The process of change in the social structure is aninevitable universal social reality. The changes in the last few decades are sorapid and far reaching that many thinkers look upon this as a new era in humanhistory. The processes of industrialisation, urbanisation and secularisationhave brought about many socio- psychological changes in the attitudes andvalues of the people. The most striking one is the emancipation of women fromtheir traditional bound ethos challenging the institution of marriage andfamily. Changesin the Institution of Marriage Family and marriage are considered to be the oldestand the most basic and fundamental institutions in the sub-systems of thesociety.
Both are important for the existence and functioning not only ofsociety, but also for the sustenance and continuation of human being. Theconcept of marriage varies in degree from community to community and nation tonation. Marriage is not merely a social chanalisation of instinctive impulsesand motivations but it is a live social bondage. According to Horton and Hunt (1964: 206), “Marriageis the approved social pattern, whereby two or more persons establish afamily”. Marriage as a socially sanctioned union of male and female, is aninstitution devised by society to sanction the union and mating of male andfemale for purposes of (a) establishing a household (b) entering into sexrelations, (c) procreating and (d) providing care for the offspring.
It is an old saying that marriage is a necessaryevil because it completely changes the life style of human being, particularlyof woman, as she surrenders even her ownidentity. Still everybody wishes to marry because remaining single is not beingencouraged by the society. By the time a girl attains the age of 25 or 26,society expects her to have settled in life. If a girl remains unmarried a lotof suspicion regarding her character and temperament begins to plague the mindof people. Marriage is adeeply established, ingrained and persistent social expectation for any Indianwoman. Marriage and motherhood are two important cultural indicators thatmetamorphose the girl into an acceptable suitable womanhood. It is believedthat marriage is central to womanhood. In fact, women establish her femaleidentity through marriage.
She is expected not only to be a wife but also a mother,the ultimate, expression of her womanhood. As wife and mother, she is expectedto keep the interests of her husband and children above her own. She commandsrespect and honor only to the extend she excels in her role as a mother andwife. Besides, she needs her husband and children for her own being andbecoming. Finally, a woman believes that her children and husband needs her. The winds of change have been blowing over manytraditional institutions and concepts.
One such institution, that still remainspopular and which seems to be under a savage assault from shifting socialtrends, is the institution of marriage. Along with the change in family normsin the contemporary society, the pattern of marriage is also changing. Men andwomen of today are willingly stepping out of their traditionally demarcatedroles and moving towards a more egalitarian concept of marriage. Some of thechanging patterns in intimate relationship that are currently posing challengesto the traditional model of marriage, according to Weiten (1986) (1) Increasing acceptability of singlehood, (2)Increasing popularity of cohabitation and (3) Increasing rate of divorce. Ideologyof Marriage in Different Religions Traditionally, marriage has been guided by religion.
Marriage is a sacred bond between male and female and is an indissolubleinstitution. The Hindu scriptures conceive marriage as sacramental incharacter. Sacramental in the sense that it was considered to be a sacredinstitution of society for the purpose of fulfilling the natural and socialobligations on the one hand, while attaining salvation on the other (Hallen1966). Moreover, marriage is said to be essential for a woman because it is theonly sacrament that can be performed on her. Dr. Radakrishnan (1956) observesthat marriage is a must to fulfill the four great objectives of life-Kama,Artha, Dharma, and Moksha. Marriage is necessary for a woman as she can’tattain Moksha unless her body is consecrated through the sacrament of marriage.
Marriage is the most important of all samskaras and it was there in everysociety and it is regarded as necessary and desirable to all. Hindu marriage isa marriage between two families and the honor of the bride’s family dependsupon bride’s behaviour in her new role as a wife. She is expected to follow allthe vogues and behaviour pattern of her husband’s family. Islam and Hinduism advocate that marriage is areligious duty for everybody and those who remain unmarried even after reachingthe marriageable age are considered to be improper and disreputable.
