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INDIA: I Said No to Arranged Marriage to Say Yes to Myself

Upasana Chauhan
Posted August 11, 2016 from India

Despite the threat of honor killing, Upasana followed her heart to be with the man she loves.

“The only rebels I remember who said no to their parents were outcast by society, their friends, and even their families.

Do not fall in love with somebody who does not belong to our caste. Of all the rules I had to follow as a girl, this was the most important.

I was born in a small town in Haryana, India. I was taught to be obedient and to say yes to everything my parents asked me to do. This three letter word defined my life.

The day I reached puberty, the perspective of people around me suddenly changed. It started with people telling me not to play with boys anymore. I said yes, I won’t play because I want to be an obedient girl. This yes followed me like a ghost everywhere, every day. But my soul never agreed.

Relatives would advise my parents to lock me inside the house to show me my right place in the kitchen. They never forgot to remind me that I could not even think of a marriage built on love. Family friends would advise my parents to quickly have me married so that I would not be their responsibility anymore.

I live in a state where the ratio of girls to boys is 873 females for every 1000 males. This is the result of parents illegally determining the sex of the baby in the womb and aborting if it's a girl. I live in a state where ‘honor killing’ is widespread. I grew up reading stories in newspapers about parents who killed their own children to protect their honor. And I belong to a caste that has always valued protecting the community and traditions over a family member’s feelings, emotions, and decisions.

Whenever I tried to gather the courage to say no, I was labeled stubborn and disobedient. The girls around me were saying yes. The only rebels I remember who said no to their parents were outcast by society, their friends, and even their families. I wanted to be the best girl and a good example. Eventually, I became a ‘yes girl’.

But as I got older, my soul battled with that yes. I started to listen and say no. No rewarded me with some of the best things in my life: my graduation, my job, and my independent life miles away from home. But I knew there was still one hard rule I could never break: Do not fall in love with somebody who does not belong to our caste.

The more you fear something, the bigger it appears in your life. Eventually, my worst nightmare came true—I fell in love, and the man of my dreams was from the wrong caste.

When I met him, I was still meeting boys for an arranged marriage because I wanted to be the yes girl and follow the rule book. That feeling of being in a stranger’s house where you are being judged still scares me. Sometimes the mother would touch me because she wanted to check my skin and hair. Those meetings were nothing less than a terrifying flea market.

I was 23 when I met my soul mate. I could see he had so much love in his heart and support for my ambitions. But my mind would never fail to remind me of the consequences of even thinking of us being together.

I was afraid I was inviting chaos and breaking my parent’s hearts, that I was risking my own life. What I wanted is the most beautiful feeling on this planet: love. And it’s what I deserve.

It’s not that my parents didn’t love me. But, I think they had learned to love that ‘yes girl’. My soul mate was the first person who ever asked me, “What is your dream?” I had no answer. I didn’t know I was allowed to have a dream. And if I had a dream, I didn’t know I could talk openly about it.

With that one question, my inner soul cried tears of joy. My soul was yelling, say yes to him. After a long two-year battle between my soul and my head, I finally said yes to marriage, knowing that this yes would mean saying no to my family and community.

I somehow collected my strength and broke the news to my family. I still remember the moment I told them. The lights in the room started flickering. I was scared to death because I couldn’t even see their reaction. I was preparing myself to be hit. My heart still races when I think of those fearful flickering minutes of my life.

My parents didn’t hit me. Instead, they warned me that they would go and kill him. I answered, “You need to kill me first”. They put me under house arrest and would not allow me to go back to work. Every day I would wake up to the words that their biggest mistake in life was to educate me. This hurt deeply. Every hour of every day, I would negotiate. “Please let me go back to my job,” I’d say. “My professional life has nothing to do with my personal life.”

One day, after promising that I loved them and would never do anything to bring them shame, my family finally allowed me to leave. I was back to work, thankful to God that I was in one piece, but filled with so many fearful thoughts.

This battle to get one yes from my parents went on for four more years. They stopped talking to me. They warned me that they would disown me if I married him. Every time they threatened or warned me, I would leave everything and travel two days by train just to hug them and tell them I loved them. They fired every warning and threat at me that they could.

