Yes, I am going to talk about marriage, dowry and divorce, not necessarily in that order. First about marriage and divorce. This article in the International Herald Tribune set me thinking. Is divorce necessarily a bad thing? Before you think I am anti-marriage, let me set the record straight. I argued passionately against those who said marriage was a waste, sometime back in June last year. I said that marriage was a way of telling someone we love them enough to give them our life. I still stand by it. That said, I think it applies only if the person you are married to loves you as much as you love them. Assuming of course, that you love them. In the absence of love, or worse, in an abusive or violent marriage, the best thing to do is to separate. These divorce statistics are perhaps an indicator of changing times. With financial independence comes confidence. Confidence that you can survive despite the odds. That gives battered and abused women (and sometimes men too…) the guts to get out. Provided we do not trivialise the institution of marriage and start suing for divorce because the spouse snores loudly, divorce can actually be a liberating experience for some.
One particularly controversial statement of the article stated,
“Traditional Indian marriages had little to do with romance. Often but not always arranged, they were mergers between families of similar backgrounds and beliefs, and their principal purpose was baby-spawning. Love was strong but subliminal, expressed not in hand-holding and utterances of “I love you,” but in a sense of mutual sacrifice and tolerance.But in an India drenched in foreign influences – Hollywood in the theaters, teenagers named Sunita who call themselves “Sarah” and answer calls for Citibank’s American customers – an imported idea of love is spreading.”
Well, I object to the allusion to an imported idea of love. Love has always existed. And not just in a sense of mutual sacrifice and tolerance. While today’s lovers, and spouses are more demonstrative, it certainly does not mean that Generation Yesterday did not love the way we do. Love is not imported from the west. It is here, as part of our social ethos. The little adjustments we make for the ones we love are indications of how much we are capable of loving. Love for the souse, for the child, for parents, for siblings…all of these are so much a part of the Indian family that it is impossible to refute its existence. These different kinds of love only enter into a conflict when an individual is asked to choose between them.
Ok, now, on to the other issue. Dowry. Yes, it is a bad word. But, there is no point in pretending it does not exist. India may be shining. It may be the next superpower. But, there is no denying that millions of Indian women suffer dowry harassment at some point in their lives. The recent Supreme Court verdict that “customary gifts” do not come under the purview of the anti-dowry law, deserves mention in this context. I agree that many laws meant to protect women are misused by the women themselves. But, that is true with any law. Does it mean that a woman who deserves protection is denied it because some other women exploit the loopholes in the law? It would be worthwhile to ask ourselves what exactly the court means by customary gifts. Does it include jewellery, utensils, or other “gifts” given for the birth of a child, house-warming, marriage of the husband’s sibling, or other such occasions? According to the Supreme Court,
“Similarly “other customary payments, e.g. given at the time of the birth of a child or other ceremonies as are prevalent in different societies are not covered by the expression ‘dowry’,” the Bench said.”
So, a husband who demands that his wife’s parents buy a diamond necklace or an apartment in celebration of the birth of a child will not be punished because it is not dowry, but a “customary gift”? What the #$*%??? Are you kidding me? The illustrious Chettiar community is a case in point. I do not say this to undermine their customs or belittle them in any way. But in that community, it is customary to display a certain number of utensils, pooja items, gold jewellery, silverware and sarees during the birth of a child, or the first Deepavali. So, if the groom demands more that what the bride’s family can afford, he threatens the family that he will send the bride back to her parents’ home. And no, that’s not dowry harassment because these gifts are customary. Come on! Get real!
The only way to solve this problem is by refusing to give or take dowry. Someone must take the first step. If even 5% of parents refused to give dowry for the wedding of their daughters, it would make a huge difference. Women are stepping out and earning their own living. They are intelligent and independent. Why do they need to pay a man to marry them? Why can’t they throw all these outdated traditions, and pointless rituals out and live their own lives. Somewhere along the way, they are sure to meet someone who loves them and not the dowry they bring along. Will things ever change? Will women ever be treated like human beings with a mind of their own and not as an exhibition piece to be sold off to the highest bidder? No, I got that comparison wrong. Because, in an exhibition, it is the bidder who pays for the exhibit. Here, the exhibit pays for the buyer to take her along. Are we destined to live like this forever? When will we see things change?