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It’s Not All About Money, Honey: The Dowry Dilemma # A Personal Experience

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By Astitwa:

Two weeks ago Aamir took up the topic of the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ in his show Satyameva Jayate. While I didn’t watch the TV show, I was able to listen to the beautiful song ‘Arey Mujhe Kya Bechega Rupaaiya” and believe me, the motivation to pen down this article, increased to newer levels, having faced the situation first-hand. I really didn’t feel the need to exactly watch the show, collect data and mention the number of deaths caused by dowry in India. We all know how deep the malaise is. We are also aware of several cases amongst our relatives and friends whose families had to face the ‘Dowry’ issues while arranging the wedding of their lovely sisters and daughters.

Dowry is ubiquitous in India, right from the infamous states to the so-called prosperous, literate and advanced states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra. In fact, it is ingrained in our psyche, right from our childhood, that marriage payments are a part and parcel of weddings. And, I’m talking this purely from my own experiences of looking for bridegrooms for my sisters, along with my dear father, who, like most of the Indian fathers, feels that it is one of the steps to reach closer to salvation. Well, I may sound sarcastic while I say the earlier statement; it is not meant to underestimate the responsibility a father has when he is planning to marry his daughter. I have also seen tremendous stress engulfing the mind and spirit of parents, right from the day they start looking for the ‘most suitable guy’ for their daughters. Some even fall ill, suffer from blood pressure fluctuations and tend to lose sleep for days on end. I can’t exactly put it down in words… the trauma and anxiety faced by the girl and the parents, when their chosen ‘suitable guys’ reject the girl, purely on some reasons like looks, height, weight, skin color and what not!

So, as we go on to discuss marriage and dowry, we must begin from the very start of this system. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that dowry as a marriage payment system, has its roots in hundreds of civilizations that have existed thousands of years before us. It was a tradition and custom to receive goods, gold and other necessary items in exchange of the girl. The ethos behind this step was to grant financial security to the couple who is beginning a new life. So far, so good. But why should the girl’s side alone contribute in setting up the new couple while the boy’s side is free to launder those ‘blessings’, leave alone helping the new couple financially to set up.

I think if we focus on why it was done like that, we can easily understand that behind the facade of providing financial stability to the couple, it was the larger conspiracy to ensure that women remain under the control of men. And they were. The past civilizations have been male dominated. Dowry, according to me was a step to ensure that women were considered a ‘liability’ and not an ‘asset’ by the families. The same trends continued in the medieval times and unfortunately, it is widely prevalent even in our modern times. Yes, don’t consider my argument far-fetched when I say that the attitude of parents towards their daughters is still the same. Just glance around you and you’ll find numerous examples. Today, thanks to the awareness and education, the way parents perceive a boy and a girl has changed a lot. But still, when it comes to marriages, I’m quite sure; most of the parents find it hard to think in a more liberal way. So, even if they have made their daughters well-educated and an independent woman, they are ready to pay huge sums of money to the deserving guy for marrying their daughters. I really can’t understand why they do so?

Moreover, I can’t understand what prompts the suitable guys to open their mouth and ask for mind-boggling sums of money? To just give you a perspective, my sister is an M.A in sociology, B.Ed, M.Ed qualified lady, who earns decently as a teacher in a government school. As the norm goes, my parents started looking for the hallowed IAS officers and some top-notch professionals in MNCs for her marriage. If I tell you the amount asked for arranging the marriage, you may not believe it. The price of marrying IAS to top class engineers ranged anywhere between 20 to 30 lakhs. Now, this is just my experience. I can’t say if it is the norm everywhere and that there are no awesome IAS officers who don’t ask for dowry. I’m just establishing a reality. I have even seen upper caste and rich families in North India taking a printout of UPSC results and then contacting the selected candidates’ families for marriage (or rather business, bargain, whatever you call it).

