Holding a bouquet of dazzling red roses in her hands, she’s glancing at the shimmering eyes of the groom whose starry eyes are blazing with a fierce flair of passion, as they both swear to be everything to each other. Slowly, she extends her arms for the wedding ring, promising to be a passionate lover to the boot. This situation reverberates a typical modern marriage; which is officially, legally, culturally and socially accepted union of a man and a woman, conferring them the whereabouts of a husband and a wife. The Manusmriti labels it as a social institution fulfilling three objectives of human life: dharma (righteous duty), praja (progeny) and rati (consensual pleasure). The Tirukural ascertains that dharma (righteous duty), artha (money and materialistic pleasure) and kama (consensual pleasure) ultimately lead to moksha. However, this social institution is losing its relevance day-by-day as extrapolated from the present scenario.
“The old order changeth, yielding place to the new”, as Tennyson had put it, implies that change is intrinsic to nature. Marriage, as a social institution, couldn’t brave the ravages of this change while the world is stepping towards modernization. Now, rather than a socio-economic enterprise, marriage revolutionized itself into a more companionate one, as described in the beginning lines and a free choice engagement between two individuals, based not on duty and obligation, but on love and affection. The foundations of this socially institutionalized matrimony are also influenced by the soft power or the cultural power of the hegemon, the US, in this global village amidst the well-known process of McDonaldization or cultural homogeneity.
Now, rather than a Catholic sacrament, marriage is an individualistic choice. Modern liberalism had shaken the foundations of the ancient concept of ‘freedom’ where freedom was perceived to be the collective power of the society. The liberals started demanding ‘liberty’ rather than ‘freedom’ where the former refers to independence or the right to privacy and security. With the advent of Radical feminism, the concept of family has been questioned to an extent slogans such as ‘the personal is the political’ became the aphorism of the movement. Moreover, the moderns and libertarians celebrate the concept of coup de foudre and celebrating Valentine’s day has become popular irrespective of the barriers created by mankind.
Thanks to the legal revolution that the social institution that considered wife as femme covert and wedlock as a license for coverture is now forging its bucket-list, granting full and equal rights to women. Unconventional stories like the ‘Paper Bag Princess’ is now being absorbed in society and campaigns for equal rights for men and women are gaining ground. Increasing awareness on human rights and civil liberties along with increasing literacy rates started convincing the moderns to consider family as an instrumental organization rather than a socially structured organic one. Women started to break themselves free from the marriage ring that had hitherto ensnared them in felonious captivity.
Breakdown of socio-traditional norms of marriage is being realized by the crippling caste system, jati panchayats and landlordism, sprouting off the beaten track practices of inter-faith, inter-racial and same-sex marriage. Economic advancement along with occupational mobility incarnated as an African snail sucking calcium from the cemented basement of this traditional social institution, ultimately leading to its collapse.
In addition to that, the modern trends of cohabitation had led to a 30% decrease in the number of marriages from 1975 to 2005 in Europe. One out of a hundred marriages in India ends up in divorce and this is the situation of a country with the lowest divorce rate. Extra-marital relationships and consensual sex is being celebrated along with the concept of ménage à trois. All these factors joined their hands in the ultimate decline of marriage as a social institution.