Dowry is a tradition of giving gifts during marriage by a bride’s family to a groom and his family. In the Indian subcontinent, this tradition has taken an ill shape because dowry is a burden for most of the parents whose daughter is yet to be married. A bride’s family demand dowry in the form of money, immovable assets, vehicles, and jewelry. Dowry is unlawful, yet the net value of dowry in any marriage can range from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. It is calculated by using education, family status, and monthly income of the groom as a variable of the equation.
A girl’s education, talent, and profession hardly play any role in lowering dowry amounts. This custom has been affecting the structure of society for a long time. Dowry is not only a means of financial exploitation, but it can also be the beginning of never-ending domestic violence in the life of a woman. It still exists, and it is spreading everywhere. While some take it as an opportunity to demand, others accept dowry as a gift.
I was firmly against such practices. So I was determined that no such customs will prevail in my marriage.
To have a dowry-free-marriage was one of my lifetime dreams.
Our marriage was an arranged marriage. We first met, got engaged, and married within 15 days. Neither of us knew each other, and our families did not know each other either. I was clueless and helpless because everything was happening so quickly. To have a dowry-free-marriage was one of my lifetime dreams.
In my journey to fulfill a dream of a dowry-free-marriage, I never knew my steps would be an ice-breaker-step to grow a seed of love in the heart of a woman I was about to be married. I never knew this step would build the first layer of foundation in our relationship.
I divide this post into three main sections as
- The effects of dowry in the Indian-subcontinent.
- The hurdles I encountered in choosing a dowry-free-marriage.
- Our relationship after the wedding day.
A dowry is an evil tool of a society
In the Indian subcontinent, I have grown up hearing and reading many stories of abuses and domestic violence against women. One reason behind such cruelty is dowry.
As per different research conducted in South Asia, on average 8000 dowry death cases in India are registered every year. Dowry deaths refer to the bride’s suicide or murder committed by her husband or his family soon after the marriage because of their discontent with the amount of dowry paid. Although there has been no proper research in accumulating dowry deaths in South Asia, this number can cross 10,000.
The domestic violence that leads to dowry death happens mainly because of two reasons.
- The bride’s family couldn’t or didn’t settle the full amount of dowry as demanded by the groom during the marriage.
- Even after the bride’s family settles the dowry amount demanded by the groom, the groom’s family of the groom keeps demanding a fresh amount and property to fulfill their needs. Upon not receiving an additional dowry, they use violence as a method to extract their demand.
So we can redefine dowry as a degraded social custom of demanding gifts by a groom’s family during or after a marriage ceremony.
Dowry is a state of illness
It happens not only in the uneducated and socially backward family, but it also occurs in highly educated communities. The dowry death of Sunita Yadav, a forty-three-year-old woman, is one of the registered dowry-deaths in 2019. It happened in Province 2 of Nepal. The groom was a doctor, and he was demanding a house to run his clinic. Her family claims she was beaten to death by in-laws for not bringing enough dowry.
Nepal’s province 2 (also known as Madhesh) is a territory where dowry is embraced by most of the inhabitants.
Dowry is a pseudo-social status
Outside province 2 of Nepal, People who are aware and educated have stopped demanding or talking about dowry in the last thirty years. But the fear of domestic violence linked to dowry has not been eradicated yet. Thus the bride’s family willingly offers marriage gifts as a modern form of dowry. They think marriage gifts will prevent their daughter from domestic violence and social isolation in years to come.
Many brides’ parents take loans to fulfill the groom’s demand.
Apart from that, marriage gifts are also an indicator of the social status of two families. To show off higher status, the bride’s family tries to compete with others by giving many gifts, including furniture, electronics and appliances, and a two/four-wheeled vehicle.
In this process, a girl’s family is the one to suffer the most. They spend most of their earnings on the marriage of their daughter. Many bride’s parents take loans to fulfill the groom’s demand, burdening themselves with massive debt for years to come.
I wanted a marriage with no dowry
A social activist within me had hated the tradition of dowry. I wanted no one to talk about our social status in our marriage; I wanted to see no gifts around. Because I wanted to keep speaking against dowry in days to come, I wanted to marry with no dowry.
We never endorsed dowry. But the marriage gift of large monetary value for social showoff was highly likely to occur. I had to fight against such tradition.
In the arranged marriage where none of the things were going my way, I knew that a dowry-free-marriage was the one that could give me some peace. But things were not so easy in reality.
My parents hadn’t asked for a dowry in our marriage. So the chance of the first form of dowry was not in the picture. But the marriage gift of large monetary value was highly likely to occur. How do I stop the second form of dowry dominating my marriage? How can I know what was going on in the mind of my in-laws?
We as a family didn’t know each other. Thus any communication could have been misunderstood and take an ugly turn.
So, to execute my plan, I had to communicate my wish to my in-laws. I told my parents too. Everyone objected to my decision. We, as a family, didn’t know each other, and we never knew what they would infer from my decision. I had to make this life-altering decision eight days before our marriage. I knew if I had to communicate it, I needed to do it as soon as possible.
What if they misunderstood my communication as our expectation of dowry/marriage gifts?
My parents and relatives warned me not to talk about dowry at all. It was not because we expected, or we needed any form of gifts. It was because it would be too weird to talk about such things with strangers. What if they took it the opposite way? They might misunderstand my communication as an indirect way of demanding or expecting dowry/marriage gifts.
My parents told me that as we had asked nothing in or any form of dowries, it would be entirely their free will to give or not, and I should respect them whatever their decision might be. However, as I mentioned above, because of social stigma factors, the chances of getting heavy gifts were high.
At any cost, I had to convey my wish.
I kept repeating to my parents that I couldn’t afford to have a wedding where a bride would bring lots of dowries with her on the wedding day. They wanted me to stay silent. No one in my family understood my dream of a dowry-free-marriage. They were not wrong to suggest that my laws might judge my character.
I needed someone to have faith in me, and I needed peace in my heart.
I shared this with my local pastor. He told me that if I thought it was a good move and if it gave me peace, I should not care about anyone, and I should communicate it to my future father-in-law.
Without thinking much, I telephoned and told my future-father-in-law that I would be happy to have Ranjita as my wife, and I would need nothing else. I told him, “No dowry please”.
The moment of simultaneous peace and conflicts
While a part within me was in peace to share my desire, I was also nervous about the consequences. What if my in-laws misunderstand my words and cancel led our wedding? I shared it with my parents. Everyone was furious about this.
Somehow the wedding day arrived.
On that day, as per my wish, they gave no expensive gifts. To their satisfaction and peace, they gave a set of essential furniture. I understand that they also needed to be in peace. Apart from the strangeness among the two of us, everything went smoothly.
Life after the wedding day
A month after our wedding day, I narrated the story/ incidents to my wife. I asked her if her father shared those conversations of “no form of dowry, please.” I wanted to know their family reaction, and I also wanted to know her thoughts.
She told me her father discussed my wish with their family, and they respected it. They didn’t misunderstand or misjudge me. Instead, it helped me. They were happy to have me as their son-in-law.
My parents were happy because my communication helped in fulfilling my dream to the maximum possible extent.
This step of mine also worked to break the ice of strangeness for me in her heart. She had least expected me to advocate social issues so strongly at the critical phase of our relationship. My step had built a bridge of trust. Yes, it was enough to plant a seed of love for me in her heart.
Because of my act, I am in peace, and I can advocate dowry free marriages for years to come. Things were not in my favor, but I had to execute it at any cost. It was challenging but fruitful.
Till the journey of the third marriage anniversary, I believe both of us have handled it with care, and our marriage is successful today.
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