Christianity encourages celibacy and late marriage by attaching purity andsanctity to unmarried life, though it recognizes that marriage is essential forprocreation, those who have refrained from marrying are hailed and revered.Roman Catholics regard that marriage once established is indissoluble onlydeath can free them from each other and from the bond of marriage. Marriage issacrosanct among Hindus and Christians, where as it is a contract according toIslam.Marriagein IndiaThe meaning of marriage was rooted in the socio-religious domain of Indian society. Ancient narrations reveal that women of theproto and pre historic India were much better with regard to their voice,freedom, their living status in general, education, carrier option, marriageoption, family and religion. This gave them equal opportunity for survival withself-respect.
The status of women was extremely rich in culture and standssupreme for its glory. At the dawn of Indian history, women possessed a highsocial status and some of them were widely reputed for their learning. In Vedicage, women occupied a high position in society. She had equal rights with menand enjoyed freedom in choosing her life partner; women went to Guru Kula toreceive education and married only after acquiring education. Gradually,the condition changed.
The social background provided by the authoritarianjoint family and caste with its domination in all spheres of life, afforded noscope for the recognition of any personal interests and aspirations of woman inthe family life. As the merging river loses its identity in the ocean, so awife was supposed to merge her individuality with that of her husband andfamily. Her only concern in life was to see that all needs of her husband areproperly met. Thedevelopments of science and technology during the last two centuries havesomewhat altered the definition of life. The spread of modern education,especially among the women, and the political consciousness that follows havecreated new phenomena. Various reform movements, social legislations andopening of modern occupational roles for women have created new outlooks.
Theinstitution of marriage is getting shifted more to the needs of individualsthan as the social and religious obligations. Legally speaking, the traditionalideals of marriage have been replaced with a new set in which marriage is nolonger a social or a family concern. It is purely a personal affair leading aman and woman to seek social, psychological and economic happiness by pursuingtheir own free, will. Singlehoodin ancient timeThe unmarried women were severely condemned and hadno place in society. Under Roman law, an unmarried woman was considered aburden. That is, ‘unmarried status’ was not positively accepted by society. Anunmarried girl was under the tutelage of her father during his life, under heragnates by blood or adoption after her father’s death.
Single women were neverfree from the dominance of male people. In Americaspinsterhood came to be seen as a sexually as well as socially deviant state.The number of single women was never more than a few percent in colonialAmerica. By 1780, the percentage began to rise and continued to rise throughoutthe 19th century.
In the 19th century, among the American middle and upperclass, single women became associated with a ‘cult of single blessedness’ andlost some of its association in colonial America with sin. Viewed morecontemptuously by others than by themselves, the cult of ‘single blessedness’, wasa movement among educated single women to bring dignity to their place insociety. The legacy of single blessedness fostered emphasis on marriage orsinglehood as a choice for women in the middle and upper classes (Adams 1976). Recent years have brought about a great change inthe life of women all over the world; influencing their attitudes, values,aspirations, ways of feeling and acting for effective participation in allwalks of life. The majority of young women want to live on their own.
In west, beingsingle is far more common than is usually supposed by a society which assumesthat people normally live in households of two adults and two kids. In the 21stcentury, singlehood is increasingly seen as an acceptable alternative, for menand women. In one survey (Bureau of the census, US 1984), only one third ofyoung adults agreed that ‘it is better to be married than to go through lifesingle’, a quarter disagreed and the rest were uncertain. Reflecting thesechanges in attitudes, singlehood among men and women under the age of 35 hasrisen sharply, outpacing the growth of most other household arrangements. Now,the unmarried adults in the United States are about 50 million. Some of thesesingles are postponing marriage, but others will remain single through outtheir lives.
This increase in single Americans can be attributed to a number ofsocial and economic trends: the postponement of marriage, the rise in thedivorce rate, career break-through for women and the easing of creditdiscrimination against them and the growing independence of young people fromtheir parents.Singlehoodin IndiaUnlike West, in India, an analysis of the positionand status of single women during the Vedic times reveals that they enjoyed ahigh status. A girl in Vedic India waited until she could find the rightpartner for marriage, failing which she could even decide to remain unmarried.
