I wrote this piece over four years ago...and strangely, nothing's changed in the years gone by...
Lately we have begun bride hunting for my brother, who at 29 is an eligible bachelor and in baniya parlance, a little old to find a good bride. However, we have been barraged by relatives enquiring about what kind of a girl we are seeking and since he happens to be a handsome fella, our expectation has been narrowed down to looks. Fortunately my folks are not the dowry seeking type, despite the relative reserve of my close family regarding the stand. Even though I believe that there can never be a certain criteria to find a suitable match for anyone; especially not looks or money, my opinion hardly matters since I am a small fry in this vast cesspool.
But for all my relatives, including my parents, the search for a match has to begin with a criterion. In almost each case, it happens to be the affluence of the other party and / or their ability to hold a lavish wedding. Most parents go beyond their financial capacities because of the deep rooted belief that money can go a long way in ensuring the happiness of the wedlock.
The pressure is immense on parents who have a daughter. To understand how this works it is also important to understand that I belong to a community where your status in society is largely dependent on how lavishly you marry off your daughter, if you have any. Some of my close relatives have spent anywhere between 8 million to 10 million rupees for the future happiness of their daughters. My parents were spared the pleasure of going berserk at my wedding since I zeroed in on a tamilian. Yet, as per tamilian standards we had an ostentatious wedding and as per baniya standards, just average.
Parents stoop to all sorts of levels to get the marriage under way. I have been witness to weddings where the groom has refused to marry the girl but is coaxed and coerced into the same after the bride’s father offers to cough up a few lacs more. The groom’s parents readily squash their son’s feelings for the extra dough. Groom selling at its best. Similarly, the bride’s parents coax her into marrying a man far below her caliber simply because he is rich or affluent or both.
The very same cousins are certainly not the happiest lot in the family today but “at least they are married”. Incredible but true! Daughters are married / carted off to avoid the social stigma of having an unmarried girl staying put at home. Since all the girls are brought up in a relatively regressive atmosphere where education and empowerment are not encouraged, an unhappy married girl is left to find the ways and means of adjusting in her lot.
But do such parents sleep at night, knowing that their daughter is unhappy? A question that has no clear answer.
And that’s the reason why couples, from most North Indian communities, even from affluent families are so scared of having more than one daughter. Whether one purchases a groom or adjusts with what is available, marriage these days has become a trade. It is no longer a union of two souls and two families as was believed. It is a business deal, negotiated, bargained and closed with the satisfaction of both parties. I cringe at the thought that my brother is going to be on display in the marriage market. And I can't change the mind set of the clan.
Brings me back to the point I’d iterated through my post. That one cannot bring about any changes in society merely through legislation. The Anti Dowry Act is a law in point. Despite the rampant prevalence of the practice in almost all north Indian communities, how many cases are actually reported or registered? Marginal. It is the failure of law enforcing authorities as well as the society at large.
Going by the way things are, I am skeptical about the search being undertaken by members of my large clan to find a suitable match for my brother. I just hope the girl he will eventually marry walks in to our lives without compulsion or compromise. That will be a wedding to celebrate!