High wedding expenditure is a disease in Indian society
I have been trying to understand the reasons why people get into debt by spending lavishly on weddings celebrations. And no, I am not talking about those those weddings where grooms get BMW’s as dowry gifts from the girls side or the girl’s family flies in flamenco dancers from Spain, and fresh orchids from Thailand.
I am talking about the poor and the middle classes who spend money they don’t have. As the girls side bears the burden, the high expenditure on weddings fuels female foeticide and infanticide, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy and even suicides. In other words, one wedding can set a man back by a decade as he struggles to repay the loan he has taken for his daughter’s wedding.
It’s disturbing to see that this trend of spending on weddings is not showing any signs of letting up. During our parents time, even if it was the girls family which did the spending, the weddings were simpler. Today, ostentatiousness has become a trend in urban India. As it says here:
Indian weddings have always been special occasions, celebrated with zest, enthusiasm, and, in the case of the wealthy, elaborate settings and food. But as a growing economy pumps new wealth into the country, weddings have turned into veritable showpieces…times have changed….the festive spirit has taken on a more ostentatious flavor as weddings become occasions for India’s rapidly growing affluent classes to show off their new wealth.
That’s fine as long as it’s the affluent classes. But there’s always the neighbor who wants to keep up and when he can’t, he goes ahead anyway. He too wants an entertainer during his daughter’s wedding and yearns for five star menus…not just Indian, but also Chinese, Italian, Mexican…
So why do people spend on weddings they cannot afford? Why do they spend even if it means that they get into a debt they have repay for years to come? And why should we care? They must be fools, right? Surely they deserve to pay for their foolishness?
If one could shrug it off, all would be well. But listen to a woman who works as a maid, a woman who has barely passed her 8th grade:
You see, if you have nothing, you have to spend at least Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000, to show people you are not that badly off. If you have Rs 20, 000 then you have to spend at least Rs 1-2 lakhs.
What she is saying is that if you take a loan it means you are capable of paying it back…so it means that you are well off and it increases your status in society. In any case most people think it’s a shameful thing to have a simple wedding. No one does it…they go to loan sharks and pay high interest. So even if a man has nothing – no house, no gas connection, no vehicle – he will go for a loan and celebrate his daughter’s wedding in style. He and his family will bear the burden of less money to run the household. They will go without vegetables and fruits, they might even compromise on the kind of school they send their youngest son. ‘If we don’t spend, I will never get a boy who has a job,’ a girl who washes dishes in our colony tells me.
Reasoning it out doesn’t work because it’s not just a question of a girl’s whole life, it’s also a question of family honor. A person who marries his daughter in a simple wedding ceremony (even assuming that he gets the boy’s family to accept such a thing) will find it difficult to show his face in society. The back-biting and loss of face will be too humiliating to bear. ‘Lok lai bekar ahet, but hyachat navin kai ahe?‘ (people are really bad, but whats new?) says a woman who works as an attendant in a nearby gym. She says she is a happy woman today because the Rs 1 lakh loan she took for her daughter’s wedding has been paid off.
In any traditional society, honour is important. It can become more important than food or education. Community comes before self. It’s what the community thinks which matters and as weddings were aways sacred and special occasions in our society, celebrating them until your purse strings are stretched is what’s expected . Today, weddings have become some sort of ‘show’ of one’s ‘honour.’ Every society has it’s own idea of what honor is all about and it’s tragic that in Indian culture, wedding celebrations have become one sign of it.
Well, individual boys and girls can always insist on simple weddings, but this is more difficult than that as community and parental pressure can be hard to bear. The community itself has to do something. There is one community (just 2 percent of our population) which is trying to contain this terrible malaise in our society. Just last month, Sikh leaders suggested guidelines to curb lavish wedding expenses.
A group of Sikh leaders called for a July 28 meeting of representatives from New Delhi’s more than 400 Sikh gurdwaras, or temples, to discuss ways to rein in over-the-top weddings… the Sikh leaders said the deluxe wedding trend puts an unfair burden on brides’ families, who traditionally pay for the parties.
Some years earlier even Kolkata’s Marwari community had laid out guidelines to reduce “wasteful expenditure’’. I don’t know how well this is working. Somehow whenever any community leader tries to do something like this, a whole lot of people protest as they feel that the community is trying to curb their freedom to spend. Certainly, a man is entitled to spend his money on whatever he wants, but there is such a thing as social responsibility. No, it cannot be forced, and in fact I feel a rich man is certainly entitled to have a dream wedding for his daughter…but I am sure the community leaders are not targeting such people when they issue out these guidelines. In fact after Sikh leaders had issued those statements, the media went to town with it, criticizing them for curbing people’s freedom. One of the leaders who was interviewed categorically said this was not meant for those who can afford it.
I wonder where this trend is heading. The fact that there is more money in society as a whole means that individuals feel pressured to spend more.
(The photo of the maid has been taken by me, the others are from wedding sites, links to which have been given on the photo itself)