Complying With Dowry Demands Shattered Belief In My Family's Progressiveness

Posted by Sadaf Zarreen

Being a girl in your late twenties is like participating in an involuntary game of treasure hunt. Only, instead of chancing upon actual treasure, you are surprised (shocked) with marriage talk everywhere you go. It is difficult for our elders to understand why we don’t want to get married. And understandably so, because marriage is an important part of life.

Isn’t it asking too much to accept marriage, when you witness the way the enterprise functions in our society? Especially so in the middle class strata which is “progressive”, but not too progressive; modern, yet not far removed from custom. Families turn a blind eye to the dystopia of getting married in a society deeply coloured in patriarchal hues. And the side which already does not have the scales in its favour, voluntarily tips the balance in favour of the other side.

During the winter of 2015, a very close female relative of mine got married. It was going to be the first wedding in my immediate family and the air was packed with excitement. However, I realised soon enough that this event had unlatched a Pandora’s box that made me question why I ever thought that mine was a progressive Muslim family.

The wedding unlatched a Pandora’s box that made me question why I ever thought that mine was a progressive Muslim family.

I hail from a middle class family and am not immune to patriarchal mindsets. But I was brought up in a household that placed importance on education and believed in giving me liberty. Thus, the events leading up to the wedding and the bitter truths that unfolded, seriously crushed the naïve belief that my family was different from those around me. I always felt that we would be the ones to set an example worthy enough to be emulated by others.

But unfortunately we were about to follow in the grim footsteps of others.

Feminist media needs feminist allies!

Get premium content, exclusive benefits and help us remain independent, free and accessible.


Choose Your Plan!

It is not often that you see marriages forging equal relationships. At least, this is what I happened to observe around me. The foremost manifestation of the unequal relation is the hierarchy established between the family of the groom and that of the bride. An interesting fact is that the hierarchy festers when the subjugated itself makes contributions to it.

When the relationship was fairly new, it was nice to host parties for both the families to bond. But it wasn’t long before an unsettling pattern emerged. The carpet of gratifying them was always rolled out from our side. The other side took no initiative to welcome us into their homes and return the feeling of being valued. Instead of calling out such behaviour, my family multiplied the number of dishes that would be served at the next dinner. What were obvious red flags were treated with silences that, according to my elders, had to be adopted by a girl’s family, universally.

The foremost manifestation of the unequal relation is the hierarchy established between the family of the groom and that of the bride.

Indulging in the practice of dowry is only the most visible of the contributions made by the girl’s side of the family. It establishes their acknowledgement and acceptance of the hierarchy. However, the inequality in the relationship is cemented with attitudes and behaviour that constantly massage the misogyny inherent in the man’s family.

The educated middle class makes sure that it follows the custom of dowry religiously but to never label the process as such. Comforting euphemisms are used to justify partaking in this discriminatory tradition. The most common one is to encapsulate it as a ‘care package for the girl’, suited for her new home. Membership to the dowry club comes with free and unrestricted entry into the territory of demands. Thus begins a one-way barter of never ending impositions.

And no points for guessing who is the sole beneficiary of this trade.

And no, it is never the girl.

Also Read: The Historical Journey Of Anti-Dowry Laws

Dowry need not function amongst the ‘educated’ middle class by making demands. It is an unwritten rule, the fulfilment of which is a given. To this date the bride’s father is applauded in our family for ‘deciding’ not to give an air conditioner during the wedding and instead give it when summer approached. Why he had to give an air conditioner is never questioned. Similarly, when he decided against people’s advice of giving a car to his daughter, he was making a rather informed decision, according to some. A motorbike was his way of juxtaposing monetary considerations with dowry requirements. As long as this tradition is tweaked without questioning its existence, a bike will replace a car and a cycle will replace the bike, but each will be riding on a road of compulsion.

Societal norms and practices feed the superiority complex of males right from the moment a boy is born. Small thoughts and gestures accumulate over time and naturalise the superiority of the male and those attached to him. Consequently, while one side grows comfortable with its inherent superiority, the other side prepares itself to multiply it regularly. And the saddest part is there is no saturation point, no expiry date for this complex. It only grows every time it is obliged. (Which is quite regularly).

When my relative was blessed with her first child, it was a very joyous occasion. We were buzzing with a million ideas about what to name the newborn. The fact that we were sidelined to the margins by being told that the authority of naming the baby rested in the hands of the boy’s family was, well, not shocking. What was shocking was that none of my elders questioned the finality of the former’s claim.

The educated middle class makes sure that it follows the custom of dowry religiously but to never label the process as such.

Giving gifts to your loved ones is one way to manifest your affection for them. However, misogynist expectations paint this harmless tradition with a bold brush of obligation. Once-happy festivals became synonymous with my relative telling her parents what they ought to give her new family. How she is coerced with this information is not a mystery. Giving gifts is rendered of all choice and simply reduced to a duty to be compelled.

‘Aisa hi hota aaya hai’ (This has what has always happened), is a common refrain that is pushed down our throats to silence the apparent confusion about the prevalence of something illogical and obnoxious in the name of tradition. Such a view stems from the understanding that one action or one person cannot bring change. To bring change is to deviate from the commonly accepted norm and that is bound to garner attention. And one can imagine how horrific is this prospect for a generation who has grown up fearing about ‘log kya kahenge(what will people say).

It is true that adjustment and compromise are important ingredients in the recipe of a successful relationship. However, when you are required to sprinkle a little too much compromise from your end, you cannot not question the appetite of the eater. The attitude of obliging the boy’s family up to ridiculous limits illustrates that even if our society has moved beyond considering girls as a burden, it continues to look down upon them as fragile cargo. In a society where family is so important, it is crucial for it to be a source of strength to its girls. For it to be the backbone, she knows will not snap when she decides to smash patriarchy.

Also Read: Marriage: The Shiny Trophy At The End Of The Tunnel, Or Is It?

Sadaf Zarreen is a part-time adult, full-time feminist – confused by life, amused by a good book.

Featured Image Source: Deccan Chronicle

Follow FII channels on Youtube and Telegram for latest updates.