Further, she had a high sense of security due to her right to paternalproperty. Child marriage was unknown during that period. The Vedas refer tounmarried female recluses like Apala and Aitreya and some of them receivedco-education.
Girls were regarded as good Omen. Girls were free to opt fortheir ways of life, to spend as unmarried girls or join the religious sages formeditation or to marry. The unmarried girls were paid high respects.
The twodaughters of pre-Vedic king Rishabhdev, Sundari and Brahmi did not marry andtook a path of high academicians ending as great philosophers of their time.The girls who opted to live unmarried took up some field of learning speciallyArts and philosophy. They used to enjoy their solitude in temples or Ashrams.Thus we see that unmarried single women, enjoyed considerable status andauthority during Vedic times. She was not discriminated against nor was herstatus lowered because she was single (Misra 1992). During thepost Vedic age the position of single women slowly began to decline. Asmarriage came to be considered as a goal for women, the chastity of singlewomen was doubted and hence she came to be looked down upon.
According to Manu,if the father does not give his daughter in marriage at the proper time, hewill go to hell, and it was believed that a woman who was not married would bedenied heaven. The sacramental status of marriage is necessary for theirsalvation. Thus unmarried women were severely condemned and had no place insociety. Manu supported the male’s domination and compelled women who stayed inthe solitude of temple, to demonstrate their art in public, by dancing beforethe God and they were converted as ‘Devadasis’ and Nagarwadhus. Thisdeteriorated further into prostitution degrading the status of women toshameful limits.
Outdoor activities were beyond the jurisdiction ofIndian unmarried women. They were not allowed to participate in politics andeconomic affairs and social gatherings of the society. Economic dependence ofsingle women on others has been a dominant feature of this period. They weretreated like a commodity or possession and lived under the authoritarian controlof the patriarch. They did not play any role in family decision and wereexpected to obey their family masters. While women were constantly beingvictimized and exploited by society, single women were victims of a doubleexploitation by virtue of them being single. They lack the protection of a manand sometimes of a family and therefore, were vulnerable to exploitationeconomic, social, psychological and sexual levels. With the advent of India’s independence there havebeen several changes in the very structure of society and consequently onpatterns of marriage.
The new perspectives on the marriage and family havequestioned many of the assumptions of the traditional view. These approacheshave not assumed the family as inevitable. In India, during the late 1960’s thewomen’s liberation movement began shaking the foundations of the family byattacking the role of women within it. The permissiveness of the 1960’s wasseen as a threat to the institution of marriage.
Statistically marriage appearsto be in decline. The number of first marriages per year has gone down steadilysince the 1960’s. The number of marriages is not a good guide to the popularityof marriage. The proportion of adult men who are married has dropped from 71per cent in 1971 to 53 per cent in 2000, the proportion of adult women from 65per cent to 52 per cent (Matheson and Babb 2002). One of the most strikingchanges is the increasing number of people who live on their own. The women ofnew generation are growing up with a belief that whatever their fate be i.e.,be it remaining single, they must be partly or fully self-supporting.
Theemancipation changed their life style, their roles, their status and lifepatterns. Psychologically they feel insecure and experiencevarious mental conflicts and the agony of living a life of utter loneliness.The position of single women who are economically dependent is worse. Without ajob to maintain themselves financially these women are harassed by their ownfamily members and relatives. This feeling of constant dependence often makesthem miserable. Sharma (1996) argued that in Indian context, voluntaryunmarried life-style among woman is a rare phenomenon. But, compared to ruralarea, the rate of single women is increasing rapidly in urban centers.
In the21st century, a man or woman can opt to remain unmarried and be not only highlyvaluable member of society but perfectly normal as well. A woman living alonetoday is more acceptable than she would have been many years ago.