The last couple of days have been replete with news of dowry death. Three women losing their life in quick succession due to dowry demands has enraged the whole country. The most brutal of these deaths has been that of the final year BAMS student Vismaya V. Nair. But the biggest shock for me was the exorbitant dowry given by her parents to the groom. Why could this money not have been put to better use? The collective expense involved on the gold, land, and vehicle could have been put to use on Vismaya’s higher education or helped her establish her medical practice, why it could have acted as a comfortable retirement fund for the parents. But the exorbitant dowry only led to their daughter being caught in the trap of her husband’s greed and parents themselves weighed down by debt.1 The recent cases may have put the spotlight back on dowry deaths, but the growing obsession in our country for big fat weddings with the main focus on the ugly display of materialism has been spelling doom for years. It is high time not just to focus the discussion on dowry but the society’s entire perception of weddings.
Weddings have turned into social status indicators
Since March 2020 there has been scaling down in wedding celebrations owing to the pandemic is what I have been hearing. According to media reports, Vismaya got married in May 2020 amidst pandemic restrictions. It was by no means a small-scale wedding considering the money that has gone into the wedding. Frankly, from my observation, I hardly saw any weddings last year which could be described as austere or even remotely low-key. The guest list may have been trimmed down, but the other exorbitant fringes were lavished on.
There have been many who have questioned the necessity for giving the exorbitant dowry that Vismaya’s parents did. Whatever were the reasons that compelled them to take the decision, an important factor to be considered here is societal pressure, the pressure to upkeep their image in society. I remember a friend once told me a high-end sedan car was given at her sister’s wedding as a wedding gift by her father. When I was curious to know what was the need, she said her father would be shamed if he fails to provide these basic gifts to his son-in-law. A gift is a smart way of putting it across, but is this gift needed? Why encourage this freeloading? Is retaining this false prestige in society going to benefit anybody in the long run?
Weddings which a few decades ago were simple family gatherings have become lavish events stretching over days. Thanks to the fame of Yash Raj and Barjatya movies we now have South Indian weddings boasting of Mehandi, sangeet, and haldi ceremonies. Nothing wrong with adopting fun rituals which give more scope for family bonding, but these ceremonies have remained anything but that even in communities where they were traditionally practiced. You have a separate venue, décor, costumes, and a whole lot of frills put together for each ceremony. This lavishness can lead to expenses worth more than a lifetime of savings for the host, which in most cases is unfortunately the bride’s family. Does this guarantee a happy married life for the bride? The unfortunate story of Rashika Jain will give you the answer.2
Beti Bachao and Then Value Her
The fact that even in 2021 a girl is being married off at an age as young as 20 or 21 with all the pomp and show, rather than letting her concentrate on her career, education, and life goals only speak of the prevalent repressiveness in our society. From the time of the birth of a girl child, the parents plan their finances with the end goal of the girl’s marriage. The effort is put in to entirely groom the girl for this end goal. While parents may feel proud about hosting an exorbitant wedding for their daughter, lavishing her husband and his family with “gifts” often beyond their means, do they spare a thought for the life that lies ahead for their daughter? Even to this day “beti paraya dhan hain” explains it all.
The case of 19-year-old Suchitra3 is heart-breaking and also representative of our regressive societal mindset. A girl in her teens is married off because her horoscope supposedly says if not now, she can’t be married for the next 7 years. This is not an isolated case; I have seen this happen in families around me. When questioned about this decision to hurriedly marry of their young daughter, parents will tell you girls need to be married at the right age and when they are younger, they will get good alliances, they dry up with age. An illogical decision backed by an even more illogical explanation. The irony is this supposed decision taken for the good of the daughter is done at the cost of her rightful opportunities and often without even bothering to find out if she is mentally prepared for marriage.