I felt hurt every single time and felt like giving up on them. But I believed they loved me, and they just needed to believe that they would be okay and society would also be okay if I married the man I love. My soul mate joined me in showering love on my parents. He started sending them flowers and cards with handwritten notes.

It took four years, but this one no to my parents has changed my life completely. My parents finally said yes. Because my parents finally supported me, society followed.

Now, everyone accepts us. So many people tell me they have never met such an outstanding person as the man I love. Our wedding was the most joyful wedding in our family. We have opened the doors for all my sisters and friends. They now know that it’s okay to get married to the one you love.

There are laws now against honor killing in our state, but do you think those laws are what stopped my family from killing me? No. It’s the love and support of people around us that allowed our family to take a bold step and be an example for others. We need to say no to societal laws and yes to implementing governmental laws.

My story changed completely the day I said no to the environment I grew up in; the day I said no to all my worst fears; the day I said no to an arranged life partner and yes to my life. If every single girl learns to stand up for herself and say no to what she doesn’t feel is right for her future—the whole dynamics of her future can change.

Comments 25

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Dhara Patel
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

very well written.  I am also from India and I can feel each and every word you have written.  hope mindset will be change one day.

Upasana Chauhan
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Hi Dhara,    

Thanks a lot for your comment. We sail in the same boat sister. We are the Future and the present is the time to create our own new future. I fought hard for my future so that my sisters can also feel encouraged to take a stand for their rights. Let's pledge to be the change we want to see in our society. I hope you follow your heart and make the right decision. Let's stay in touch 

Dhara Patel
Aug 16, 2016
Aug 16, 2016

sure Upasana. Its my pleasure that I met you through World pulse Community.

Jessica Foumena
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

I can't believe this kind of things is still happening. I'm shocked and speechless. Above all, I salute your courage for making things work. Your story has a beautiful ending but as you say, you risked everything because of the man you love. In my culture, some tribes discouraged women from marrying outside their tribe. It's called tribalism. I'm lucky to come from a family that is open-minded. Now, I'm not yet married but my first engagement felts apart. I was shocked to see that relatives who never truly cared about me start having their say in my business. If I've to do it again, I'll make things clear to my parents that nobody else has a say on my union. I salute the courage of your husband as well. Thank you for sharing.

Upasana Chauhan
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Hello Jessica,

Thanks a lot for your Love and support. I hate to accept it but it still happens even today. Infact, even educated, modern people who have travelled the world encourage n follow all this flea market system. Not only that educated families kill their own kids with their own hands .. I mean unimaginable.. In the name of honor.. I was blessed to have a family who never believed in killing. But, disowning.. "Oh Yes" .. The struggle to bring them on the same page was everyday for 4 years... I still can't believe I made it through at times .. My husband really supported me through all this... I will pass your regards n comments to him for sure... Together with each other we will go far sister.

I am sorry to hear that your relatives poked their nose into your personal life. Pls tell your parents that if they fall sick (God Forbid) then YOU will be the only one taking care of them .. Your relatives would vanish before a minute. So they should think n thank more of you n less of those long lost relatives. While typing this as well my blood boils just by the thought that how these relatives come n spoil our lives n leave us stranded. Many years back I used to be the relatives pleaser and trust me I was only rewarded back with nagging heads. I have now made it clear and also to my parents that who n what matters. Our family and their smile matters the most .. I am sure you will soon find the best soulmate and these relatives would just watch and learn how you Roll .. 

Love n Hugs

Upasana

Jessica Foumena
Aug 15, 2016
Aug 15, 2016

Sister Upasana,

Your comment warmed up my heart. Thank you for having my back. I hope we'll keep in touch. I look forward to know more about you and your story. I'm so pleased to have met you here. Perhaps one day, we'll physically meet. Your story is engraved in my heart and your story has motivated me to fight for girls not only in Africa but Asia and more. Actually, there's a story on my organisation's blog about India and the importance of education  for girls. At this time, my parents, my siblings and I are in an agreement that we, their children, are their primary caregivers if anything happens. Thank you for pointing out. I just want you to know women's struggles regarding marriage is so real, even today. This needs to stop. We shall catch up soon,

Love & Hughs

Abby Smith
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

I salute you for being not just yes girl, but a strong-willed woman. You kept persisting and never gave up. Congratulations!

