OPINION

Should Parents be Made to bear Children's Marriage Expenses?

March 29, 2010
Sumanth

In the movie 3-Idiots, Boman Irani, who played the role of dean of an Engineering college was shown going on a bicycle to college. However, he is shown conducting an extravagant wedding for his daughter.

The one thing that pisses me off is, people dancing in the middle of the road followed by the bridegroom sitting in a car or on a horse. Come marriage seasons, this is the regular scene in most Indian cities. They even carry a vehicle with a diesel generator with some poor women carrying fluorescent lamps on their heads for lighting this slow moving rock show on the road. A band plays music or even a group of singers sing popular songs for the hip shaking drunken crowd in the procession. Sometimes, females also join to shake their hips. They even burst crackers in the middle of the road.

What the hell?!!

Marriage processions screwing up the traffic on the road, is considered legal in our country. Our Citizens do not protest as this is the part of great Indian culture. That brings the question of marriage expenses in India.

Who bears the expenses in an Indian marriage? Is it the bride and the groom? Or is it their parents? Every married person must ask the question, “who spent money for my marriage function?”

It is a fact that in most marriages, it’s the parents (or bride’s parents) who bear most of the marriage expenses. In India, women tend to marry 5 to 6 years earlier than men. So, women do not earn or save enough money to bear the expenses of their marriage functions. The marriage expenses in middle class or poor families are as high as 10 years of their savings.

In western countries, children become independent almost at the age of 18 and they stop being financially dependent on the parents, sometimes even for their higher education.

How appropriate is it for the children to make their parents bear expenses of their wedding? Why should not we eliminate this cultural practice?

Why do people spend in weddings in the first place? There is enormous pressure in the conservative society for marriage spending. These are costly social get-togethers, in this country of more than 900 million middle class and poor people. In the marriage celebrations, the hosts have to feed couple of meals to some 500 to 1000 guests. They have to give gifts to some 50 to 100 relatives and wedding guests. The cost of lighting, flowers, decoration, booze, music, dresses and gifts to bride and groom, and travel expenses often hits the economic foundation of most families.

I personally know families, in which a man loses almost all his retirement benefits to get two of his daughters married, even when there is no dowry involved. For a middle class person, even the simplest wedding can cost rupees 5 lakhs (half a million rupees).

Does society or culture coerce people directly or indirectly to bear huge expenses during marriage of their children? Yes. People are coerced or forced by the culture to spend money to prove themselves in front of friends, relatives and neighbours. It is a social expectation imposed on people, which tramples their freedom and choice to lead a dignified life.

I do not understand how anyone can voluntarily choose to spend all the retirement benefits for his children’s marriage. It is actually an enormous pressure put by the society. A father who conducts a very simple wedding for his daughter and invites very small number of guests is looked down upon by his relatives, friends and neighbors. The man is made to feel guilty and he has to live in shame for years after such a wedding.

Dowry giving/taking makes this situation worse. However, I want to keep issue of dowry out of this for the time being, so that we can probe the issue of social coercion for marriage spending in isolation.

If it is a social coercion, then that is a clear social discrimination of poor and middle class people. The rich create big fat Indian weddings and then this social behavior comes down to middle class and poor people. The Bollywood sets trends for marriage spending. NDTV Imagine even shows a program called The Big Fat Indian Wedding.

There is a need for multi-pronged campaign to change these insensitive and regressive attitudes prevalent in our culture and movies.

One can clearly see where this social discrimination leads to. It is a fact that many people worry about children’s marriage expenses, from the very day a child is born. As the marriage expenses of a girl child are more than that of male child, parents choose not to have girls. In fact, a man with 3 or 4 girls is considered the most unfortunate person on earth.

I have tried to find, how many progressive and liberal people, bloggers, journalists have written about this issue of costly marriages in middle class and poor people, who make majority of population in our country. I did not find many.

Like a kid I wonder, why Government, NCW, Women and Child Ministry, Bloggers, Feminists and everyone are not conducting campaigns to free parents from being forced to spend for their children’s marriage. Why children are not opposing such expensive marriages?

If “political correctness” around freeing parents of marriage expenses builds, then it may in fact solve multiple social problems for which our prime minister, president and many famous people spend so much of time and energy. This kind of political correctness can be built using TV media, advertisements, Blogging and Internet campaigns.

When parents do not bear the expenses of marriage, then the question of they giving dowry also does not arise. One cannot see dowry giving or taking, but one can easily estimate the marriage expenses as it is glaringly visible outside.

The Government can take this campaign to villages through various channels like the Stree Sakti groups, Panchayats and administration offices.

As most Indians are either in middle class or in poor condition, it is certain that most children will not be able to finance their own weddings. It will be more difficult even for middle class working women to finance their weddings, as in first couple of years of career one hardly saves anything. Women often tend to marry at a younger age compared to males.

So, this can mean, need for a national policy for complete elimination of marriage expenses for people, or at least for the people who are poor or are in middle class. The conservatives and the guardians of our culture may not like it. However, 5 to 10 lacs is a big money even for middle class income group. Any national policy in this direction will be welcomed by most people as almost all middle class and poor people suffer from this regressive cultural practice.

The Indian society is changing fast. Our courts are talking about legality of pre-marital sex and homosexual practices. Now, with such attitudes, the culture of parents spending for children’s marriage is completely inconsistent and absurd as well.

The new development is, during a marital problem or divorce the wife’s parents are asking the husband to pay all the money they have spent in the marriage. Often they come up with a bill of rupees one to two million (10 to 20 lakhs). They even mention this figure in the divorce petition. They demand this amount apart from maintenance or alimony. The husband and his family may also have spent a lot of money in the marriage. Now, they are forced to pay back the expenses of the marriage by girl’s parents along with maintenance or alimony. The girl’s parents think of using this money for having another expensive wedding for their daughter. So, the present husband is expected to pay for the expenses of the next marriage of wife. (Read article on Maintenance and Alimony here)

With elimination of marriage expenses, the problem of female foeticide and infanticide will drastically reduce. It will also stop thousands of suicides of men and suicides of farmers. The dowry system will also get a death blow. Government, liberals, writers, bloggers, media, movie actors and all religious organizations must join in to urge people to eliminate wedding expenses.

Sumanth is an Indian Men's Rights Activist.
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