My Parents Empowered Me To Say NO To A Man Who Wanted Dowry… Will You Help Your Daughters Too?

The courage that most people around me associate me with was taught to me by my dad. Like when this prospective groom demanded dowry!

Trigger Warning: This deals with dowry harassment, suicide, and death, and may be triggering to survivors.

Circa 2003

We met on a matrimonial site. His proposal was shortlisted mainly because he was a doctor and both my parents too were doctors. Appa had a special respect for his chosen fraternity and I shared it, what with being brought up by two and after having worked as a medical journalist.

As was common in those days, my profile was created in such a way that it was my Appa who was on the lookout for suitable matches for his child. But then again, it being those years, dad was not very computer savvy and it was I who drafted the profile. One of the important points it stated was, ‘We, as a family, do not believe in the dowry system. And, if yours does, please do not respond to this profile’.

*Dr. Satish wrote in his interest to my father, in perfect, old school gentleman style. Appa was impressed. He was in training for his MRCPCH in the UK. Soon after, we began corresponding. I had taken a break from work to do a second Masters during that time and was in Chennai. His parents were retired and settled in Bangalore.

I was home in Kerala on a short break and his parents visited. It was a short, informal meet and they claimed that they too wanted to settle in Kerala and had come to check out a property they had shortlisted at Kottayam (my hometown).

These things struck me as odd…

After I returned to Chennai, Satish, during the course of one of our chats (it was yahoo and hotmail chat times) said, “My mother really liked that carved, antique teapoy set in your house. Are the tusks on those carved elephants real ivory?”

I was gobsmacked that a first time visitor would pay such attention to details of furniture etc. The conversation changed soon after.

Fast forward a few more weeks, the alliance was on in full arranged marriage style. Satish came down to India. We met at home, with parents in tow. His parents had bought a very old house in Kottayam, which they mentioned that they planned to renovate. As in most arranged marriage meets, I felt no special spark at our meeting. But yet, two incidents happened which struck me as very odd.

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When we had a few minutes alone, Satish in great hurry thrust a small gift into my hand and said, “I brought this for you, but don’t take it out before my parents”. And, the second was when his mother requested to my mom that she wanted to see me in a saree. I did voice my protest to my mom but she mollified me saying it was a harmless request. And, when I did wear a saree, the lady looked at me, nodded as if satisfied and said, “She does not look like my elder daughter in law who is so stocky. My DIL looks so rotund in a saree”. She also brought out a wedding picture of the elder son to show us his wife.

All this worried me

The two incidents kept playing on my mind. But contrary to my usual nature, I did not voice this to my parents. The main reason was because I was riddled with guilt, for already disappointing them twice – once, over a never should have happened love affair and second, a haphazard attempt at proposing to a friend on the rebound and which did not work out (on hindsight luckily for both of us). I was 28.

I decided to voice my concerns to a senior psychiatric counsellor who mentored me during my summer apprenticeship at an NGO. Looking back, I do not know if it was his traditional upbringing or he simply did not want to take the responsibility of a marital alliance break up, he told me, “Focus on the positive side. Satish likes you so much that he brought you that gift. Maybe his parents are conservative and that is why he chose to hide it from them”.

Then this happened

A couple of weeks fast forward. A wedding date is set and the hall booked. We are corresponding on a regular basis too.

Then one day, a phone call from Appa.

“Dear, I want to ask you something. Do you really like Satish? Will you be very disappointed if this does not work out? If so, tell me and I will make this happen.”

“Appa, what exactly is this? Tell me…?”

To cut a long story short, once the date and venue were fixed the ‘would have been in-laws’ had made the following statements, over many days…

~ How much gold are you planning to give Molu (daughter). You saw my elder daughter in law’s picture, no? She was wearing 100 sovereigns. It’s not that we want anything but if Molu can’t match that, then she might be embarrassed.

~ We want a very grand wedding here. But since we are settled in Bangalore for several years, all our friends are there. So, we want you to give a grand reception there.

~ Since you are not from Bangalore, how about giving us cash in advance so that we can arrange the reception in Bangalore?

After that 3rd call, my dad had put them on hold and said, “I’d like to talk to my daughter and ask her opinion”. Till then, he hadn’t told me because he too (like I did) assumed he might disappoint me!

“Appa, don’t even ask me, call this off immediately.”

Appa, however, decided to give it one last shot by emailing Satish about this. The guy responded, “See Doctor, my parents are only trying to make your daughter’s life comfortable. After all this is all for her. Even here I have just bought an apartment, won’t she get that too?” That made us laugh! The sheer ludicrousness.

We called it off.

Circa 2023

Yet another smart, beautiful professional lady, with a brilliant future ahead of her, decides to end it all. Her would be groom called off the wedding because the dowry was not enough! Yet another statistic, yet another news item from my cent percent literate State.

I was in two minds before penning this down. Will I be able to get the message across in the right manner? Does it sound like I’m preening? It’s sheer luck that I had a man like my dad as father. Pure destiny. But, then I decide to pen it down because over the years, I’ve realised that the courage that most people around me associate me with is something that was taught to me by my dad.

Why is it that we instill in our daughters that her ‘self worth’ is determined by someone else. Why do we teach her to measure her societal status by how docile she is? Perhaps that is the unspoken code of conduct that we instill deep in them by how we lead our own lives. Mothers who let themselves be trampled, walked over and treated as properties. Fathers who show them this is how real ‘alpha males’ treat their women, don’t dare dream for better.

PS: Let us not make any judgemental/patronising comments or opinions about the young medico who passed away. We, in no way, know what she went through. Rest in Peace, young one.

Image source: a still from Made In Heaven

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About the Author

Dershana Nair

I write about Life, as I see it... It is my lifeline to sanity. A psychiatric social worker by training, an erst while journalist by chance, technical writer by plan and now, a home maker read more...

5 Posts | 8,588 Views

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