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The High Court calls ‘Roka’ a social evil. Are these marriage traditions relevant in these modern times?
Roka is a pre-wedding ceremony, observed by Punjabis, where the bride’s family gives money (also known as shagun) and gifts to the groom’s family, as a token for the fixing of their marriage. The couple is henceforth considered to be engaged and can openly court.
This tradition is observed by different Indian communities under different names. However, the tradition has recently come under criticism by a Bench of judges in the High Court. Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Pratibha Ranni were presiding over a case where a woman appealed against a divorce granted to her husband by a family court. During the legal arguments, the man claimed that the woman criticized the quality of gifts her family received during their Roka in 2006, while the woman complained that her husband’s family was not happy with the money and gifts given by her father.
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This is what the judges had to say about the Roka ceremony:
“The ceremony of Roka goes back approximately 25 years ago. Under this, a couple is treated as a kind of a chattel. Its significance is that on the account of money given by the family of the female to the male, it is conveyed to the society that neither would henceforth scout for a life partner – the search for a life partner is stopped: Roka. It is a social evil which needs to be condemned. It entails useless expenditure and in many cases, becomes the source of future bickering. A judge has no means to fly back in time to see what had happened.”
The High Court also found that the man was an alcoholic and suffered from depression and the case was concluded with the separation verdict being nullified.
However, putting aside the rest of the issues, if we focus only on the High Court’s comment on Roka–is the Court justified in abhorring such a ceremony?
As we see time and again, most of the traditional Indian wedding ceremonies and customs tend to portray the girl just like a ‘burden’ whose ‘responsibility’ seems to be shifted from the father to the husband. For example, the custom of Kanyadaan or transferring the responsibilities of the girl from the father to the husband.
Similarly, don’t you think Roka too seems to be like a commercial transaction? Sometimes, when we like an object in a shop, we might pay an advance for the item to be booked in our name so that we can purchase it later on. Are marriages business transactions where such dealings are justified?
In the recent times, when both the boy and girl are mostly financially independent and when couples are increasingly undertaking love marriages, how is this Roka ceremony even relevant? Why do we need to ‘book a groom’ to ensure that he won’t flee with another woman?
Also like dowry, any kind of monetary transaction in a lifelong commitment like marriage, tends to make it look like a commercial transaction. Women are not helpless. We don’t need to pay someone to take them away!
Additionally, it is said that the Roka Ceremony gives a license to the boy and girl to openly court. Hello? This is 2016! Two consenting adults can court whomever they want without applying for a license to do that!
Being familiar with the famous Indian ‘Sanskari’ logic, I’m expecting questions like, “But it’s our culture, based on ancient traditions and if people are just doing it out of love, then why oppose it?” My answer is: “Before upholding and blindly following such misogynistic traditions, let us try to do a root cause analysis behind the existence of such customs and whether those have any social relevance today.”
After reading an article on the evils of customs such as Karva Chauth on Women’s Web, I noticed the comments section. Though most people agreed with the view, that such customs have lost their relevance and should be done away with, I did observe comments like “We do it out of love for our husbands.”
Well, we can do a lot of less discriminatory things, to show our love for our partners, you know? For example, we can save up on money and go for trips to our favorite destinations or we can take turns in doing the mundane housework to show that we care for each other.
In short, both the partners can do things for each other, that underline the EQUALITY between two genders to honour their love, rather than the wife showing herself in a lesser light, in order to inflate the husbands’ ego.
Hence, we believe that the High Court definitely made a valid point about the Roka, being a social evil. We applaud the judiciary for taking a pragmatic view and rendering such traditions inconsistent with the current socio economic times.
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Spot on Kasturi! I completely agree with your very valid argument. I especially like the last three paragraphs you have written. Also, like you say any financial exchange (which often becomes a basis for negotiating and bargaining, harassing and bickering, keeping score etc!! and thus reinforce inequality )amounts to commercialisation of a relationship that can no longer sustain itself on mere illogical traditions but instead must be now based on mutual consent and companionship in these modern times- if it has to have any chance of surviving. Educated independent men and women must embrace these plans of action and thinking processes in major life decisions (including choosing a life partner) -if they want to live a life with none of the contradictions that can ruin their sense of self and dignity.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and summing it up so eloquently, Sonia. I always feel whatever has been going on in the name of tradition (in any religion) should be questioned, before just carrying forward the legacy blindly. Also, with time the traditions need to change to reflect their relevance. Anyone who merely follows it out of respect and fear and expects others to do so needs to open up their minds and think first.
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