Do I support the Dowry System if I go to a traditional Indian Wedding? – 25 Dec 14

I yesterday described a few situations in which I would say one should be firm about a modern thought, if that means not following harmful and completely wrong traditions such as the untouchability due to caste or the dowry system. An Indian man asked me recently whether the situation he was in was one of those. His friend was getting married and he knew that there would be a dowry involved in this arrangement, something he was strongly against. Now he was wondering whether he should attend the wedding or if he would be supporting the dowry system by going.

I have heard some people call me very strict when it comes to such things. I really follow my words and act according to what I say and speak of. At the same time however I can see when it is not the point of me making a statement of my belief – or non-belief – but rather to be with someone as a friend, due to the love we share.

That’s what I think is the case here. If it is a good friend of yours, you probably have already expressed your views. If it is your close family member and you have something to say in the matter, I would say beforehand that you should do your best to stop the dowry from being arranged or included in this ‘marriage deal’.

You not going to the wedding due to the dowry, no matter how you are related to the groom or the bride, won't stop the wedding. If you are neither, not a relative or good friend, the involved people probably won’t even mind much that you were not there and your point will be lost. And if you are a good friend or relative, the newlywed couple and probably their family will be upset and hurt by your action.

It will bring an injury to your relation but it won't stop them from following their tradition. You telling them about your views didn't, anyway.

And here I would like to ask you what is worth more: your ego, which is hurt that they didn't follow your idea or your love? Your belief or your friendship?

I think going to that wedding is a matter of being with your friends on the most important, beautiful and hopefully happiest day of their lives! For the sake of sharing their love, you can, for one evening, just forget about the fact that they have another, outdated and wrong, view on this topic and just enjoy!

This doesn't mean that you have to be there and sit through the complete ritual, if you are against the religious components of such occasions! That is not necessary and if everyone knows your stand, nobody will be upset if you miss that part. But they would miss you in the party – and you would miss it, too!

So stop torturing you with such questions, do what you feel like and just be open with your friends and family! Enjoy life – don't make it overly complicated!

And in the same spirit, even though I have nothing to do with Christmas, its traditions or significance, can now wish all my readers and friends who celebrated yesterday, today and tomorrow, to have a wonderful time full of love and peace! Enjoy your holidays and festivities, hug your family and don't overeat on the delicious food!

What marrying a Daughter means to a poor Indian Family – Our School Children – 15 Nov 13

I would like to introduce you to Deepak and Kailash today. Deepak is ten years old and in the first class of our school. Kailash is fourteen and already in fourth class. Like all of our children, they come from a poor family. These days, the family’s biggest worry once more is money. It will decide over the future of the boys’ elder sister.

The family’s father is a simple labourer, earning about four US-Dollars a day. Whenever he gets work for the whole month, the family has enough to get by on but laboring is a very instable work. One day you work, the next day you have to search another place, find something else to do, have to earn money from somewhere else. This is why Kailash’s mother works as well. She is a helper and cleaner at a school. Before and after lessons she cleans the classrooms and while school is going on, she fetches water for the teachers, brings the smaller children to toilet and back and delivers messages. Should her husband not find work for a bigger part of the month, it is her income, about 30 US-Dollars, which helps them make ends meet.

For a while already however they have tried hard to save some of their monthly income and put it aside for a bigger event: their oldest daughter is now eighteen and thus in an age when, in their opinion, girls should get married. Of course it will be an arranged marriage and the parents will choose who should be their future son-in-law, whose house their daughter will move to. They have been looking for a husband for several weeks and have had some offers but the biggest problem is, as usual, money. The market of arranged marriages is like every other market: if you want to have quality, it costs. For a good husband, they have to give a good dowry! It may be a practice forbidden by law but when even high society still clings to this principle of buying spouses like at the cattle market, why would the lower and lowest class do without?

The mother tells us that they have already had to turn down a good possible groom because of the money. It was a nice boy and they thought their daughter would live well in his family’s home – but they asked for a motorbike and two lakh Rupees on top. Altogether that means about 4000 US-Dollar. Too much for this poor family. Their limit lies at about 3000 US-Dollar all in all, with the expenses for the celebration, the venue, the food and of course the dowry.