Upasana Chauhan
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Thanks a lot Abby... There is a saying that you have to be strong because there is no other option. I think I could either give up n live a dead life everyday or be strong n fight everyday and win one day... I chose the hard route but it was totally worth the pain

Lydia Martin
Aug 14, 2016
Aug 14, 2016

I agree 100% with you that love is the most beautiful feeling in the world. If more people felt this love and let themselves be happy with it, I think the world would be a much better place. You were so unbelievably brave to say no to your parents and yes to your heart; generations of cultural tradition and your own family's expectations that you would be a good daughter made this an almost impossible feat. And yet you realised you had the right to your own happiness, and you fought for it. This is so crucial not just for you but also for so many women for whom you have opened the door to follow in your footsteps in the future. I am so proud of you and in awe of you. I wish you and your husband an infinitely happy future together, surrounded by a loving and supporting family on both sides.

All the best,

LightMyWay (Lydia)

Adanna
Aug 14, 2016
Aug 14, 2016

Very inspiring story Upasana. I am glad you ended up with a man who loves you and is also ready to support your dreams and aspirations.

helen.ng
Aug 14, 2016
Aug 14, 2016

I deeply admire and respect your courage to stand up to your parents and follow your heart. It was evident that you were struggling quite a lot, and for a long time, conflicted about what you wanted versus what your parents wanted. The entire story in itself is extremely inspiring to other women facing similar ordeals, and I want to commend you for your bravery and independence, and I wish you all the best on your journey.

With kindest regards,

Helen Ng

Aks270
Aug 15, 2016
Aug 15, 2016

Well written account of personal life situation. You have written a brave story here and I completely agree and support your point of view. I think you have made the whole India proud in two ways: 1) by not submitting to the traditional Indian caste boundaries by marrying your true love. Kudos to that! 2) by summarizing the event of such a strongly opinionated topic, you have emboldened every ordinary Indian girl to have courage to achieve freedom to choose and love. I sincerely appreciate your courage to come forward and wish all the very best in your incredible life which has taken a great start.

Keep up the great work! Be bold! Be brave! More importantly spread the word to help others.

Cheers!

A

William
Aug 16, 2016
Aug 16, 2016

Dear Upasana, congratulations on your recent marriage. I understand the courage it took to make the commitment to marry into a lower caste. You have definitely broken a ceiling, a barrier and opened doors for others to choose for love, instead of accepting the ancient custom of an arranged marriage. It seems like the change necessary to eliminate the horrible caste system started when you said "yes" to your own happiness. May you and your husband be blessed in many ways. Your friend, William.

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 16, 2016
Aug 16, 2016

Such a beautiful story of courage and self-belief. Kudos to you for standing up for yourself. Its never easy to fight with your parents for your love, nothing makes you more happy when you parents say yes to the one you love and accept them as yours. I am glad you stood up for your self, your love and what you believed in. Kudos!

Tamarack Verrall
Aug 18, 2016
Aug 18, 2016

Dear Upasana,

What a courageous and beautiful story. I hope that it is read, spoken, made available to every girl so that they too can be inspired to find the courage as well toward the life they dream of for themselves. Stories like yours of defying old unjust traditions are the fuel beneath this global movement of change.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Upasana Chauhan
Aug 19, 2016
Aug 19, 2016

Hello Tam,

Thanks a lot for the support and understanding the vision behind it. It really is a fuel behind the global movement of change for women's freedom starting from her career to her life partner. There are still so many countries where women can't do what they feel like. I sometimes feel burned under this same fuel for others and get so disappointed. But, friends like you really today gave me strength to carry the torch and keep going. I hope my country women n girls also start supporting and become a part of this change. 

Your Love and Support is my strength. Please keep it coming :) 

Love n Hugs 

Upasana

Courtney Randolph
Aug 18, 2016
Aug 18, 2016

Dear Upasana,

I loved reading your story. It further opened my eyes of what is going on in the whole world and not just the things we complain about in privileged America. I was inspired by your story of not being a "yes girl". That is a very powerful message to young women and older women whether we are in love or not. I love the message behind " I am not a yes girl!" I vote to make it a hashtag I love it so  much. You are very brave and very powerful I hope to meet you soon and one day hear your story for myself! I was in shock to learn about honor killing though. This is my first time ever hearing of it and I can not believe it happens to women by there own families. That is like living in horror afraid if you make the wrong mistake you will not see the next day. I hope for a world where that does not exist anymore. 

