Dowry, Mi? Pha!!
Recently, a lurking, irksome, nearly forgotten evil made its presence known, albeit in a slightly different form. It was an evil that I, and so many of my discerning friends, had blissfully considered long forgotten… an ugly memory of the past, buried under the thick fabric of time. We were wrong. But enough about Himesh Reshammiya’s upcoming movie.
Let us, instead, focus on a recent mini-buzz stirred in the blogosphere. Note that when I say ‘recent’, I use the term rather loosely. Blogging heavyweight Anjali Philip (a.k.a. Silverine) showcased one of the more popular social evils in our country today, the dowry system. This sparked off several tangents, notably, Mathew’s passionate call to arms. Mathew was so overwhelmed with righteous anger that he bypassed his customary touches of pointy humor.
This got me thinking. It was high time I put in my two cents, possibly more, adjusting for inflation. So it was with grim determination that I pulled out my pen, only to put it back when I remembered I don’t need a pen to type in my article.
For those of you who are thankfully ignorant of the nuptial custom, dowry is the traditional practice where the bride’s family forks up a shovel-load of money and fills the groom’s pockets until the seams start to burst. Back in the medieval times of ignorance, as far as ten years ago, it used to be seen as a right and a matter of demand. Over time, this has resulted in/ contributed to the varied facets of society such as female infanticide, child marriage, abandonment of the girl-child, wife-abuse, poverty, land swindling, suicides, and similar pleasantries.
But thankfully, with the proliferation of education, learning, women’s liberation and a wider mind, the situation has – at least among the urban population – become ridiculous. Most educated people have been taught, AND understand that the system is bad. “Dowry = Evil”- thus quoted the textbooks. And hence quoted the Indian Penal Code, and deep within themselves, every educated chap knows this equation well. And yet, it is surprising how many people still jump for it like monkeys on trampoline. (No. I don’t really know if monkeys are particularly aggressive about trampoline hopping, but I sure like to think so.)
Now why is that? You can get a whole lot of self serving justifications, from “Hey, her family wanted to follow tradition. I just didn’t stop them”; “it’s just her family’s gift… How could I refuse?”; “No, man. I never wanted that. My folks are just too old fashioned. I can’t refuse them.”, and the ever popular – “Hey, what they give is their business. I don’t bother with these things.” Nothing will ever change unless people step forward. Sadly, few do.
“No, dad. I want to marry THAT stack of money.”
But worse than those guys, I am more frustrated with the armchair cynics… the kind of people who live by the mantra “Nobody’s going to change anything. I can’t do anything, and neither can you. So shut up and let me enjoy my soap operas in peace”. Now those are a special brand of people; people who ought to be hung by their thumbs and periodically dipped in molten tar. The next generation is coming a long way in tackling the world today. They’re adding newer lines to Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire”, and they mean it. The least you could do is get out of their way. The cure IS spreading.
But then again, it’s not spreading fast enough. We do have a lot of people who refrain from asking for dowry, but don’t say no to it either. And there are misguided parents of some girls who feel that giving a sizable dowry is a sign of respect; a matter of prestige and pride. We need the daughters to stand up for themselves. (“I swear, papa… if you offer dowry for my marriage, I shall run away with the cook. Yes, the one with the limp.”) And we need guys to stand up aggressively and refuse dowry offers. Guys have multiple options to tackle the situation, two of which can be outlined as follows…
Option 1 – Active Aggression: “You dare offer me dowry, you simple minded, prehistoric moron?? That does it!! I’m not going to marry your daughter. What I am going to do is hold you by the cuff of your collar and shake you until your dentures fall out!”
Option 2 – Subtle Humor: “So let me get this right… You give me 15 lakhs and a car… I take your daughter for life… Hmm… Let me think… Tell you what… give me 25,000 and I’ll take her off your hand for a month or so. Deal?”
(WARNING: Grown up girls’ parents are notorious for missing subtle humor. Option 2 may not be a safe choice)
Dowry has been predominantly peppering arranged marriages. But really, the most interesting aspects come to light when dowry rears its ugly little head during the course of a love marriage.
“Darling, I’ll bring you the moon if you need it. I’ll blow the sun away if you think it’s too warm. I’ll dive off the highest mountain and into the deepest ravine. I’ll carve your name on that big revolting rock with just my teeth, and sing love songs for the rest of my life… the good ones, not the Barry Manilow ones… IF you would only marry me.”
(giggle giggle, blush blush) “He he… Of course, silly! OF COURSE I’ll marry you!”
“Great! Come tomorrow to the corner of 6th and main. Hand over 6 lakhs in small denominations to my dad, get his blessings and come meet me at…”
“You have GOT to be kidding me!!”
“Huh? Not at all… small denominations are easier to handle. It’s…”
“Not that!! Are you really asking me for dowry??”
“Oh… yeah. You know I don’t really care about it. It’s my folks… they’re really set in their old ways. Besides, 6 lakhs is not that big a deal. Your dad…”
“Jesus! How can you even ask me something like this?? I thought you loved me… you said you’d do anything for me… how can…”
“Hey! I do love you, ok?… Here’s what I’m gonna do… and believe me, I wouldn’t do this for anybody else… Don’t tell anyone, but… I can give you a very lucrative EMI option…. And if you act now, I’ll throw in…”
Now those are another bunch of people who ought to be buried alive in a vat full of stale decaying fish.
But the really rosy memory when it comes to dowry is an event during college years. Me and a bunch of friends gathered up to be at a classmate’s brother’s wedding… It was a very different sort of an event… one of my friends was translating the ceremony on the fly… and at one point, the father of the bride put up 1 kg gold on stage. My friend explained that that would be the dowry. I stood up and said, “Hell. I’ll give 1.5 kgs. I’LL buy your son.” This started up a small bidding frenzy amongst our little gang. It went up to 5.25 kgs, but then died down.
Of course, all these dialogues took place in hushed whispers from the back of the hall, out of hearing range from the rest of the people. Otherwise, I don’t expect we’d have come out of the place with our bones intact. And we all need our bones, particularly the backbone, when it comes to standing up for what you know is right.