This is what they are saving for. They know that they might have to take loans from a few neighbours but as much as they can, they want to pay on their own. That’s how their home, currently consisting of one finished room and half a brick wall of the second room won’t be constructed any further in the coming months. They won’t close the second room, they won’t put a roof on it and they won’t put a door on their entrance but keep the blanket which is hanging there now.

They would even have more difficulties if they had to pay school fees at a primary school for the boys! Now they can come to our school for free. In these two brothers you can see how people’s nature can be completely different! While Deepak is a calm and peaceful boy who studies hard and brings back good marks as a result, Kailash is the complete opposite. He struggles with learning and nearly failed last year, he had fights with other boys of his as well as higher classes and the teachers often have to remind him that he is not supposed to talk during class. Maybe it is those famous teenage hormones taking over or he has a very different nature than his brother – but we will manage to get him through school so that in the end he will have a solid base of education.

That’s what we are doing it for: so that every child has a chance! You can support us by sponsoring a child or sponsoring the food for a day!

Why certain ancient Traditions don’t deserve your Respect – 13 May 13

I have obviously received a lot of responses to my diary entries about arranged marriage. One comment that I have heard in connection with this topic and similar ones is ‘You should respect ancient traditions instead of insulting them.’ My simple answer is no. A bit longer explanation is necessary? Okay, here you go.

A big supporter of arranged marriages gave me an argument: ‘What is love? If you have a dog as a pet and live with him, you will love him, too.’ His argument is thus that it is not necessary to have love before you marry. You just need to live with anybody together long enough and you will love the other one. Excuse me but I cannot respect a tradition that believes that there is no difference in between a pet dog and a wife! This is Indian culture, this is the tradition of our ancestors – they trade women, daughters and wives just like animals. Love is not important, it will come on its own. Maybe.

If it is like this, why do you nowadays even make meetings with the potential bride and groom? If love happens anyway, why do you need to look at the other person’s body? Do you really think that the ancient tradition was like this? In the time of your grandmother the bride and the groom did not see each other before the wedding – such a thought was rejected as an insult to culture and tradition!

Semi-modern parents tell me that they live a modern life while they still respect those traditions. I don’t think so. You seriously tell your children that they are allowed to fall in love but only within your sub-caste! Are you such masters of arrangements that you can even give directions to the love of your children? Do you honestly believe yourself that this can work? You must know that this is an illusion otherwise your next sentence would not be a threat: ‘I cannot accept any partner who is from another caste / another country / another religion!’

If you do this, do you really respect your ‘ancient tradition’? Your seemingly perfect culture does not include falling in love on your own but you know that you cannot stop change and that is why you try to give your children a bit more freedom from the leash of traditions that you keep them on! In reality however you have to see that it is you who is not respecting the tradition as it is – I just go one step further and call a spade a spade!

Your great culture says that falling in love is a crime. You teach your daughters not to talk to male college classmates but expect them to sleep with a complete stranger after their wedding. Isn’t that wrong?

You are doing a business of bodies if you arrange your children’s marriages. You keep your children in an outdated, wrong caste-system if you want them to fall in love within your caste only. You are disrespecting women by taking or giving a dowry and you are disrespecting humans if you go and choose a spouse by looking at the young person’s body. That is all you see in a meeting of half an hour anyway. You won’t reach until the person’s soul, mentality or emotions. And it is thus a deal with bodies, selling a woman into another family. A wedding, normally a happy occasion that should be full of love, becomes a business, an exhibition of wealth.

The male-dominant society of India clings to this tradition because it keeps the power with men, it prevents the caste system from falling apart and it lets men treat women like horses whom you stake and keep in check so that they may never reach their full power.

If you talk about traditions, there are many of them in our country and culture which were wrong and are still wrong. Many have died out already but there are many more, like the dowry, the feasts after a dear person’s death, female feticide and the caste system. Yes, I agree, I don’t respect and I do insult any tradition that does not respect humans and I will always do that. If you don’t like this, I have to tell you that I don’t care.

India’s High Class – Divorces prevented by Fear of losing Reputation – 3 May 13

In the past two days I described the situation of lower class and middle class married people who stay in their arranged marriages even though they have problems. I explained the reasons for keeping up the relationship and the pretension to be happy while actually having big fights at home. I know people have been waiting to read the reasons for the high class to react in the same way – after all they would have enough money to cope with a divorce. Today I will explain why they, too, avoid a breakup and a divorce.

