What happens when one marries outside of one’s traditional community.
By Archana Painuly
Even though interracial and inter-ethnic marriages have been very common in many countries all around the world, and the mindset towards interracial marriage has been changing dramatically, the social stigma related to interracial marriages still exists in many societies.
One evening, a group of Indian women living in Denmark gathered to discuss Dr Rashmi Singla’s popular research article, Intermarried Couples – Mental health and Psychological Well-Being.
The subject of mixed marriages is well researched and several articles have been published about it in journals in many countries, particularly in the USA and UK. Dr Singla, a psychology professor at Roskilde University, Denmark, and her team carried out a survey on mixed marriage in Denmark. The article covers some of the psychological challenges faced by married interracial couples. Intermarried couples in general face a range of psychosocial challenges in the context of dominant discourse of homogeneity coexisting with ethnic diversity. Marrying outside of their ethnicity, the couples have to handle the disapproval of their interracial relationship. The research focuses on the effects of interracial marriages on the mental health and well-being and everyday life of the intermarried couples.
An interracial marriage occurs when two people of different racial groups enter matrimony. An interracial marriage can convey wedlock between a Black and an Asian, a White and an Asian, a Hispanic and an Asian, a White and a Hispanic, and so on. Dr Singla and her team only included white Dane and Indian relationships in their research work. They focused on the life of mixed couples in Denmark.
Nevertheless, inter-ethnic and interracial marriages between Europeans and Indians have been taking place for a long time, particularly during the colonial rule. In fact, India’s former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi had married an Italian woman, Sonia, and their son Rahul Gandhi, a member of Parliament, is of mixed-race.
Dr Singla and her team interviewed several intermarried couples from the age of 21 to 65 years. The vast research pool included some young couples in their honeymoon phase while some in their retirement age. Every couple had a unique story. Some had met in India, some in Denmark, and some even in other parts of the world, while travelling. When interviewed, the couples were seemingly happy, trying to make the best of their married lives and make their nuptials a success.
During the discussions, it was found that barring two or three issues, the problems and differences of intermixed couples that are highlighted in Dr Singla’s article, are not very unique. With its bulk of multicultural and multilingual population, India itself is no less than a multinational state. India is so large and diverse that issues even in a marriage between persons from two states are no less than the issues in marriage between two persons of different nationalities. Thus, most of the problems and issues pointed out in the research are evident in amongst couples with a common nationality.
Dr Singla’s survey reveals that when two persons marry, not only does their personal relationship affect their marriage, their family attitudes, and the outlook of the society around them has a great influence on their relationship. Normally in the honeymoon phase everything goes well, but when the honeymoon phase ends, and a more realistic version of the rest of the life begins, the couples start realising their differences. The failure of accepting these differences leads to tension and conflict between the couple.
Why the conflict?
A lot of this conflict arises out of external factors. Wherever they go, people stare at them because they look different from each other. When an Indian man walks with a Danish wife, they attract a lot of attention, as the couple looks like an odd pair.
The intermarried couple face problems while trying to maintain an interest in their language and ancestral traditions, as the partners cannot help each other in preserving their precious heritage — hence a hybrid culture develops in their homes, and their children are not rooted to any of their parents’ cultures.
Mixed-raced children lead to other problems. The parents often feel estranged from children since they do not resemble them. Even the children never fully identify themselves with the ancestral traditions of either of their parents. It is not surprising that mixed-race children are more prone to identity crisis than children with parents of the same race.
One Danish lady who is married to an Indian man said in her interview with Dr Singla: “Asian genes are strong. Both of my sons look more of Indians than Danish. Often people get mistaken that they are my adopted children. I have to explain to everyone that I am their biological mother. I have given birth to them from my womb, from my egg. ”
A group of women that gathered in Copenhagen included Chetna Srivastava, wife of the current Indian ambassador to Denmark. Some women in the group had Danish husbands, whereas children of some women were married to Danes. The discussion on interracial marriages resulted in many thought-provoking comments, coming from the women.
Rama, who is married to a Dane, said, if it is an Asian girl-white guy couple, it looks awkward to the people, especially if they were seated next to each other on a table. One of the worst experiences she had was while travelling in India with her husband. Everyone they met thought she was his translator.
Mangla Singh, who is from UP in India, said that these issues are common to marriages between people from two different states in India. Her daughter recently married a South Indian man. The marriage took place in their hometown, Varanasi. After the wedding, when the groom’s party departed for Chennai with their daughter, one of their relatives said, “Some alien came from Sri Lanka and kidnapped their Sita.” Many of their relatives and friends pointed out that their daughter and son-in-law make an odd pair.
The right partner
In general, Indians are still more likely to out-marry than any other Asian race. A question was put to the gathering to elicit their views if they were the affected party. “How will you react if your child selects a partner of a different race, different ethnicity?”
Shalini Kanwar who has a son said, “The life partner my son chooses could be of any colour, race and religion – that will not really matter to me at all! What matters to me is that if he is choosing a life partner, he has made sure that she is the right one for him. I would want him to first know that person well for a considerable amount of time before taking the plunge. I believe that the most difficult part of any relationship is living together and just love cannot sustain relations! And I think my son might be better off with a Danish/European partner (irrespective of colour) as they would actually have more in common than with an Indian (from India)! But it’s his choice in the end.”
Ritu Krishnan who is ethnically Punjabi but married to a Malayali said, “People always try to make it look as if inter-caste and interracial marriages are bad. We are all human beings and there is nothing wrong in marrying someone from another country. Why should an Indian marry only a fellow Indian? Why should a Bengali marry only a fellow Bengali? Why should a Marathi marry only a fellow Marathi? That sounds a bit racist. This is rude and bigoted in today’s era.”
Chetna-Srivastava, who has grown-up children living and working in the US, said, “I do not mind who my children choose as their life partners, as long they are doing everything in a right order – completing education, making a career, getting married and then having children.”
Chitra Venkat, whose daughter is married to a Dane, said, “It all depends on how you look at such things.”
Multiple traitsright partner
We humans have multiple traits in our personalities. If just a few traits do not match, it would not ruin the relationship of a couple. A marriage is much more than being an European and an Asian; or being a Punjabi and a Gujarati. It is not their nationalities or races that matter, what matters is their value systems, how they behave, and their societal norms; how they operate in the society and how they interact with each other.
After all, we are all human beings, living on the same planet, where the distances between us are gradually decreasing. The interracial and inter-caste marriages are becoming common with the passing of time. As more and more people are travelling and settling in different parts of the world, their adaptability is increasing. With increased movement of people and globalisation, the current generation is much more adaptable to change. They can live anywhere in the world, and adapt to any kind of environment.