Mail-Order Brides Grow Wary

Arranged marriages for Indians living abroad come under new scrutiny. INDIA: CULTURE

PARAMJEET SINGH wanted only happiness when she and her husband agreed to their daughter's quick marriage. Married within 15 days of being introduced to an Indian living in Canada, the Singhs' daughter soon became pregnant. Six months later, after obtaining a visa, she followed her husband to Canada.

Immediately, the marriage began to sour. The husband, whom the Singhs thought was an engineer, worked as a machinist in a factory. His well-to-do family opposed the new wife's efforts to find a job, and after constant harassment, she was ordered out of the family home, along with her two-year-old daughter.

Reticent to end the marriage, the Singhs' daughter is now attempting an uneasy reconciliation with her husband.

``My daughter was so keen to go abroad because we have relatives who are doing well there. At her marriage, I've never seen her so happy,'' says Mrs. Singh (not her real name). ``But now I feel it's not for the best. When I look back, I think we should have waited and investigated more.''

In India, a new wariness is tempering the rush for long-distance, arranged marriages. For years, many parents here dreamed of marrying their daughter to an established, affluent Indian overseas. Dazzled by prospects for a lifestyle unattainable in India, daughters were sent to the United States, Britain, and other countries. Often, they barely knew their new husbands.

While there are many marital success stories, counselors and social observers say that overseas arranged marriages face tremendous troubles and strains. Indian brides, many of whom have never been away from home, are thrust into a new culture and caught in their husbands' conflicting desires that they adapt to Western ways but also remain traditional.

``Many Indians still look on America as greener pastures. They think that if you have two cars, everything is OK,'' says Anju Chatterjee, co-director of Sanjivini counseling center in New Delhi. ``Indians don't realize it's a struggle in America. It's a totally alien culture and very stressful for Indians.''

According to American immigration officials, many of the 700,000 Indians in the US are part of a well-educated, accomplished, and affluent community. Indian immigration has jumped from 3,000 in the 1950s, to more than 200,000 in the 1980s.

Yet despite their economic success, many Indians see acute cultural differences between India and the West, and fear the loss of their culture and values. Often they live and socialize in introverted cultural pockets. When it comes to marriage, many seek a spouse from India to preserve their Indian lifestyles.

Some parents living in America send their adolescent daughters back to India to be married. Others return with their teenage children because they fear they will marry foreigners, says Ms. Chatterjee.

That ideal often is clouded by the tensions that arise in making these ``green card'' marriages work, say counselors and other observers. A ``green card'' (the color has been changed to pink) gives a foreign national the right to live and work in the US.

The wife must face a long wait for a visa. At the American Embassy in New Delhi, visa applications for about 6,000 Indian spouses are pending. More than 3,000 Indian spouses go to the US every year, waiting an average of two years for their visas.

A New Delhi woman's sister married and followed her new husband to England after a long waiting period for a visa, only to find that he had remarried in the meantime. ``The woman is expected to be the good little Indian wife. But if there is trouble, she has no one to turn to for help.''

Counselors and sociologists say marital difficulties often are rooted in the Indian man's outdated expectations. Living in the West for a number of years, men may fail to recognize the changes underway in large Indian cities.

``Very often, men tend to think that India is still where it was when they left,'' says Ms. Chatterjee, the counselor.

Observers in the US say the incidence of divorce among Indian couples is rising. If the couple separates, the woman usually remains abroad because divorced women are not accepted in Indian society. She usually remains isolated from the Indian community in her new home as well.

Despite the strains, many long-distance, arranged marriages work well. But over time, Indian customs are likely to fade overseas. Radha Ramachandran, a New Delhi housewife, has three daughters living in the US, all married in matches supervised and approved by their parents.

``I still believe in this tradition,'' says Mrs. Ramachandran. ``But my grandchildren are growing up in the US. Twenty-five years from now, they will not agree to this arranged marriage.''

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