Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dowry is so passe

A friend shared a post on facebook about an appeal for justice from a brother. His sister was allegedly killed by her inlaws in want of more dowry. I poked around a bit to ensure it was not some spam. The guy’s profile seemed genuine and up until Jan 26th he seemed like an average Joe. I am not sure if the route that he has taken is the best route. But desperate situations call for desperate measures. I have been in relatively much less helpless situations and I wondered if things were completely out of my control whom would I direct my anger upon? So I do not want to debate if this helpless brother’s ways are right. I am sure he is doing the best he can to get justice for his departed sister. Few people suggested on one of his posts that if he is a good brother or a MAN he should avenge the death of his sister. I hope he shows restraint and stays away from all that is illegal.
When I was in high school, I remember discussing about the problem with a passion. During my college days and much later, it was quite clear. NO DOWRY. It was more in the lines of “who gives dowry these days anyway”. The ones who give should be punished. But when you are young and inexperienced things are so black and white.
If love marriage was the answer to dowry problem, I would have promoted it to every unmarried girl I met. Sadly, it is not. In love marriages too, we have money, gifts, and jewels being doled out lavishly.
Some of the reactions we get when we discuss dowry is very amazing. In one of the programs I was watching on TV, a group of women were staunchly denying that our country has a dowry problem. They were saying that it is a problem of the past and that dowry deaths are rare. The show’s host had to intervene at one point and ask if every woman in India leaves her maternal home with just her bridal clothes and does not pack with her anything else. Such denial is very common among the lucky few in India who did not have to “pay” dowry but probably gave “gifts” to their inlaws out of “love”, tradition, customs and so on. Lot of women think their parents are showing their love for them by giving them a lot of dowry. Some women ask their parents to pay more because they can flaunt all they got from their maternal home among their inlaws. Men see it as a complement and a great honour. Most women from communities that do not practice dowry, seem out of touch with reality. According to many of them, dowry deaths seem to be a mere fictional statistic. Sadly, most communities in India are now demanding dowry even though they traditionally did not have any such custom. Dowry seems like a virus. 
Story of an average Indian woman:
Most women in India are emotional fools. Lot of women wait for their parents’ consent to marry the man of their choice. I know women who have waited eight to nine years to get their parents’ blessings and then proceeded to marry decent, loving men. Some go to the extent of avoiding to fall in love until they are married to the man of their parents’ choice. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. It is a different debate. This is the current situation of most women and I don’t see it changing for another generation. My point is, it is difficult for most women to be stubborn about dowry and remain unmarried especially if they dreamt of having a family of their own someday. If an average Indian woman does not fall in love, is she willing to find a partner on her own? Is she willing to use any dating sites? Does she see it as being proactive about her life or snatching away the rights of her parents? Does she see finding a partner of her choice as a respectable thing to do?  Are Indian women really independent in their thought process even if they are educated and financially independent? How many will choose to marry a man from their community only because their parents think it is the right thing to do? What about meeting the guy a few times before deciding? How many are willing to take responsibility and take charge of their lives? Are we willing to encourage our sisters or daughters to do it?
The arranged marriage market in India can be very mean to women. Men too. But, women have to pay and bear the insults. Men have to just bear the insults. I wouldn’t want anyone going through it though. There is a price tag for every so called ":flaw" in a woman's appearance and you go down to the bottom of the marriage market pyramid. 
According to statistics, marriages in India are a multi-billion dollar industry. People seem to splurge their life savings on their daughters’ weddings. Do you know that Indian invitation cards have Swarovski crystals stuck on them these days? What is done with the cards after the wedding?
Abroad, from whatever little I know, most of the expenses are borne by the couple and not much by the parents. Yes, even there, people want wedding ceremonies right out of their dreams and movie sets. They do take a loan and it does affect their credit rating. But it is not demeaning to the bride. Broke but not hurt.
Here are some things I could think of to stop this menace so that we have no blood on our hands. Yes, every Indian is in some way responsible for all the dowry deaths, isn't it? Tell me if this is do-able:
  • Encourage women to be independent and find their partners on their own, if they choose to get married. If they do not want to be married, let them be.
  • Please don't call "dowry" Indian culture. Cultured people treat their women with respect.
  • If you are not yet married, splurge a little less on your wedding day. I am sure every bride prefers a happy marriage than a beautiful wedding day.
  • Do not show off about your wedding ceremonies and the expenses incurred. I know, me blogging about my wedding day was wrong. I am guilty of this and I am sorry, sorry, very sorry.
  • Encourage your male relatives to say no to dowry. For men who grew up and living in cities, it is a lot easier than for men who grew up in rural, tight knit communities.
  • Talk with men you know and let them know that it is a regressive and evil practice.  Most men do know that actually. But broach up the topic and listen to what they have to say.
  • If you/someone you know paid/received dowry or gave/received “gifts”, please don’t publicise it. If you have to share that information with someone (I don’t see why you have to, but anyway), please don’t exaggerate it. Avoid discussing it. All those dowry deaths happened because someone refused to shutup and inflated someone's greed. So remember, this is blood on your hands.
  • When you hear someone discuss the amount or things given as dowry, please do not say “oh that xyz amount is common these days.” “that amount is ok, these days they are demanding so much (some higher xyz amount)” “that amount is fine, even rickshaw drivers demand so much (some xyz amount) as dowry”.
  • Try to politely discourage people from discussing how much some XYZ paid/received.
  • Talk against dowry in any form in any forum, blog about it, make some noise even at the expense of being called a “big bore”.
  • If you or your family member refuses dowry, you are not doing a favour to the bride. If she is happy, the husband and everyone in the family are happy. No brownie points for doing what is expected out of you.
  • Let us make dowry uncool and embarrass the ones who brag about it. Celebrate and publicly praise the ones who refuse to take dowry.
My Mom says that when she was a kid her Dad believed that dowry would be non-existent in a few years because many women would be educated and empowered. I don’t share his optimism. As long as greed is in a human being, this practice is going to continue unless we do something about it.