Most of the guys who demand dowry after having achieved a reputable position in their life, argue that their parents are of traditional thinking and they can’t help but accept their view-points. This is the malaise that has rotten the marriage institution. The youth doesn’t take the initiative to discourage such practices in their homes. Though outside home, they might vehemently oppose the practice, most of them are seen to readily accept it when it comes upon them. It is time that we realize, and I’m talking specifically about the modern age youth, the awesome breed of talented- IAS officers, Bank POs, IITians, IIMites, engineers, doctors and teachers to say NO to this system. Just to be very clear, I would like to state that a gift of wealth given without any terms and conditions is not at all dowry. It is given with love and care by the girl’s parents. If their socio-economic status allows them to do so, it is fine. But the trend is disturbing. Parents take bank loans to pay for their daughter’s marriage which is quite harassing.

Moreover, there are some technically advanced, ultra-sophisticated and elite families that justify dowry because it helps in financial security of the newly-wed couple. I can understand the technicalities of being a modern day couple. Inflation soars higher in every quarterly results. The cost of living is hence increasing like never before. But does that mean, the girl’s father needs to be treated like an open bank account? In India, if this is 2012, it will take minimally Rs 10 lakh for an average marriage by the so-called middle class standards. I’m just saying minimum and this is for North India, where I have lived for the most part of my life. Add some 10 lakh more, on an average, as a part of ‘kitna lenge’ (obvious demands, you know). You may add few bonuses, perks and add-ons also, like a car (kitne range ki pasand karenge?, is the usual question asked by the timid father). Some really go ahead and say, ‘Mujhe nayi model chaiye latest car ki’.(I want the new model of the latest car)

Overall, you can say, it takes Rs 20 to Rs 25 lakh for a ‘Good’ marriage. And all this because the bridegroom is working in a dream company, or the hallowed Indian government job, owns a car and can really live a life free of any financial woes. The woes of parents reach to worst levels if their daughter is not beautiful by normal standards, is over-weight or lacks some other so-called forms of beauty. I have seen parents blaming their daughters for not being beautiful and hence getting rejections from hundreds of prospective husbands. At the end, what such parents do is they bargain with some mind-boggling dowry. All this because parents want in written guarantee a ‘happily ever after life’ for their daughters. She should not face any problem in her life so marry her to the best guy and the best is unfortunately, in most of the cases judged by the designation of the guy. Other intricacies of the arranged marriages are rarely taken much into account, which further leads to marital problems.

The fundamental of a relationship, be it an arranged marriage or a love marriage can’t simply be money. Can a relationship thrive on just bank balance and money? And, secondly, designation and power must not be the sole factors to decide the right guy. We see even very well-educated and financially strong guys asking dowries just because of their designation and power. Of what use is education and awareness when they don’t have the balls to go against such a social malice? The real value of being a man is to take responsibilities of one’s own action and ensure that we make this world a better place to live in. Marrying a girl by taking 20 lakhs from her parents, just because you work abroad in a fortune 500 company, shows greed and consumerism that have penetrated our society. Marriage has become a commodity and nobody, except those who are actually marrying, can change it in India.

I appeal to all young men who believe in the concept of dowry that they should realize that women are no longer dowry giving doormats and a destitute. They are real human beings with phenomenal levels of emotional intelligence, love and care. They have uniqueness in their personalities and they’re worth far more than money and cars. It hurts when arranged marriages are decided based on market price of the guy. Let us fight against this. Let’s NOT marry for money, at least!

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  1. www.projectwellbeing.org

    Lord Rama accepted dowry from King Janaka – both Tulsidas’s Ramcharitamanas and Srimad Valmiki’s Ramayan discuss this.

    We need to understand the history of dowry, changes in the society and why it is not going away. Please read this research article;
    The Institution of Dowry in India: Why It Continues To PrevailSonia. Dalmia, Pareena G. LawrenceFrom: The Journal of Developing Areas Volume 38, Number 2, Spring 2005 pp. 71-93 | 10.1353/jda.2005.0018In the olden, agrarian and patriarchal society, the girl’s portion of inheritance (after equally dividing between both sons and daughters) was passed on to the bride and the groom at the time of marriage as dowry in cash and kind.

