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

Posted on June 1, 2012 in Society

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!