Nepal | October 23, 2020

Say no to dowry: Don’t make it a status symbol

Sangita Chalise
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It would be shameful to wait for someone to fix the social evil. While we fail, the new generation, which is more educated and has greater zeal to make changes, has the moral obligation and capacity to fix the issue

‘Do you know how great her marriage was? She brought a 12-kg front-load washing machine and a 55-inch smart TV, along with other basic items like a bed, a wardrobe…,’ a close friend of mine, who just attended a marriage ceremony, told me, implying the grandeur of the ceremony and how well both the bride and groom sides did when starting the new relationship. This kind of conversation has been the norm in family circles.

I belong to a typical Brahmin family from the mid-hills of Nepal and grew up having conversation about traditions with my grandfather. Having learnt at school that the dowry system was a social evil, I once asked him: ‘How did this dowry system come to Nepal?’ I used to think that it was in our deeply entrenched religious and traditional beliefs that treated women as an inferior group. I was staggered by his reply: “It wasn’t there in our time. It is today’s generation that has nurtured this culture. I don’t like this practice which, to me, is like begging. So, should I live, I will not allow my grandson to do what other people do today.”

I kept engaging with this kind of discussion, even after getting married. My mother-in-law, too, told me, “I did not bring any dowry in my marriage, it was not the practice then.”

Despite claims that there have been several improvements in rooting out the practice, dowry continues to be a matter of pride and a way to show off. Most of the families have been following this trend regardless of their education, income and wealth levels.

Ironically, it appears to be more common in well-off and highly-educated classes. It is often heard from people, mostly the educated, shamelessly saying that the practice is a tradition (when they don’t follow many other practices from the past). ‘We don’t need anything, but we do need something to show in society.’ is a commonplace statement.

Given the deep gender inequality that exists in our society, the bride’s side is a little to be blamed. It will not dare to damage the new relationship.

Likewise, the dissatisfaction on the groom’s side potentially means a harder life for the bride.

For these reasons, one of my uncles, whose only source of income is subsistence farming, sold his land, the only source of living, to marry his elder daughter and give a ‘respectful dowry’ as tacitly suggested by the groom’s side. He is worried about the second daughter.

It is common for the parents of the bride to do everything – get a loan at exorbitant rates, sell property – to satisfy the groom’s parents by providing material things, throwing a grand party.

I have seen many of my relatives and villagers with nearly nothing left for themselves after marrying their daughters to ‘well-off’ families.

For some, dowry is justified given the practice of unequal sharing of parental property between sons and daughters in Nepal. It is the only time a daughter can get something valuable from the parents. But instead of helping the daughters and parents, the practice makes it harder for the girls. Wondering how? Just browse through the newspapers of the last few days to see how girls are negatively impacted. Such cases are numerous and explicit in the southern plains of Nepal but are manifest in many and indirect forms in other parts, too.

Nepal has witnessed big socio-economic changes in the last two decades. Literacy has improved, so has poverty alleviation. But the very teachers who teach ‘dowry is a social evil’ at school happily accept dowry in their son’s wedding.

How we select our life partner has changed, too. Previously, our parents decided who we should marry. While it is less so now, the practice of dowry has not changed.

So my question is, why do the politicians, who claim to be revolutionary, not hesitate to disclose their land, gold and other property as dowry? Why do educated youths accept those stuffs from the bride’s side? Why cannot a girl make this one of her criteria while deciding who to marry? Does our generation want to pass this ‘social evil’ to the upcoming generation?

It would be shameful to wait for someone to fix the social evil. While we fail, the new generation, which is more educated and has greater zeal to make changes, has the moral obligation and capacity to fix the issue. The new generation here means the girls and boys who are yet to get married.

Boys, what makes you proud?  Contributing to the change or surrendering to the evil practice in the name of tradition or parents’ will? A washing machine and a smart TV or ‘I maintained my dignity by not accepting dowry from my in-laws’?

Think about the gender inequality that is reflected in the system, which is reinforced by dowry. Think about the financial pressure the dowry creates on the family that you are going to forge a relationship. If you cannot show dignity and cannot show empathy to others, what is the use of the education you have received?

Girls, you are no longer in your mom’s position. They were less educated and less capable of raising their voices. You have a lot more power, and you can make changes. Think, what matters while choosing your life partner, a greedy or silent follower of his parents even when he knows something is not right? Trust yourself. Unless you show that courage to say no to discrimination, it will continue. If you do not speak for yourself, no one will.

A version of this article appears in print on May 24, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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