The browser you are using is not supported by this website. All versions of Internet Explorer are no longer supported, either by us or Microsoft (read more here:

Please use a modern browser to fully experience our website, such as the newest versions of Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc.

Panel No. 4 ‘Staging Marriage and Modernity among the Middle classes in South Asia’

Chair: Dr Anindita Datta and Ajay Bailey

VENUE: VD-rummet, Akademiska Föreningen (AF), Sandgatan 2, Lund

Twor sessions:

1. Wednesday 21 Sept, 10.00–12.00
2. Thursday 22 Sept, 09.00-11.00


1. Introductory remarks by Dr Anindita Datta


2.  Lovitoli Jimo:

Staging Love or Power? Materiality of Weddings in India’s North East Region

The South East Asian market and the easy accessibility and availability of goods have captured the marriage market in North East India. Nagaland is no exception and it has become a booming industry which is free from any economic meltdown. The new class of entrepreneurs such as the wedding photographers, wedding singers, makeup artist, wedding planners and wedding caterers are flourishing, the concept which was not known a decade or two back. This class of wedding service providers are highly sought after from the months of October to March, which is a wedding season in Nagaland, thus leading to the new equation in market economy.

Consumerist culture imbibed by the society has both manifest and latent function, either ways it positions the individual's social standing at stake. How the bride is attired and adorned and the kind and quantum of gifts exchanged become symbols of status and style statement. How and where wedding is celebrated becomes equally important because it conveys the message about the aspirations, tastes and social position of the person involved.
Sumi community of Nagaland in Northeast India is known among the Nagas for its conspicuous wedding celebrations. Traditionally, Sumi marriages are highly stratified. The social status and family line of the individual determine the ways in which ameh (exchange of gifts between the parties involved) is provided and how according to ameh marriage rituals are preformed. With the exposure to the forces of globalization, weddings are celebrated, conducted, and understood almost methodologically/devotedly to the new aspects of consumerism. There is an interface between tradition and Christianity where traditional practices and rituals and influence of Christian principles co-exist conveniently. In the process, the traditional practices and beliefs associated with fertility, wealth, long life and things considered to be auspicious to marriage are attached to the Christian belief giving new meanings to the aesthetics and taste of modern day weddings. This consumerist consciousness is being promoted by the emergent middle class whereby new values are being assimilated capturing the imaginations and aspirations of the common man. 
The paper will examine with special reference to Sumi community of Nagaland, the notion of consumption and exchange which takes place both within and outside the family during marriage. It will also look into the interface between tradition and Christian practices and the influence of popular culture in the minds and lifestyle of the people and how it influences the tastes and aesthetics of modern/present day weddings.  The gendered face of consumerism and exchange in a globlalised world and how popular culture and market determine the consumerist aspect, both at the private and public spaces will be looked it.  There is an urgent need for a critical engagement in the neo-liberal market economy post 90’s which this paper will make an effort to interrogate.


3.  Bashabi Gupta:

Images and livelihoods-Constructing the Bengali marriage rituals and practices in India


Marriages are an important event in a person's life in Bengal. They are bound by different rituals and confirm to certain practices that though broadly following the traditional Hindu marriage rules also have certain exceptions. The Bengali marriage may not form an acknowledged pattern of acceptance and negotiation of norms such as the village exogamy or even upward social mobilities for the family. Rather it is influenced by integral understandings of what is the 'origin' of the cultural, social and economic standing of the family or the participants. Marriages in Bengal may be constructed through a plethora of images thrown up with specificities that are then branded as 'being Bengali'. These image creations are made possible by a wide variety of livelihoods that have come up during the 1990s. Earlier most of these livelihoods were within the domain of the family members. The functioning of these livelihoods is also made possible by the increasing incursion of different forms of media creating and beaming images of the being the perfect Bengali marriage. The Bengali marriage is now is not only an expression of being Bengali, rather it also showcases the impact of other communities cultural values and modes by appropriating them within its own rituals and practices.

This paper looks at how these images are created and projected as being 'original' and 'perfectly Bengali' and process of their consumption by the Bengali society. Significance of culture, ritual and practices as defined by the origin of the family and kinship identities in marriage practices is explored herein. The paper also focuses on the new livelihoods that are thus created and takes into account the newly emergent economic spaces that have opened up. The nature of  these  livelihoods  need to be understood as being gendered, ephemeral,  informal  and simultaneously perhaps progressing towards corporatisation.


4. Swagata Basu:

Consuming Marriage-Women’s engagement with Modernity, Marriage and Law in Metropolitan India


Marriage in India has always been a vehicle for upward social mobility for individuals, families and communities. Impact of modernity on marriages during the Colonial period in India has been well documented. The current neo-liberal political economy too has cast a deep influence on the gender roles through rapid social and economic transition of the urban regions. As a result, women’s entry into the labour market has risen. However, the very same economic forces encourage consumerist lifestyle which subsequently reinforces regressive gender roles and places women at risk of violence and exploitation at home.

