Sara (name changed) is a student from Mumbai.
They won't call it dowry, of course, because educated middle-class families in the metros don’t keep up such backward customs. Do they?
I started this morning like every morning, making breakfast for eight people. I made Moong Bhaji for my whole family-in-law then cleaned the kitchen and rushed off to university. This is the deal I’ve made with my in-laws. As long as I do my household chores I can attend classes and finish my degree.
Dinner tableIt’s important for my parents and me that I finish my degree. That’s why they gifted me a desk for my dowry. I would need it to do my homework. But my in laws said they didn’t want it. They requested a dinner table instead. I guess it’s better this way, because I never study at home. I stay at school as long as I can. Around 6pm I have to go home to make dinner and serve it on the table that came in my dowry.
My marriage was arranged over a year ago. I’m from a Hindu family in Uttar Pradesh. We only marry people with the same last name, within our caste. I have three brothers, my parents didn’t ask for a dowry when they got married. But for my wedding a year ago, they had no issue paying for mine. “If that’s what your in-laws want then we’ll provide,” they said.
Paid to take me?A friend of my dad’s acted as a mediator between the two families, going back and forth to make sure both sides were happy. My dad wanted to gift a motorbike. Back in the days when he and my mother got married that was considered an amazing dowry. But times have changed. My husband’s family wanted more. They asked the mediator for a car.
My dad finally settled at paying them a cash amount. It all happened without my knowledge, but my mother told me in secret that it was more than two lakh rupees [almost 3500 US dollars, ed.]. I was too sad at the time to care much about the height of my dowry. It wasn’t my wish to get married and neither was paying a dowry.
But it’s like my mother said when I was younger, “No man will have you if they can’t make some money out of you.”
Why do they need to be paid to take me? The family of the son get’s a girl in their house who will serve them for a life time. How much more do they want? I on the other hand have to leave my family and go and live in their house.
'Gifts'My dad also gifted the family a sofa, a cupboard and that dining room table. I say gifted because of course we don’t use the word ‘dowry’. Poor, uneducated people hold on to those backward traditions. Middle class Indian families like us, who now live in a city like Mumbai, don’t use that backward term. They just accept ‘gifts’.
The truth is that my family-in-law wasn’t too ashamed to ask for lavish gifts. Even if everyone knew that’s considered my dowry – a traditional practice that is officially forbidden in India.
Future and educationOne time my husband and I had a fight about something trivial. But things heated up and I yelled at him, “All your family wants to do is take our money!” He looked even more angry and walked away. I think we will never be able to really speak about it.
But when I have a daughter I will never ask for a dowry. I’ll save money for her future, her education. Not help her family-in-law buy a new dinner table. Is dowry unacceptable in modern Indian society? Is it OK for the bride's family to give gifts to the groom's? Leave a comment below or join our discussion on Facebook.