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Dowry By Any Other Name

Posted: August 27, 2015

Is dowry okay, if taken in the name of gifts? In modern times, not many talks about dowry, but the pressure remains for a lavish wedding.

As I walked into the venue, the extravagance and shimmer all around left me spellbound. Beautifully dressed girls in the finest of “Kancheevaram” silks sprinkled fragrant rose water, welcoming every guest. The entrance to the main hall was strewn with the finest of red roses, with brightly lit chandeliers all across. I could spot Shruti from almost 15 feet away. The gleam from the diamonds that adorned her neck caught my eye.  Her hands bore the weight of a dozen odd gold bangles, and her heavily embroided sari draped around her delicately. Ravi in his perfectly tailored blue “Sherwani” stood beside. I had to admit, the couple complemented each other. After a sumptuous meal and the customary greeting of the newlyweds, I returned home with a beautifully packed basket containing generous amounts of sweets and dry fruits.

I have known Sudhakar Pillai and his family for almost two decades now. Sudhakar worked at the local Tahsildar office. An honest and hardworking man, his entire life was spent scrutinizing piles of government records and files.  His daughter Shruti and I have spent many a childhood days, cycling on the by-lanes of our colony. As I sat on my bed that night reminiscing the amazing wedding I had attended of a dear friend, I could not help but wonder, “How was it possible for a humble Sudhakar to afford such a lavish wedding for his daughter?”

A month after Shruti’s wedding, I called on Sudhakar to enquire about Shruti’s whereabouts post matrimony.

A month after Shruti’s wedding, I called on Sudhakar to enquire about Shruti’s whereabouts post matrimony. I sat sipping piping hot filter coffee and flipping through the pages of the 5- kilogram wedding album, when I raised the delicate question that had been gnawing on my mind. “The wedding must have cost you quite a bit, with prices of almost everything shooting upwards.” “Ah yes,” said Sudhakar, “it cost me around 32 lakhs, including the cost of the car.” My eyes popped out. “Car? I blurted out,”

Sudhakar continued, “Ravi has a sports car in the USA, where he lives. He wanted a car for city driving in India when he is on vacation here. So we decided to gift him the latest version of Maruti Swift DZire. He loves cars.” I thought to myself, gifting is surely a good thing, and helps people bond better. But is a car worth 6 lakhs required? I sat with a grim face as Sudhakar continued.

“Shruti’s in-laws are very nice people. They did not make any demands for dowry or cash, except that they wanted the wedding to be really grand. You see they have a big family. It was such a ‘small’ request. So we ensured we got the best of caterers, hospitality, and decorations. And just because they didn’t ask for dowry, it does not mean we won’t give anything for our daughter. I ensured Shruti went with adequate sovereigns of gold and silver articles, apart from expensive gifts for Ravi’s entire family. All for our dear daughter. She will now be happy and live with dignity and respect in her in-laws home. Luckily, I retired last year and received a lump sum amount from my gratuity and leave encashment. I used this retirement benefit to get my daughter married. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult.”

Wasn’t there an indirect pressure on Sudhakar to gift his daughter with all the luxuries he could afford?

That day, when I was home alone, I wondered, isn’t asking for a grand wedding is dowry itself. Wasn’t there an indirect pressure on Sudhakar to gift his daughter with all the luxuries he could afford? Wasn’t all the glitz and glamour surrounding the wedding, dowry by another name?

Indian weddings are loaded with traditions and ceremonies, with expenditures almost always tilting largely towards the girl’s family. There is considerable anxiety, stress, and an element of pressure the girl’s family goes through to be able to deliver a “good” marriage. Of course every individual is entitled to celebrate the most important day of their life in any way they choose. But, this surely does not warrant, extravagant expenditures beyond one’s financial capacity. Many a times families go to any extent to ensure the girls have a good wedding. The common thought that prevails is, “A good marriage means a happy life for my daughter.” With the Indian Penal Code, taking strict actions against Dowry, the practice of giving cash to the groom’s party has become minimal. Yet, the pressure to please the prospective groom and their family by giving away expensive gifts persists largely. Such gifts are ‘not in the name of dowry.’

