“Marriage is a transaction.”– As rightly said by one of my co-fellows, I believe this is the simplest yet honest definition of marriage. All the celebrations, enjoyment, grandeur aside when the actual cost of marriage is seen, one can clearly call it a conspicuous consumption. (Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on or consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one’s prestige.) The dowry system has been long prohibited under specific Indian laws including, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. But unfortunately, it is openly practised as it enjoys social sanction.
Demonetization in India has been criticised for many reasons, one of the reasons being the inconvenience it will cause during the wedding season. There are already many stories up on the internet on how marriages have been called off by the groom’s family, the bride’s father dying for not being able to arrange for cash and so on. In a way, this step by the government has exposed our reluctance to do away with the dowry system. Isn’t it shameful that we have created a society where the groom’s family can walk out of a marriage days before the wedding because their demands have not been fulfilled?
Dowry system is highly prevalent in Bihar. Irrespective of their financial condition, the bride’s family has to spend a fortune on their daughter’s wedding. This often results in lifelong debt and suffering but this system is so badly entrenched in the society that no one is able to come out of it.
“मुबारक हो, आपके घर में लक्ष्मी आई है. अब जल्दी से मुह मीठा करवाइये.”, the ASHA told the family who were eagerly waiting outside the delivery room. Ramesh heard this and looked at his mother with amorose look on his face. The old lady sat on the chair and murmured something to herself. The ASHA went near the woman and told her,”चाची आप दुखी क्यों लग रही हो? आपके घर में यह पहला बच्चा हुआ है, ये कितनी ख़ुशी की बात है.” The lady looked up and said, “वो सब तो ठीक है लेकिन बेटी हुई है यही सुनके आने वाले कल की चिंता हो रही है. लक्ष्मी आई नहीं है बल्कि जाने की तय्यारी में है.”
The above conversation took place in a government hospital in Bihar. This is the sad reality of what is happening in India. From the very moment a girl child is born, the family instead of rejoicing starts worrying about the future. The thought of marriage and dowry overshadows the happiness which the birth of the child should have brought to the family. The sad part is that there is no one to stop this practice. People have accepted the dowry system without considering its harmful consequences on the society. It is more heartbreaking to see that even women, who are the real sufferers of this practice, support it when they are on the receiver’s side. A mother during her daughter’s marriage would look worried because of the dowry but on the other hand, she is the one who has unreasonable demands from the girl’s family during her son’s marriage. The reason why this should be a great worry to all of us is that there is a vicious cycle which is going on and no one wants to take the initiative to break it. People are ready to kill the girl child, discriminate against her and treat her as a liability but they are not ready to raise their voice against the dowry system.
A few days back, during a normal conversation with my chauffeur, he mentioned that he was planning to get his 14-year-old daughter married. Before I could say a word, he quickly added that he knew what he was doing was wrong but he doesn’t have any other option. He said that if he waits for another 4-5 year for her daughter’s marriage then he would not be able to afford the dowry that will be demanded. If an educated girl of 18 years is looking for a groom then the family demands around 5 lakhs in cash and a four-wheeler. But if he gets her married now, then the dowry would be somewhere around Rs 50, 000 and a two-wheeler, something which he can still afford. This is the scenario in poor families who live in thatched huts and might own few acres of land. The demand goes on increasing for the relatively richer families.
I felt quite helpless after hearing this. If people who realize what they are doing is wrong and are still not ready to raise their voice against the ill practices of the society, then how do you expect to see a change in the society?