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Archie Ingersoll, Published February 10 2014

For area Bhutanese, arranged marriage still common practice

FARGO – In a steamy apartment rich with the smell of curry, a pair of newlyweds sat on a loveseat Monday afternoon, accepting gifts and blessings in the Hindu tradition.

Well-wishers stuck tika – a mix of red powder, rice and yogurt – to the couple’s foreheads and sprinkled dried flower petals onto their laps.

The groom, Ram Thapaliya, and his bride, Madhavi Regmi, both Bhutanese refugees, sat quietly and smiled as their friends and family looked on.

This reception took place in the three-bedroom apartment of Thapaliya’s family in south Fargo. The actual wedding, as tradition dictates, happened at the home of Regmi’s family in Denver on Sunday.

Their parents had arranged the marriage, a common practice among Bhutanese who have made their homes in North Dakota and many other states.

“There’s a lot of, like – what do you call? – interstate marriage,” said Raj Chhetri, a friend of the groom’s family.

Thapaliya, 23, and Regmi, 18, had met once in person before getting married. That was in September when Thapaliya and his parents were visiting relatives in Denver. But the couple’s first contact came by chance about 1½ years ago, Thapaliya said.

The wife of Thapaliya’s uncle was sending money from the U.S. to her family in a Nepali refugee camp. She asked Thapaliya to call her family and give them the reference number for the money transfer. When he called, Regmi answered the phone.

“To whom I talked, I didn’t ask her name,” Thapaliya said. “But I called a couple of times to talk, to know how they are doing.”

Regmi and her family came to the U.S. about eight months ago, and after arriving, she and Thapaliya struck up a friendship over the Internet. It was in September, during Thapaliya’s visit to Denver, that their parents agreed they should wed.

Thapaliya said that if he or Regmi had not been happy with the planned marriage, either person could have called it off. Because of this veto power, their union is something of a hybrid between an arranged marriage and one that allows free choice.

Chhetri, who is president of the Bhutanese community group in Fargo, said that while arranged marriages are the norm in his culture, more “love” marriages are taking place with the help of social media.

Pleased with the pairing

Which type of marriage leads to more happiness is debatable. In 2012, researchers at California State University studied the marriages of 58 Indian-Americans living in the U.S. Twenty-eight of the participants said their marriages had been arranged by relatives or matchmakers. The other 30 said their marriages were based on love.

The participants completed questionnaires, and researchers found no difference between the two groups, with both reporting high rates of love, satisfaction and commitment.

On Monday, Regmi, whose English is limited, and Thapaliya both said they were pleased with the pairing. The two plan to live here while Thapaliya attends Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead.

Thapaliya’s family came to the U.S. in 2011. They are among the 1,500 Bhutanese refugees who have settled in North Dakota, according to Lutheran Social Services, a nonprofit group that assists refugees.

Bhutanese refugees, who are of Nepali descent, were forced out of Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in Southeast Asia that adopted a “One Nation, One People” policy in the early 1990s. For close to 20 years, the refugees lived in the thatched-roof-and-bamboo shelters of Nepali camps.

Now in the U.S., the group is able to practice their religious celebrations, such as Hindu weddings, without restriction.

“As for our culture, nobody will disturb us. Nobody will interrupt those things,” Thapaliya said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734