Much Love,

Courtney Mone't

Upasana Chauhan
Aug 19, 2016
Aug 19, 2016

Hey Pynk,

             How are you ? Thanks a lot for really understanding the Depth of my message. Honestly, very few people understood the message of the story of not being a 'YES GIRL'. I have been getting such divided opinions after my article. Some are saying why did you had to bring it up when you are already happily married, some are saying I am not thankful to my family and some are getting the exact message of my story like yourself. I know I have won my battle and it's not that my parents are the worst .. NO !! They took their own time to overcome the society norms. Just that they would have never had the strength to do so if I would have at first never stood up for myself. If I would have been saying to yes to everything my parents or relatives or anybody else for that matter would have asked me for then I would have never been able to live the life I was born to live. 

As you are suggesting so right , I actually started a campaign called "SayNOtoYESGIRLS". This is to encourage and empower girls and women who have to say yes to things that they don't even feel like doing. And unfortunately it's not just a problem with India , I see it everywhere as well. I am currently living in Newyork and have been following the election campaign or other campaigns here as well. Even American girls or women are looked down upon if they try to keep their point on the table. People have this habit to judge Girls for every word they say, everything they wear. As a result, we all are made to feel guilty and therefore, we start explaining and being sorry even when we should not be. I really appreciate your vote for the hashtag and would like to get in touch with you to include you in my campaign. My email id is upasana.c20@gmail.com. Pls drop me a mail or connect with me on Facebook. Let's get this Started !!

lauren33
Aug 23, 2016
Aug 23, 2016

Dear Upasana,

Thank you so much for writing your story. I admire your ability and choice to keep hearing your heart and soul. I'm moved by both your courage to keep advocating for yourself and your patience as you and your beloved stood waiting for your family to hear the truth of your love. This inspires me to stand by my own heart and voice inside. I'm blessed with much less social resistance, and/but still struggle to know myself and not forget because of the "ease" of being a 'yes girl' (not really easier because it leads to a hollow life). Many blessings for you, your beloved and your parents who grew to change their minds! Peace, Lauren

ozabas
Aug 24, 2016
Aug 24, 2016

Dear Upasana

Thanks for sharing your experience, your struggle and your victory and success.

Really, I admire your courage, steadfastness and relentless efforts, towards ensuring your dream comes true.

It's quiet unfortunate such ridiculous beleifs and culture are still in existence in this 21st century. My prayers goes to all the victims of this barbaric culture. I can't imagine living with a life partner you share no feeling, affection or love with. It's like a living dead.

Upasana, I celebrate your victory, and I wish you life long blissful marriage.

Best wishes

Ozabas

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Aug 24, 2016
Aug 24, 2016

Dear Upasana, This is ana amazing story. Its very sad that honor killings are still happening in this day and age. Its good your parents stood up for you and your partner and gave you all the support and love that you needed. We are glad that there are now laws against honor killings in your state.

Stay blessed my dear sister.

AYABA
Aug 25, 2016
Aug 25, 2016

Congratulations!! You fought a good fight. Your piece is very inspiring and will go a long way to encourage others in similar situation to break through. I salute your courage.

Kratika Sharma
Sep 21, 2016
Sep 21, 2016

Wow, hats off to your struggle. You inspire that at times it is "Right to say No"

:)

Upasana Chauhan
Sep 21, 2016
Sep 21, 2016

Thanks a lot Kratika .... It might not always be right for your family's traditional views but it's right for you .. they will also gradually understand and accept. Until then never give up n fight for your dreams 

Love n Hugs

Elvire
Sep 23, 2016
Sep 23, 2016

Dear Upasana,

Thanks for sharing. Being conflicted from within can be hard; I can only imagine the hard times between people who mean much to you.  

I really like the end of your story and I am happy for you: you have great parents, and you all are a beautiful family. It is better to take four years and give/receive  a yes that is profoundly and well-thought of. You could have married without their consent but you did not, you invested 4 years to wait for your parents' yes. They could have quickly made an unchangeable decision but they did not; they took time to weigh between society's demands and their offspring's happiness. And you all won.

As you make history and open doors to others, may this freedom you expressed in respect and honour for your family continue to spread.