Monday, September 10, 2012

Double Jeopardy

"This isn't dowry, these are just customary gifts, a part of the wedding routine of our culture."

I hear of this denial in most of the affluent urban families, when I confront them on the gift giving/taking. Mind you, it isn't "exchange" of gifts, because that's a pleasantry. This is a one side transfer of goods and cash, which the sophisticated urban population prefers to call "custom" or "culture". I being a part of their culture, feel extremely disgusted and offended when this is shabby excuse is put forward. This is NOT my culture.

In my culture, the girl was not a burden, as what was given to HER during her wedding was her share of inheritance. It belonged to her, strictly her property to keep her financially secure and independent. We all know how it gave birth to gobbling of her share by her in-laws, and further, demanding of cash, goods and services from the bride's family-dowry. Then, if that wasn't enough, the bride's new clothes were eyes upon by the females of her new household, and the overpowered bride had little left to her. Hence, began the tradition of giving new clothes to the groom's family, so that at least the bride and her closet/suitcase is left to her.

I call dowry as any one sided transaction, especially demanded.

These days, it is considered very normal for the groom's family to demand x number of sarees/y number of suit-pieces, and the list goes on. It is also demanded that they be of a certain standard, extracting a certain expenditure. And all this is, obviously, one sided. Whoever disagrees that this is dowry is free to comment with reasons, but I call these not customs, but dowry. This is nothing but exploitation the bride's family by the groom's family and the society because the former gave birth to a daughter and the latter to a son a couple of decades back.

This prolonged dowry doesn't end with the wedding, as commonly perceived. It is 'customary' for the parent's of the daughter to keep loading the boy's side with gifts on every festival or irrelevant occasion, with the boy's side gladly accepting it with either "arey, iski kya zarurat this" (What was the need for all this") or "bas? yeh to theek hai, par humare standards...chalo koi nahi, hum bade dilwale hain, eh bhi rakh lenge" (That's it? alright, but we were accepting better stuff, though we'll keep this, since we are large hearted people").

Its funny in a twisted sort of a way how its "customary" for the bride's side to dress up not only their daughter, but the entire clan of the groom. And this is the very least. There is a lot more stuff demanded, which doesn't count in dowry. One wedding had the groom's father demand the bride's father to pay for the band-baaja of the groom's side. Meager 30k he said. By the way, all this is over and above what the bride's family pays for the groom's clan's stay and food and travel during the wedding days. Another wedding I know of had the groom's father demand from the bride's father money which the tailor will take when the  groom's clan will get their suits stitched, whenever that is. Everyone laughs at these eccentricities, calls them unnecessary stretching of the "custom". When will they have the courage to see that that very custom, including all the eccentricities are based on Dowry! Say that word! Let it hit your ears!
Its dowry, and it will continue till the bride's family will feel they are lesser in stature just because they have the girl. This only fuels the groom's side, making them prouder and prouder of having that Y chromosome decades back.

There was a time when the investment on the baby boy would be his education and on the baby girl would be her wedding. Since the latter was hardly an investment, as it gave no returns, girls were despised in our society. Now, with the emancipation and liberation movements, where in educated classes not investing in the daughters education would be looked down upon, parents of this girl child are stuck as there is still no "look down upon" in the investment it takes to get your girl married. Now, more than ever, these parents of this girl have to spend multiple times more on their child than the parents of a boy. This happens to be a subtle disincentive, if not blatant punishment for having a girl, and a reward for having a boy.

The  desired action needs to be a two way process- Both side HAVE to start calling this dowry. No cowardly escapism allowed. Then, BOTH sides need to actively and consciously stop the practice.
The bride's side needs to prouden-up for the girl they have brought up. That day, they will do her proud, do her justice.


  1. Not only that, hypocrites that we are. Very conveniently the woman is supposed to take the husband's name and will now belong to the husband's family, with all rights and responsibilities. But there is gross selfishness even here, as I have seen the girl's parents take up so many responsibilities for the couple even after the marriage. So, for all the rights, the couple belong to the man's family, and for all the responsibilities, they belong to the woman's family. Think about it. It happens in most homes, cz most homes have a deteriorated mindset.

    1. Agreed. when we move away from tradition, the movement is generally led by people who are in the power position anyway. So the result of the movement is both: them appearing better, as well as more of their convenience.

      Till we take a conscious effort to move the society in a particular direction, the natural course will continue to make way for such convenient, covertly patriarchal changes. :)