Indians stick to traditions, like staying on in a bad marriage. Some shouting, some bullying, some slapping, some kerosene pouring, some lighting of matchstick … We are going to be happily married even if it kills us – for what will people say?
The bridegroom will share his surname with the bride; in return he asks only that she rob her father blind and reach mandap with the loot. What did the boy get, what did the girl bring? Bidding for groom begins with ‘two cars two cars two cars’ till someone calls out ‘three cars’. Bills for boy’s suit and honeymoon suite go to ladkiwalas. Dads in ads are always wiping away a tear when daughter leaves in newly purchased car with newly purchased husband. The girl’s side is told: ‘She is your child, hee hee, give her what you like, it’s between father and daughter.’ In old Hindi films the bride’s father routinely falls at her sasur’s feet. The baraat has just declared the dahej too meagre – fridge and scooter are okay but where are the motor-gaadi and bangla?
Vismaya V Nair was manhandled by her new husband because her family couldn’t bankroll him anymore, but she chose to stay back and even die. In Kerala, where the dowry system is deep-rooted, matters are usually decided in a group huddle much before the boy even sees the girl. Best to get these things out of the way, so all exchange of cash, jewellery, property papers is a done deal before the nadaswaram.
Unlike in the north, where brides are beaten or killed because their father failed to meet demands, such stuff is not left pending in the south. It is even called share, portion or streedhanam for an official touch. In a Malayalam folk song, Kunji Pennu laments that despite her good looks, she is unmarried because ‘enne kanan varunnavarkku ponnum venam panavum venam’ (those who come to see me only want gold and money). Till recently, Malayalam films had developed patriarchy into a fine art, with heroes treating heroines like something they bought from the shop and were thinking of returning. CM Vijayan plans to revise textbooks on gender equality so that women stop looking like wind-up toys to boys.
It’s not the asking but the giving that keeps the word ‘dowry’ in business. Like the maid in the nursery rhyme whose face is her fortune and so is told by a man, ‘Then I can’t marry you, my pretty maid,’ just say, ‘Nobody asked you, sir.’
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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