  1. Changing the mindset of people is quite a daunting task, not an easy one at all. We might think city boys are better than village ones when it comes to dowry, but that's in no way true. I have plenty of examples to quote for that. The topic of dowry always leaves me confused and sad.

  2. Yes, men in city or villages can be equally greedy. It may be easier for men in cities to refuse dowry than for men in rural areas because of the anonymity cities provide.

  3. I agree to the fact that dowry is a menace. Its been a problem since ages. I am a guy who has 3 sisters (elder) all are well educated and independent. None of my brother-in-laws asked for dowry. I would say most of times these days its not the groom or their parents who make a wish for dowry. But its people around them who make things worse. I would say, we cannot change the society the way it functions. But we can change what we can do. To start with I wouldn't take any dowry. But I cant stand guarantee if this will be case for my future daughter(if any).

    The points are worth exploring. But i have still seen young guys (as young as 21 yrs) motivated to take dowry. I do my part in explaining them that its not right. But its like they have been brain washed since tender age saying dowry is their right. It would have been better if those guys were trained in some sort of sport since tender age, we can have some hopes of medals or something for our country.

    1. Bravo to u and your brothers-in-law. I hope you dont have to give dowry to any of your daughters. Your right abt people arnd the groom and his family instigating them to take dowry. And once they take dowry, they dont want to be the only evil ones in the family so they start bragging about it to everyone. The other parents then start wondering if that useless fool can get so much why not my precious son and then the saga continues.

  4. you are right times are changing... now I guess they want a working wife instead of a dowry.

    Glad to have found you via indiblogger. your newest follower and aregular visitor now.

  5. It is a very good article. However, I got couple of comments:

    Is the problem so generic that you can generalize on gender basis. Parts of it became blaming gender rather than system. How many husbands got their way of expressing interests after marriage? How many gentleman are encouraged to go and live as an individual family rather than a combined family.

    Again, some comments here are discriminating boys based on their residential status :) which I found funny. (Village boys and City Boys). I am amazed that why they didnt mention about NRI boys :) :).

    It will be better to focus on the problem rather than switching to gender based discussions.

    I wonder how many ladies do not want presents from a girl's family who is coming as bride to her brother.

    1. Most of my suggestions were gender neutral. Men and women talk about how much so and so brought/received dowry. So, I am wondering where is the gender specific discussion. I suggested that women should be independent and choose their partners. I suggested that men should refuse dowry. And that is where the gender specific suggestions end. The remaining ones are common for men and women. Dowry is a gender related issue. When the practice originally started women had no right to property and hence dowry. Now dowry has taken all kinds of forms.
      Yes, there are men who take care of their wives inspite of taking dowry. But I have always heard people saying much dowry they took instigating others to take more dowry. So dont know how that matters in this issue. Gentlemen living in nuclear families, I dont see the correlation with dowry. Please clarify.
      I mentioned residential locations only because of the anonymity cities give us. In villages everybody knows you and your family. So when a man, belonging to a rural area, refuses dowry, I have seen everybody everywhere the man goes suggesting that he is being foolish, "people would think something is wrong with you", "marriages means a lot of expenses so be smart", etc. But where as when a man in a city refuses dowry, he still may get the same suggestions but from lesser number of people because not many people know him. I have seen this in my life. Let me know if it has been different in your experience.

  6. Firstly, great posts with great suggestions to decline or stop dowry.
    This topic brought me to think of a dialog between a mom and son in a movie.
    The mother ill-treats her daughter-in-law because the balance amount promised as dowry was not given. The son who is a loving husband gets to know of this and questions his mother. The dialog goes this way:
    Mother: I'm asking for dowry JUST FOR YOU.
    Son: I didn't ask for dowry.
    Mother: But you didn't object, when I asked.
    This leaves me wondering where the rudimentary problem is. In an Indian family, the sons start taking decisions right after their education. They usually are very clear about what they want in their lives and do put their foot down for many such things. But when it comes to dowry, probably they turn down the desire for asking dowry once but do pave in for the parent's or relative's decisions for accepting it... Declining dowry is a virtue. Although, a man maybe considered "foolish" for not taking dowry...eventually women in his lives and the society will immensely respect him.
    I agree that dowry is so passe and waiting to see dowry totally wiped out.

  7. I completely agree with every word you said.
    Its not education that will change perspectives, but a complete change in lifestyle.And that sure is gonna take long to come! :)

    Great blog! :)

    1. Thanks dropping by. I want to see that day come too.

  8. This article is about something that I feel very strongly about. Havent been able to put pen to paper but am very glad reading your writing. Wish everyone thought like you, everyone I know! Then I wouldnt be snubbed ;)

    1. I know what you mean. I have been snubbed a number of times and had to blog about it.

  9. Excellent blog about the prevailing dowry problem! hats off Kalpana!
    I would like to add that marriage expenses need to be shared and not be beared by the Girls side alone!

    1. Thanks Deepa. I think the bride and the groom should bear the expenses. If they are old enough to be married, they should be responsible enough to handle the expenses too.

  10. Well written Kalpana!!! I had always admired your views on social issues and especially those related to women. IMHO, I think we are being too optimistic in thinking that practice of giving/taking(or rather demanding) dowry is going to end anytime in the near future. Even love marriages are not spared from this evil. As long as there are greedy men and selfish women this is going to continue. After all, who will say no to something that comes for free. And coming to love marriages, I can see that only after knowing the financial status of the girl/boy love happens these days.