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Dowry By Any Other Name

Posted: August 27, 2015

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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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