilemma; their solutions may well become the model for younger Indo-Canadians to follow.

A widely accepted sociological theory uses a modernization-assimilation model to explain changes in Indian families living in North America. As a traditional agrarian society, India is said to emphasize communal values, which are reflected in its family system. People live in multigenerational households, where parents guide each child into a religious tradition, a hereditary occupation, and an arranged marriage. A person weds whoever is best for the family, and for the larger groups in which the family is embedded. Romantic passion love must be discouraged, for it would disrupt smooth social functioning. Instead, love between spouses should develop slowly and steadily after marriage, in a family context of shared responsibility and experience (Dion, K. K. & Dion, K. L., 1993,1996,2001).

When an economy industrializes, old values are said to weaken, giving way to individualism as the dominant ideology. Families gradually lose control over their children's work, place of residence, values, and marriage choice. Youths instead mobilize their unique abilities and competitive skills to find their own jobs, develop their own beliefs, and attract their own partners (Inkeles & Smith, 1974; Nolan & Lenski, 1999).

According to assimilation theory, this change occurs very rapidly to immigrants who move from agrarian societies to industrialized North America (Driedger, 1989). Adults may hold onto old beliefs, but children quickly adapt to the standards of their new surroundings. As adolescents they expect to join the North American dating scene and eventually marry the person they love. Although the inevitable intergenerational conflict is painful for both sides, the theory predicts that modern values of romantic love and individualism will prevail (Kakar, 1998; Pais, 1997; Segal, 1998).

Many studies of Indian immigrant families in North America have documented serious intergenerational conflicts over dating and marital decisions, with the second generation demanding more gender equality and personal choice (Aycan & Kanungo, 1998; Basran, 1993; Das Gupta, T., 1994; Dasgupta, 1998; Dhruvarajan, 1993; Kurian & Ghosh, 1983; Naidoo & Davis, 1988; Pettys & Balgopal, 1998; Segal, 1991,1998; Talbani & Hasanali, 2000; Vaidyanathan & Naidoo, 1991; Wakil et al., 1981; Zaidi & Shuraydi, 2002). However, recent work indicates that the result of these struggles are not exactly as assimilation theory predicts.

Three lines of sociological thought suggest processes which can work against assimilation. The first claims that in many ways, families in contemporary India are becoming more, not less, traditional, if "tradition" is defined as endogamous and patriarchal. Indian religion directs fathers to govern their families with wisdom, care, and nonviolence (Segal, 1998), but in India today many forces are straining these values. …

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