And somewhere amidst all this glitter and extravagance of the modern day wedding, we have stopped focusing on the most basic things- the sanctity in a marriage, and the compatibility between the boy and the girl.

Cover image via Shutterstock

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  1. Hi Ramya,
    Thanks for opening a topic about which many of us might have thought but never found an answer. I have a few more questions and suggestions to add on to the topic:

    1. Isn’t marriage a need for the man too? Aren’t the grooms’ family also happy about it? Then why are they not sharing the expenses?
    I ask this, because the reasons said by the grooms’ families would be – the expenses after the marriage for the girl is going to be borne by the boy. Agreed. But
    —- is the girl going to sit and relax in the husband’s house?
    —- the household activities is free labour I believe?
    —- isn’t the man getting the income of the girl if she is working?
    —- when she is getting kids, isn’t it going to bring joy to everyone?
    —- if the husband does not add happiness and safety to her life, then will the money be returned?

    2. The above questions may sound annoying. But isn’t it equally annoying when the grooms’ family seem to act as if they have some entitlement as they have brought up a boy. In the current age, the expenses incurred for bringing up a boy or a girl is almost equal, then why do the men act as if they are doing a great favour to the women by marrying her?

    3. If the religious customs are important, then it can still be made possible within the two families, and not invite everyone from the closest to the farthest relative, including their neighbours and their pets !!

    4. Why aren’t the women and their parents looking for a guy who has good value system, than huge wealth and NRI status?

    5. Sometimes, women do not even bother if they know that the groom has drinking habits and they fool themselves thinking that ‘they can change the husband out of their love’….sorry to say, I think such women have watched toooo many Indian movies. Move out of the reel life and strike balance with reality.

    6. If they are called ‘life partner’, then why are many customs heaped on women, in the form of giving respect to in-laws and bearing a male heir, and the man does not even need to stand up when his in-laws come to meet him? Life partner means, both of them have agreed to share their life with the other and not smother each other’s space. The roles may be different but they play equally important role, and one is not superior to the other.

    7. When everything is uploaded onto youtube, why not marriage celebration too? Let it be a simple marriage and the link be sent to all the relatives so that they can share the joy. I find many people (especially the elderly) cribbing when they get a wedding invitation, because it is out of sheer obligation they attend the marriage by catching some bus or train, which is too taxing for them.

    8. The people who may have a set back are the caterers and decorators, but sure enough they may find similar opportunities, as there are companies and organisations willing to spend on food and decorations for some office parties or get togethers. When one window closes another would open.

    9. The ‘big Indian wedding’ cost is one of the reasons for female foeticide and infanticide. We just need to understand the connection how we all are contributing to this.
    When as slightly higher class people, we stretch ourselves a little and spend the amount, a person from a slightly lower class might think – ‘if they can stretch a little, then maybe we can too, so as to give our daughter a happy life’. So it goes down the different strata. Now if we reverse this by making it simple, he/she will slowly start thinking, ‘wow, inspite of they having money when they plan so well and give importance only to the bonding or love of the daughter and the son-in-law, why not we too?’

    If not for the affordable group, at least for the sake of poor farmers and labour communities we need to be better role models by showing them that marriage can be bonding of love and it is not ‘BUSINESS’, wherein someone gives money to another, because the latter has a huge salary or wealth. Money is important, but it can never glue relationships, only love can.

    • You have raise some really valid and hard hitting points. I totally agree with you that this issue of extravagance and ependitures in a wedding has a direct cause-effect link to female foeticide. It is unfortunate, yet true. I sincerely hope more people, men, women, familoes, girls, boys,,…. everybody understand the underlying issue and put in an effor to make our society a far better place for every individual.

      Thanks for your comments…I truly appreciate every bit of your opinion.

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