I n t r o d u cti o n
The modernization of families, it is often assumed, implies a dual trans-
formation from extended kinship to nuclear structures and from matrimo-
nial agreements negotiated between families to marriage contracts between
individuals. This book contests this prevalent understanding. By focusing on
marriage, specifically the arranged marriage in Bengal, I demonstrate that
during the late colonial period marriage practices underwent some specific
changes and reforms that led, not to the nuclear family as such, but to the
valorization of a particular idea of the joint family, a structure with an older
male or female head and usually three or more generations living together.
I further claim that this change occurred in tandem with the development
of a form of arranged marriage that reflected the reality of an emerging
marriage market, and together they were constitutive of what was and is
modern about marriages in India.
One central theme reiterated in the following pages is that it would be
erroneous to regard arranged marriage as a traditional practice. However,
those who hold this view—numerous colonial and Western observers, some
Indian nationalists, and many Indians even today—are not mistaken in any
simple sense. Modern marriages do indeed play out themes of freedom and
unfreedom. What becomes problematic is the tendency to equate unfree-
dom with something called “tradition.” Arranged marriage in India and the
family form that buttressed this kind of matrimony is very much a part
of Indian modernity and modernization. In what follows, I map the pro-
cesses by which the institution of the arranged marriage came into being
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