Drawing from Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of Liquid Modernity, where the idea of being modern is fluid and alters with the changing images of that ‘perfect life’ casts a considerable amount of influence on how married couples and their families conceive life after marriage. This paper looks into the lives of urban middle class women in India who are now being targeted as the ultimate consumers; with the society egging them to aspire and adopt a lifestyle of consumption and acquisition which is projected by an image of the savvy working wife who is able to bring her income and dowry to the matrimonial home. This process gets heightened in the urban areas as city space produces newer spaces of consumption in the forms of new workplaces, residences and spaces of recreation and newer forms of connections between these segregated places.

Through feminist ethnographic fieldwork of women experiencing domestic violence and seeking mediation at the special crime women cells in two  metropolitan cities of New Delhi and Kolkata, this paper documents the changing expectations of women from marriage and how they are negotiating and living with the ideas modernity altering their private and public lives.


5. Shinjini Bhattacharjee:

Beyond boundaries, beyond binaries: Exploring agency and modernity in contemporary Indian marriages


In the context of the contemporary Indian urban society, the phenomenon of marriage is expected to comply with certain accepted sets of norms and characteristics, which outline specific categories into which the event of marriage is compartmentalized. Moving beyond the binaries of love and arranged marriages, drawing from Derrida, the trend of what is referred to as love-cum-arranged marriages is starting to be widely observed in the contemporary Indian context. This paper attempts to explore how valid these categorizations are, what kind of meanings they are impregnated with, what their implications are and if there is a blurring of these boundaries and an overlap of these categories at some level. It would also be of interest to delve into the question of regional variations and how they manifest themselves into varied understandings of these categories. The attempt here is also to think about whether or not the idea of agency is a myth on many levels in the context of Indian marriages, wherein the choice of exercising control over one’s own marriage can be regarded more as a form of privilege (which has to be understood in terms of its intersectionalities with caste, class, gender, religion, region, etc. and its nuanced underpinnings) than something that can be taken for granted. Equating modernity with consumerist practices and the glorification of the latter can have dangerous ramifications, leading to distorted representations of the term ‘agency’.


6. Shalini Grover:

Marriage, Divorce and Modernization from 1970 to Present-Day India


Divorce rates in India have become central to the emergent discourse on marriage, modernity, social change and neo-liberalism. In this article, I first outline how the existing scholarship on marriage departs from the traditional mode of analysis. Next, I discuss that with reference to India’s market reform era, rich ethnographic representations on formal divorce are lacking. I bring into preview, dominant perceptions about divorce as a fast occurring middle-class trend. To interrogate these speculations, I historically trace and compare marital dissolution since the 1970s. One of the article’s chief contributions is to engage with the ‘modernization claim’ and its conceptual inter-linkages with sociological and pedestrian notions of divorce. This enables me to contour portentous societal transitions, such as how marriage is being viewed in an economically secure echelon where ‘indissoluble sacrament’ has been the established ideal.


7.  Rashmi Singla and Sujata Sriram:

Indian Danish intermarriage: Motivational Dynamics in context of Modernity


This paper explores motivations of Indian partner in mixed Indian-Danish couples living in Denmark. One of the characteristics of modernity is increased movements across borders, leading to increased intimate relationships across national/ethnic borders. The main research question here deals with the reasons for couple ‘getting together’. How do motives interplay with the gender- and the family generational, socio -economical categories?
The paper draws from an explorative study conducted in Denmark among intermarried couples, consisting of in-depth interviews with ten ‘ordinary’ intermarried couples combined with two clinical cases (Singla, 2015). Illustrative narratives of two Indian women married to Danish men and an Indian man married to a Danish woman are focus of this paper.
The theoretical framework combines intersectionality approach with cultural psychological trajectory equifinality model (TEM), transnationalism and a phenomenological approach to sexual desire and love.
We find that there are three different pathways, highlighting commonality of work identity, a cosmopolitan identity and academic interests, where differential changing patterns of privileges and power are also evoked. However, “falling in love” is pointed as the dominant reason for the intimate relation formation. Furthermore, results indicate differential generational, gender acceptance of the mixed marriage implying complex patterns of modernity within the extended family and ‘community’ involving religion, caste, region and socio-economic aspects.
These findings challenge the simplistic economic dichotomy about exogamy between the global North and global South, are discussed with other studies, among others a study about foreign-born spouses living in Japan, revealing two dominant motivations behind their migration to Japan: social and economic necessity and social and economic opportunity (Morgan et al, 2016).
Finally these narratives are analysed focussing both on the potentials and risks of mixed marriages, for enhancing couples through mental health promotion and psychosocial counselling.


9. Discussants Remarks: Prof Helle Rydtström and Prof Catarina Kinnvall, Lund University