How An Indian Wedding Tradition Exposes That Sons Are Still Preferred Over Daughters

Posted on March 21, 2016 in Society

By Prachi Sharma:

Family members help a visually impaired couple to navigate around the ceremonial fire as they take their vow during their wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad, India, January 24, 2016. Four visually impaired couples tied the knot in a traditional Hindu and Muslim marriage ceremony in western India on Sunday, arranged by an educational institute that helps better integrate the visually impaired into society, organisers said. REUTERS/Amit Dave - RTX23S99
Representation only. Image credit: Reuters/Amit Dave.

My sister’s wedding was around the corner. Guests were home. It was a couple of days before the Sagan ceremony when my aunt had an appointment with a doctor and I had to accompany her. On the way, while lost in conversation about marriage preparations, I got a call from my mother. “Beta, wahan aas paas dekhna kahin gudda mil jae to lete ana (please buy a boy doll if you can find one).” My mother and I had searched for a gudda on the previous day as well, but we couldn’t find an appropriate one. After hanging up the phone, I told my aunt what mother had asked for. I thought about it and realised that there are certain things that compel you to question in order to understand the rationale behind their existence. And Indian wedding rituals are one such thing that we all have been following for ages without feeling the need to revisit them.

Indian weddings are beautiful, often grand, with a lot of colourful clothing and decor. They are packed with tradition and rituals, which typically span the course of several days. Some of these rituals are beautiful and have deep significance but then there are some others that are outdated and have a clear gender bias. Among all the rituals, one ritual that I have keenly observed in most weddings and thought deeply about is the one where the bride is given gifts which include jewellery, clothes, make-up kits, and other gifts including a toy.

We may not see any flaw in this ritual. But then, one thing that makes you question the idea behind it is the toy, which, more importantly, has to be a baby boy doll. The reason behind giving a baby boy doll to the bride is a hope that the couple would give birth to a boy who would carry forward the family name. This act of giving a toy, which at the time of the ritual is merely a hope, is something that might later turn into an unhealthy desire to have an heir.

‘Son preference’ is strong in India. It may not be universal but it is quite prevalent. But this ritual communicates the lack of desire for having a girl child which, in turn, reinforces son preference. Son preference in India is a facet of patriarchy which is a well-documented phenomenon. It is the reason for our skewed sex ratio, female foeticide, infanticide, the neglect and devaluing of the girl child etc.

Though because of strong advocacy over this issue, government initiatives/programmes promoting the importance of the girl child and the efforts of other development organisations, there has been a change in the mindset of people towards the girl child. In present times, women are educated, independent, and are capable of making decisions. Some don’t feel the need to change their surnames after marriage and carry forward their own family’s name. But it appears that we still follow the outdated traditional practices which have an obvious gender bias.

Do we need to modify them? Or follow them the way we have been doing? Now, that’s for us to decide!