Time, We Checked the Male Entitlement
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India ranked 140th among 156 countries 4. An extremely sad and worrying piece of news, but this also reflects the reality of the discrimination the female population of our country is subject to. If you are still in doubt of the statistical figures, then take a peek at the matrimonial practices in the country, reality will sink without an iota of doubt. To this day a son is the cherished child in most households. He is raised with all the extra dollops of love pampering and entitlement to be presented in the marriage market to the highest bidder. However uncomfortable it sounds; this is the harsh reality of how marriage alliances work in our country. Men are pushed into certain professions by their families with just the intent of commanding more dowry. The irony is, the bride’s family gives the dowry, gives away their daughter and it is the bride who is expected to compromise, adjust and make the marriage work at all cost. In such a scenario while the potential groom’s job, educational qualification, and earning potential increase his value in the marriage market, it works inversely for a girl. A few years ago, a friend’s family was seeking marriage alliances for her. She is a post-graduate who was working in a well-paid job with a renowned Corporate. Most families of men who enquired were uncomfortable with the fact that the girl was qualified and financially independent. The second factor was what caused the maximum grievance for the men and their families. Some men went on to suggest that they wanted to marry a qualified girl like her, but she should focus solely on her domestic duties after marriage. That is the harsh reality of modern men seeking empowered wives in our country.
The modern groom’s family of today is smart, they do not openly demand dowry, it’s just “gifts” and “good arrangements” for their guests that they seek. These gifts range from glitzy home appliances, designer furniture, vehicles, varying types of jewelry for the in-laws and guests, house, and pieces of land. The “good arrangements” are another ball game altogether. Wedding venue at a 5-star resort to unnecessary food counters at the venue every such demand is justified in the garb of good arrangements. Many a time such demands come up at the nth hour from the groom’s side and the bride’s family still complies with the blackmail, because a broken marriage will tarnish their daughter’s reputation and their family’s honor. If only such senseless notions were chucked away and the women and their families exposed the real face of such greedy men and their ilk, their entitlement would die down.
Taking and giving dowry is a punishable offense in India since 1961. Dowry sought in any garb remains just that, dowry. At the first instance of a price tag being quoted for a man by his family, they ought to be exposed and shamed. Those who worry about society branding such a girl as a trouble maker or her family reputation being tarnished, does a society that encourages extortionists and lawbreakers ought to be cared for? It is the entitlement granted by this attitude of the society that gives parents of errant and ill-behaved sons to justify their horrendous behavior.5
Marriage should be a decision of the couple alone
For years there have been talks, awareness campaigns, and protest marches all to eradicate the evil practice of dowry, but unfortunately, the practice seems to be gaining ground in new ways. One of the primary reasons for dowry still being prevalent is the decision-makers in a wedding are the family members of the bride and groom. Most times the couple to be wedded has little to no say. The practice would come to an end only when we as a society change our understanding of weddings and let the practice evolve for the better.
The practice of considering marriage an absolute necessity for every individual ought to be abandoned. Secondly, the decision to marry should entirely be that of the couple and the marriage arrangements their responsibility. Under such a situation most sane people wouldn’t want to start their married life deep in debt for the sake of a destination wedding with a ten-course buffet spread. If this were to become a reality then may be equal marriages would become the norm in our society.
We have a long way to go for the above scenario to become a reality, but until then let women exercise the right over their life and their decisions and assure them their right of inheritance. Instead of asking women to adjust, compromise, marry at the right age and make a marriage work, let us ask the men to mend their act and get a check on their entitled behavior.
- https://www.indiatoday.in/cities/kolkata/story/kolkata-dowry-harassment-death-rashika-agarwal-1775787-2021-03-05 & https://www.instagram.com/justiceforrashika/?hl=en
- . https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/wefs-gender-gap-index-india-slips-28-places-ranks-140-among-156-countries/article34206867.ece#:~:text=Share%20Article-,India%20had%20ranked%20112th%20among%20153%20countries%20in%20the%20Global,worst%20performer%20in%20South%20Asia