I assume the title made your eyebrows twitch, but I considered writing on this topic as I recently heard of a marriage being called off due to the last minute additional dowry demands from the groom’s family – despite a considerable dowry, which included cash and other valuables given well in advance. Actually, I sum up below my side of the conversation.

As a child I grew up reading almost daily in the news about the abuse of dowry for the breaking up of many marital alliances, including in many cases death of the bride as well. Dowry is a common practice across the globe; yes it is true, but sans the killings so common in India. Certainly, it was not in the news in places like UK, USA and Japan, other countries that I lived in the past. So, why has dowry system in India evolved from a loving parental gift into a social monster? This bothers me.

Why Dowry?

My understanding is that the dowry system started from the early civilization and was given as a gift from the parents and family to the daughter to help her set her new home after marriage. It also acted as a sustainability factor for unfortunate situations where the bride had to survive alone. I cannot oppose dowry to the extent of it being a voluntary support, or even when it is a pre-agreed contribution. However, it is when expectations continue to rise unexpectedly that I believe it takes on a monster’s role.

Dowry_System

Is dowry relevant?

In contemporary India where marriage is getting out of the arranged format and women have stepped out of the role of home-maker to working individuals, is dowry relevant?

Dowry in the sense of gift or support to start up a family is relevant but often times I still hear about the “price” to marry a boy, depending on his academic qualifications or job. This I find funny, and interesting. It does make economic sense to me, but takes the joy out of a loving relationship I expect!

Personally I feel that the dowry contribution (or what could be thought of as start-up seed capital) could come from both the ends of the family – the bride’s and the groom’s… and it need not be limited to family; contributions can be made from any well wisher across the globe.

I found in France that the idea of gifting to the married couples has grown intelligently. Friends, family and the extended family members bring gifts for the couple as per a list made by them. It rules out the option of repeat and useless gifts, and helps kick start the life of newlyweds. What a great idea!

The Muslim society gives meher to the bride, which is a combination of money and possessions from the groom. Meher is given to ensure that the bride remains loyal and the groom can extract her exclusive use for himself.

Suicides and killing women for dowry – how much more do we intend to bear?

Killing is inhuman – we all agree to it, but I am appalled by the blind eye Indian society tends to turn to it when it is in the name of dowry killing. As I mentioned, I have been reading about this for decades, and society is yet to address this abuse. Why do we fail to understand the fact that dowry seekers cannot be curbed with mere Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Amendment Ordinance or Laws coming in existence?

Dowry

Expectations of Marriage

In India, marriage as an institution has always been revered as a pious union of man and woman, wherein they get together to celebrate life. The expectations out of the relationship should be decided well in advance, like how many children they plan to have or where do they wish to live after marriage. Similar to this, if there are any specific demands by the groom or his family, they should make it well in advance to give time to the bride’s family to arrange for it (and even decide whether they can afford that relationship or not). There should not be any last minute surprises springing out of the box to blackmail the bride’s family in front of the society and trying to extract benefit by abusing the situation.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the men in Monpa tribal society need to pay a bride-price before the wedding to the bride’s family. It usually is a show of status and a way of describing that the groom can take responsibility of the bride for her entire life. The bride-price is not generally given in the form of cash, and is neither decided by the groom’s family nor by the bride’s, but a hired middleman or negotiator. This makes things easier for both the bride and groom to live happily without asking for more in future or making sudden and irrelevant demands.

The embedded idea that dowry can be a perpetual money-making business seems like a poisonous weed. It must be pulled out from the roots. Let us not destroy the sanctity of marriage by demanding dowry perpetually and making the pious relation merely a business transaction. On the other hand, any voluntary gifts from family and well wishers to help the newlyweds start a beautiful life seems like a pure, loving as well as intelligent business decision.