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Lavishly wedded to the idea of …

May 1, 2008

Changing the social preference of male-child over female-child entails changing social conditions that create that preference. Among the many social conditions contributing to this preference, is the social practice of dowry. If norms in a particular society require bride’s family to give dowry to the groom’s family, then larger the dowry demanded, heavier will be the burden on the girl’s family. Greater this burden, greater will be the desire to avoid having a girl in the family, thus creating a preference for having sons over daughters.

Additionally, if the bride’s family is expected to bear the costs of the wedding, which typically is the scene in most North Indian communities, then more lavish the wedding, greater will be the burden on the bride’s family; also, more lavish the wedding, greater the expectations for a greater dowry, all contributing to a preference for son over daughter in the family. .

These social conditions have come to characterize the reality of Indian society. However, in this posting, I will restrict my discussion to North Indian communities, more particularly the Sikh Community that prides itself on lavish weddings (and a community that I am a part of).

One solution to address these problematic social conditions? Ban lavish weddings! Delhi Shiromani Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has done that.

DSGMC seems to have got this right. It has proposed a ban on lavish weddings in the Sikh community in Delhi. DSGMC, which is the highest body of Sikhs in Delhi and manages the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Delhi, issued a directive that Sikh weddings should be

  1. simple
  2. conducted in Gurudwaras and not hotels (reducing the expenses)
  3. over by noon (else the weddings extend to evenings, with more feasts and celebrations adding to the expenses)
  4. minus alchohol and non-vegetarian food (thus making it possible for the feast to be held in the Gurudwara langar hall and therefore simple.)

DSGMC threatened to take action against those who violated these prohibitions. As possible retributions , those who violate the guidelines

  1. will not be issued wedding certificates by the Gurudwara
  2. cannot have their wedding rites (anand karaj) performed by the ‘raagi jathas’ (they may have to ‘import’ the priests (granthi + raagi jathas)
  3. weddings with evening processions will not be conducted in the Gurudwara

What is equally – if not more – important is not just the idea of a simpler wedding over a lavish wedding, but the explicitly stated motivation shared by the leaders: to curb the practice of dowry harassment and the resulting female feticide. Is the move effective? The code came into effect on October 1, 2007. A week later, a priest was suspended from DSGMC for not heeding to the code. Some families have changed their wedding plans so as to adhere by the code.

The move by DSGMC, aimed to curb the trend of Big Fat Indian Wedding in the Sikh community, resonates with the Sikh principles of simplicity and equality.

Way to go, DSGMC! Hopefully, committees in other cities too will follow this lead.

I must admit that I have more of a Mumbai mindset than a Delhi mindset, and have always been skeptical of the Delhi way of life and thought. But on this issue, Delhi rocks! I have lavishly wedded myself to this idea of simplicity.  🙂

(My 2 cents: addressing the problem of dowry harassment has been explicitly stated as the motivation for this move. However, it seems that on the DSGMC code of Sikh weddings, ‘demand for dowry’ does not find a mention as one of the ‘thou shalt not’ things to do. Perhaps, that addition would be the next natural extension of the code or perhaps (hopefully? naively?) the inclusion might not be needed in the future.)

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