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The practice of dowry in India has evolved from the protection of the bride to being a cruel pressure on both sides in a marriage. Why do we still practice dowry? Is change possible? This post has some answers.
“The key question isn’t ‘What is Evil?’ The key question is ‘When does Good become Evil?'” ― Amish Tripathi, The Oath of the Vayuputras
I’m sure many of you have read the fabulous Shiva Trilogy books, written by Amish Tripathi. And those who haven’t read them must surely have heard about them. If you haven’t, no worries; I hear Karan Johar is making a movie about it, and soon, it will reach a more widespread audience. I am not going to write about the books or the upcoming movie here, though.
I have been thinking about this quote for quite some time. Our country is deeply rooted in traditions, and for as long as we can remember, we’ve followed them diligently, just because that’s how everything is always done.
But at what point does Good become Evil?
Take a look at the Indian Marriage system. I can’t be the only one to find it flawed. But we can’t fix something unless we go back and try to understand its origins, because nothing originally begins as a problem.
In the old days, the girl child was not educated. She was not entitled to legal inheritance. Her only purpose was to marry into another family and bear sons. (Yes, sons. We’ve all read about the female foeticide and infanticide in our fabulous history. If a daughter was born, it was not intended. It was merely an accident that had to be dealt with).
So, when a daughter was married, she was given a small portion of the family wealth, as a form of inheritance; to be a source of sustenance for her, so that she will be worth something in her new family, so that if her husband turns her out into the streets or if he dies, she will have something to help her get back on her feet. And I sincerely commend our ancestors for finding a way to protect women, despite the fact that she was not a man.
At the time, I am sure this practice made complete sense – at the time. But what about now? Is our country the same as it was 200 years ago? Absolutely not! Yet, we still continue to follow those ancient rules.
Today, women have the right to education, the chance to have a career, to travel all over the world, head world organizations, and go on shuttle missions to outer space. Yes, there are still many places where women are still kept in the dark, and behind closed shutters. But here, I am only talking about women like you and me, who have supposedly left the darkness behind and stepped into the light.
For the most part, I would like to think that we are no longer at a disadvantage.
When we have the opportunity and the ability to accomplish so much, why do we still need to carry a ‘sustenance’ as we move from our parents’ house to our husband’s? Are we still considered a burden, that when handed over to another party, must be compensated for? Are we still, just a commodity in a transaction?
Dowry is no longer demanded. It is implied. It is implied in the ‘tradition’ that the bride’s family pays for the wedding (entirely or almost always, the larger share). It is implied in the mandate that she always be sent with jewellery to the husband’s house. It is implied in the way the society grants the upper hand to the groom’s family, and gives the bride’s family a more docile role in a wedding.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not victimising the bride’s family and making the groom’s family the villains here. Blaming the groom and his family entirely would be unfair. The fault also lies with the girl’s parents. When the modern-day bride raises an issue about some of the financial aspects of her wedding, she is shot down by her own family, with the following reasons:
“They are your new family.”
“We are only doing what is best for you.”
“By making them happy, we are ensuring your happiness”.
All questions are drowned out in reassurances.
The way I see it, not just the bride, but all involved parties must be offended by that sentiment.
Why is there a list of expenses set out exclusively for the bride’s family? Why are there no such obligations for the groom? Why is it so hard to tally all the expenses, divide by two, and be done with it? The sad, sad part of it all is that whenever the groom’s parents offer to share certain expenses, it thrills the bride’s family, and they consider it a favour being done in their magnificence. Why is it considered a favour, when it is actually just fair?
Why is it so hard to tally all the expenses, divide by two, and be done with it?
We have been wrongly trained to find such behaviour acceptable when it comes to a wedding. If a person illegally encroaching your land offers to move when confronted, will you consider it as a favour he/she is doing for you?
There are two sides to every coin. And there are two versions to every story.
If you ask the groom’s parents, they’ll tell you, that when they try to be different, and do what’s right instead of what’s expected, a torrent of questions come pouring in from all sides. Sometimes, the parents are shamed for being gutless and not demanding what is due to them. Our society strongly discourages anomalies, in an act to preserve the present way of life. In order to avoid these unwanted social pressures, people just prefer to go with tradition. Because naturally, it is the safest thing to do.
Why do we still follow a system that, at the end of the day, makes everyone feel victimised and under pressure?
A practice that was originally designed to protect women, has now become a grievance.
The only reason it has survived all these centuries, is because it is still practised, and worse – celebrated. And as long as a large majority continue to believe in this system, there is no hope at effecting a change.
Let’s be that change in our own homes. Don’t blindly follow tradition, when it is no longer relevant. Ask yourself if what you are expected to do is right. Question your elders, speak out; maybe they just never thought about it that way.
Just remember: the society is a living organism composed of people like you and me. If you can change one molecule, one person, over time, the entire being can be cured, wrongs can be righted, and balance restored.
Pic credit: Obtuse (Used under a CC license)
A passionate writer who believes in the magic of the written word. She currently works
Thought provoking write up. Dowry system shouldn’t be celebrated. I personally know people who boasts about how much they can get as dowry because of their profession, and others who still not satisfied with the huge lands they got. It is pathetic. I’m glad that I’m not married to a family who takes advantage of the dowry system in India.
Very thoughtful article! We claim to change with the times, but we still hold on to old practices by just changing what we call them…it is not dowry, it is just giving the girl the best on the “most important day of her life”. If they really thought this was needed, which I am not sure of anyway, why not invest the money in a fixed deposit, so it will come of use in an emergency? Who gains by the show and hoopla?
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