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For His Family, He Is Either A Fool Or A God For Saying No To Dowry

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By Savvy Soumya Misra:

What I am attempting here is a bit difficult. And as a dear friend put it “a bit tricky”. It is about men or in this case ‘a man’ (another dear friend) who put his foot down against dowry and a splurgy wedding. He prevailed. To some extent at least. There are few good men who say no to dowry in India, especially when it is an arranged marriage. This friend is one of them and may his tribe grow.

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For anonymity’s sake, I will refer to him as ‘My Friend’. He got engaged last year. My Friend, an ex-IITian, works in the NGO sector, his fiancé has been selected for a prestigious government job. Both belong to modest middle class backgrounds, both lost their fathers when they were still studying and while My Friend is the second youngest and the only son among four siblings, his fiancé is the eldest of the three sisters.

A little more about the fiancé — she lost her father to an illness, the treatment of which sapped most of their savings. They at least had a house, which was a huge relief. With the sole breadwinner gone, the high-school going daughters had started taking tuitions to sustain the family. They did so through school, college and through the time they prepared for entrance exams. All three have qualified for bank jobs now- two in government banks and one in a private bank.

The date for the marriage is set for April next year. In India, the rituals in traditional marriages are designed in such a way that the bride’s family ends up bearing most of the financial burden. And then kicks in the societal pressure. A pressure to give, a pressure to show the world that ‘they can’.

Having been through tough financial times, the bride’s mother wanted to prove that she can. Especially to those who believed that with three daughters she was doomed to be miserable. But now we can all agree that with successful daughters she doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Though a lavish wedding was always on the radar they were a bit hesitant about approaching My Friend’s family. The concerns were dowry demands. So My Friend approached the girl’s family instead and explained that he doesn’t want anything at all, they shouldn’t worry and that he would prefer a very low-key marriage. He often laughs about it —“In the family circle I swing between being a fool and being a god for telling them I am against dowry”.

With that taken care of, the next hurdle was the lavish wedding. By lavish we are talking about spending Rs 6-7 lakhs in a tier III city– with a big hotel, fancy arrangements, taking care of multiple rituals and inviting a whole host of people. “Neither of us have that kind of money. They would have dug into all their savings for something as futile as this.” It took him a good six months to convince them against this. His fiancé’s family wasn’t too happy with this decision but his family stood by him. Now both sides have agreed to scale it down. “I would have preferred one ceremony for the entire marriage. That couldn’t happen. At least now both of us are bearing the expenses equally, as much as is possible.”

‘Dowry’ in India is usually payment in cash or in kind (in the form of expensive gifts like jewellery, car, home appliances and in some cases property) given to the groom by the bride’s family. This is one of the regressive manifestations of the patriarchal system prevalent in our country today where parents begin to accumulate dowry for their daughter almost from the day she is born. So deep set is the bias against women in India that it is irrelevant if she is financially independent; she is still seen as a burden, who parents want to get rid of at the earliest — even if it means paying to do so. And then there are the social pressures.

Though dowry is illegal in India and a punishable offence under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 it continues to be rampant . The demands range from the usual like cash, car, furniture, clothes and what not to the outrageous like arranging a lavish wedding, paying for all the rituals and pandering to the bloated egos of the groom’s immediate and extended family.

The demand for dowry is a bottomless pit. Women continue to be killed for not meeting dowry demands. Over a decade ago, My Friend’s eldest sister was burnt by her husband and in-laws. Dowry was one of the reasons. She would have become yet another statistic but she survived with 62% burns. She was brought home with two young children in tow. She battled depression for years before getting back on her feet. She now teaches in a government school.

But many are not as fortunate as My Friend’s sister. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that in 2013, India reported 8083 dowry deaths (Sec 304 B IPC). Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar registered the maximum cases with 2335 and 1182 deaths respectively. In 2012, the total incidents of dowry deaths was 8233 with UP and Bihar recording the highest number of dowry deaths with 2244 and 1275 respectively . Both UP and Bihar have been repeat offenders for quite some time .

My Friend often jokes that since his fiancé is the one with the government job, he should be paying the dowry. “A prospective groom with a government job comes with a big price tag in my state.” A strong proponent of gender equality, he adds, “in my case, it should be applicable the other way round.”

The author is with policy, research, campaigns, Oxfam India

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    Watch the movie 498A: The Wedding Gift

    http://youtu.be/rhkTebVYZdU

  2. Babar

    The only people who are harassed for dowry are men, who must be earning a fat paycheck every month for starters to even be considered for marriage, and then at the time of marriage buy expensive jewellery, diamond rings, gifts for the bride’s entire family, and when things go awry in marriages, are harassed by women for dowry settlement worth lacs, alimony, and usurp half of a man’s property after a divorce.

    Women are the abusers. Men are the abused.

    http://youtu.be/l1qbalfTPBE

    1. Fem

      I am curious.

      Are you paid to spend majority of your day writing same comments on every article or do you do it out of your own spiteful agenda?

    2. TheSeeker

      I actually agree with what he said here.

    3. Prateek

      You are actually very right….

  3. TheSeeker

    Dowry is now only an evil that men are accused of. Divorce happens? File a case under ipc 498A, accuse your innocent husband with 0 evidence, get some money and live a happy life. No one will give this corrupted case a second glance. Instead, you’ll receive praises and assurances from your well wishers who tell you to ‘stay strong’. And your husband? He rots in jail, regretting the thought of marriage.

  4. Babar

    According to NCRB Data, there were 2,22,091 arrests related to 498A in 2013 alone, out of which 1,74,620 were men and 47,471 were women – A man is arrested every 3 minutes for dowry. Including both sexes, an arrest is made approximately every 2.3 minutes.

  5. Swapna

    No woman needs to bring dowry from her family. No men has to measure the amount of money they need to spend on the Bride’s family. Please understand that Dowry has come as a culture when the Bride’s families are unable to find eligible Bachelors. Dowry became a culture but never has an evident reason or logic behind. Atleast the educated families need to understand that Dowry is not a healthy activity in any of the marriages. Women are just as equal as men in every aspect. Either pay dowry from both sides or try to make your own wedding. The suggestion might be debatable, but I believe if the couple decides to spend their own money to get married, the culture of 50-50 expenses would come into picture. I understand that its the families that wish a lavish wedding for their kids and involve themselves in the marriage expenditure.

    I have a curious thinking if most Indian men will ever consider spending their own expenses to get married?? Happy to know

    1. Vishal Saurav

      As a man, I am completely against ANY kind of dowry and will bear the entire expenditure of marriage. One condition. I should not be asked to take care of my wife economically(she should earn for herself and not depending on me) and in case of separation, she should not demand any kind of alimony or maintenance for her from me. I have a curious thinking to know how many Indian women will agree with this.

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