One of the greatest social evils of modern India, is the "dowry system", whereby the bride's father pays out an exorbitant amount of money to the groom at the wedding. Often, the bride's father can hardly afford the expense, using up an entire life-time of savings, often going into debt !
This affects all sections of society, regardless of caste, creed or culture.
What are the origins of this system ?
Why was it there in the first place ?
Should it be there now ?
What Scriptures have to say
There is no scriptural basis for the dowry system in Hinduism.
Some people quote the large amounts of dowry given at the wedding of Puranic heroes, but this can hardly be considered as precedence - each person's capacity to give is different and nothing is ever "commanded / demanded" in these tales. Indeed, many other tales in the Purans that speak of princesses marrying sages with little more than the clothes they were wearing. So, the scriptures can hardly be blamed for this social evil.
Origins of the system
The system originally came into being as a method of fair distribution of parental / ancestral wealth / inheritance amongst the children.
Sons, who usually married and stayed with the family, were given lands, houses and other "immobile" wealth.
Daughters, who usually married and moved away, were given gold, jewels, cows, horses and other "mobile" wealth.
To avoid inbreeding, and to diversify the gene-pool, marriages were often arranged with families outside the immediate vicinity. Mobile wealth was given to the daughters of the family, as it was impossible to remotely manage land holdings in those days. Sons were suppose to create wealth from the land / farms given to them in inheritance.
In some communities, some of this wealth was given to the daughter partly during the wedding, and partly during the baby-shower (Shrimanta) of the first-born.
Usually, birth of the first child was a sign that the couple had cemented their relationship and would not split up any time soon. The second part of the girl's inheritance was given at that time, to celebrate this understanding, and to give the couple financial help in caring for the new baby.
Importance of having "Sons"
At a time when government sponsored social services were non-existence, it was vital to have son(s) who would support you in your old age. Apart from the family, community and village were responsible for the welfare of the individual. Caste system provided the community support, as each caste looked after its own members - making sure new members were properly trained, everyone was gainfully employed and the old and infirm were given due respect. The old members were often nominated as the "leaders" of the community / caste to make sure their experience and expertise were best utilised by the community. The old also felt that they were contributing to the society at large and were not a burden on them.
So, having sons was imperative, as without them, your financial future was in doubt.
Often it is the women who are more insistent on having male children than female. Main reason being, in the event of husband's death, a woman could reasonably ask her son to financially support her. She cannot easily insist on the same level of support from her son-in-law.
Why only Sons ?
In a patriarchal society, all inheritance is passed down the male line. Hence the need to have sons.
In a matriarchal society, all inheritance is passed down the female line. They have the same issues - its just reverse ! In many parts of Africa, and South India, where the maternal side is more important than the father's side, men have to pay dowry to the bride's father to marry his daughter !
What we should do now
In the modern world, it no longer makes sense to divide the wealth up into "mobile" and "immobile" sections. In today's day and age, concept of mobile and immobile wealth has changed totally, and hence its no longer possible to pass on inheritance in the old ways. Transport and technology have transformed the concept of "wealth". Laws have also changed and inheritance can be passed on in many different ways. Virtually all the old social structures have disappeared in the towns and cities (inside and outside India) and even in Indian villages, new ground realities mean many of the old customs no longer matter. Dowry is one such system.
The current system, where a groom "demands" specific items in the dowry is totally wrong anyway.
A woman is not some bargaining chip to be traded for gadgets and mod-cons. It is an insult to woman-hood and demeans a man who must start his married life thanks to all the goods supplied by the bride's family. A man who cannot provide for his family, does not deserve to get married !
Ofcourse, to some people, definition of "to provide for the family" means having a fridge, TV, car..... This is not what a "family" needs. A family is a loving unit, where people can grow physically, mentally and spiritually. A small hut can be a "home", if it has love and care built into its mud walls. A marble mansion can be a mausoleum if its devoid of love and understanding.
Men and women need to consider this when getting married. Instead of concentrating on looks, grades, caste, locality, its best to consider what the "person" is like. A marriage based on the superficial aspects of a person, will always be superficial. A marriage based on solid foundation of love, consideration and understanding will weather any storm in life.
I am not spouting "modern, liberal" attitudes.
This is based solidly in our scriptures, history and culture.
Take for example Savitri and Satyavan.
Savitri knew her husband was a poor man, living in a forest and had a very short life span. Yet, she loved him. She married a person, rather than his possessions. That love gave her the strength to wrest his life from Death / Yama and they went on to live a long and fulfilling life as rulers of a mighty kingdom.
Drupadi married her husband, knowing him to be poor. But, she knew he was intelligent and strong enough to get whatever she desired. She married a person rather than his possessions. That love allowed her to weather many a storms in her life. The roller coaster of life gave her much joy and sorrow, but, her relationship with her husband/s kept her on an even kneel.
What should happen to the dowry system, Here and NOW !!
As it stands now, it is ineffectual and an insult to humanity.
If should be scrapped.
Men should insist on marrying without a penny being exchanged in the process. They should have confidence in their own ability to provide for their family.
Women should insist on marrying only those men (not immature boys !) who have the courage of their conviction to say "NO!" to dowry. Men who insist on living on the wealth provided by their in-laws are as good as impotent and should be avoided at all cost.
Parents of bride and groom should also insist on exchanging no dowry. Grossly expensive marriage celebrations are a colossal waste of money. What's the point of feeding hundreds of guests who don't even personally know the couple ! A life time of saving blown away in a couple of nights !! This money is better spent on providing a down-payment on a matrimonial house for the new bride and groom. But lets be careful - least this becomes the "new dowry" !!!
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