    In today’s modern, post-industrial, gender-neutral, Indian society, the equal inheritance of both sons and daughters will legally pass on to their heirs upon the death of their parents. Hence, the dowry has been made illegal. As I understand it, the equality between sons and daughters has been the guiding principle in both cases.

    However, the reality of today’s India is quite different. Unfortunately, extortion and double-dipping has become convenient and common.

  2. Nikhil Borker

    From your article it is absolutely clear that you are opposed to dowry.One question i would like to ask everyone is that why is dowry always taken in the negative sense ?.Can’t it be considered as a gift voluntarily given by the girl’s parents to the boy’s family as a token of gratitude for taking care of their daughter throughout the rest of her life.

    1. nvragn nvragn

      Why can’t the boy’s family appreciate that the girl’s family is giving them the most valuable and biggest gift possible-their precious, beloved daughter whom they have cared for from her birth, educated her, instilled good values in her-these traits are priceless Nikhil.

      And if you still value a gift of money from the girl’s side more than the bride then why don’t you think that a similar gift from the groom’s family to the bride’s family is justified because the bride’s family took care of her since her birth and are now giving away a capable adult women to the groom’s family who usually take cares of a lot of things-the groom, his parents, the eventual children. Thankless job isn’t it?

      Why can’t guys stand on their own feet and feed their families-food, material possessions and other things under the sun? instead of treating their in-laws as an open bank account, as Astitva so rightly expounded. Think about it. Ishwar aapko aur sab youngsters ko sadbuddhi de.

    2. rashigoyal62

      Yes Nikhil .. sure dowry can be considered as a gift voluntarily given by the girl’s parents to the boy’s however in most cases its not gift but DEMAND by boy’s family.

  3. nvragn nvragn

    Great article Astitva!

    I think the responsibility to end this seemingly unending hunger for dowry lies on both boys and girls. Well educated girls are capable of standing own their own two feet and having confidence in one’s own ability to procure a secure future is paramount.

    I speak from personal experience-My parents and myself discussed and canceled the planned marriage because the groom’s family had implied that they wanted a dowry, 15 days before the said marriage, though everything had been arranged. The reason being that they had earlier (at the time of the proposal) claimed to desire only and educated daughter-in-law and changed their stance as they perceived that my parents could be pressurised to agree to all their demands as the marriage approached. Well, good riddance. It is better to take a decision early than to be blackmailed for ever.

    Marriage should be a harmonious and beautiful relationship and it just can’t be if the bride is always going to think how much in pain her parents are so that she can take care of another household and that her life partner and in-laws are the cause of all that pain.

  4. Barkha Sethi

    Marriage of a girl is often postponed as their fathers are not able to arrange a good amount of dowry for their daughters. means dowry is so important and a sign of of standard that parents have to forcefully give dowry to their daughters….

  5. shyamolima

    great article……..

  6. sneha manchanda

    one of you just said that dowry could be taken as a voluntary gift..well not a wrong thought thouh i appritiate it but how many people out there would accept a girl in the only dress she wears to her so called in laws place! Human is greedy by nature! You give a little and the demands increase one of my very dear friend lost his sister because of she was tortured for money!! What i feel is that marriages now are just business deals..where just 1 party earns! parasitism!!

  7. rashigoyal62

    Hi Astitwa
    A real good article indeed

  8. Proj

    Excellent article but paints only one side of the story. While dowry and mistreating women is plain unacceptable, equally unacceptable should be the gross misuse of 498A and domestic violence act by many educated upper class women and their families. There isn’t enough protest of the crimes committed by the “modern independant Indian woman”. While there are thousands of NGOs and they Renuka Choudharys constantly lobbying the child and women’s welfare ministry for tweaking marriage laws etc. there’s only one NGO in India. save indian family foundation who are speaking up for men’s rights.
    Link to a thesis on dowry law misuse in India by IIM bangalore graduates follow.
    http://www.saveindianfamily.org/thesis-on-dowry-law-misuse-by-iim-bangalore-graduates/

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