You can imagine, if people of the lower class take loans to afford marrying their children and the middle class has long-time saving funds to be able to pay for dowry and celebrations, how much the high class would spend on their weddings! For them, money is not a problem and it is normal that they celebrate in the biggest five-star-hotels with countless different food items, a first-class entertainment program, waitresses and dancers from abroad, lots of jewelry on the bride, on the groom and being exchanged and obviously a dowry in huge amounts! Millions and millions of rupees are spent, the guest list is enourmous and it is the biggest show-off of all times!

This is what this class does a lot: showing off money. Every function and celebration has all this, so wedding planners have to come up again and again with new, expensive ideas for sensational weddings that top the ones of the previous wedding season! Their weddings are extravagant and you will meet the most reputed people on those events. It is an announcement of the wedding with fanfares and trumpets!

The bride is welcomed into the huge mansion of her in-laws. There is enough space, they don’t have the problems of the middle class that they are 24 hours together on small space. All the money of the world cannot prevent tension and problems when there is no love and lots of ego.

After such a big show on the wedding however, how could they accept failure? How would that look like in front of society? They know so many people, all of them would be gossiping about them! No, they cannot afford that – so they pull a curtain in front of their private life problems and show a different face to their surroundings. Nobody might ever know, except maybe their employees who hear their fights through the doors of their bedrooms.

Additionally there is the fact – and that is true for all levels of society – that it is difficult for divorced people to find another partner. They may find someone who is divorced as well but on the market of arranged marriages, nobody would like to marry his son or daughter to a divorced man or woman. Damaged goods, when the women are concerned. Men who have been left – who knows for which reasons? Maybe he was beating or a drinker… it must be something really bad, otherwise why would someone go until a divorce?

There is the catch-22: if you stay in your marriage, you are unhappy because you don’t have the happy married life you wished for. If you get divorced, you won’t find a partner again to found the family you are wishing for. Why? Because everybody thinks you are such a bad person that someone even took a divorce from you. Which is the lesser evil?

What I have been writing about arranged marriages comes from my experiences, from what I have seen all around me and my own personal opinion. Of course everybody is an individual and there are many arranged marriages that work just fine because of the partners’ mindset. The number of problematic marriages is high though and that is why I tried to point out reasons and difficulties.

Middle Class Girls in India – You cannot divorce after saving so hard for your Wedding! – 2 May 13

After yesterday’s explanation why married couples of the lower class prefer pretending to be happy in their marriage rather than breaking up or even getting divorced, I would like to write about the middle class today. This means I will write about people who have enough money to live without worrying about survival, who have money to send their children to school, buy them good clothes and feed them well but who still need to consider well before doing bigger expenses.

They start saving money from the day their daughter is born for the girl’s wedding day. Knowing that the day will come when they will have to spend half a fortune, they go to a bank and take a marriage saving fund according to their income into which they will monthly add a certain sum of money. Usually after about twenty years, they get that money and are now ready to make big expenses for the wedding of their daughter.

It is a big party for them and everybody says ‘You marry only once in life!’ It is thus the biggest and most important day in the life of both, the bride and the groom. Once the marriage is over and they realize that it doesn’t really work out, they are in a precarious situation. Their families have spent so much on their wedding, putting all their money and their love in this one day, how can they seriously say that they would rather not be married than live with this person and in the girl’s case his family?

You have to understand that people of this financial situation try very hard to have a good standard. They do big efforts to manage their finances in a way that they can show a good standard of living to their surroundings. For them, it is important to show that they are not as poor as the lower class. They earn more and they could spend more on their wedding. It is a lot of money though, a lifetime’s savings, that would be lost on the wedding if the couple decided to get separated! They know that and everybody would see the money spent on the wedding as a big waste!

It is however not only financial reasons the keep middle class couples from getting divorced. The more money people have, the more important it is for them to put up a show for the people outside. They believe that it is a matter of the social level how happy you are in your family. If you are fighting and maybe even talk about breaking up, it is something that the low class would do, something that doesn’t suit people of their standard.

Their girls may be educated and could do a job to earn money on their own even after a divorce. Unfortunately working is seen as something that only women do who are needy and it would reduce your reputation, something that the ego of a lot of women does not allow. They prefer the difficult situation in their home, fighting with their husband and his family.

Often this leads to the separation of the home, the man and the woman moving out of the husband’s childhood home. It makes the financial situation a bit tighter but it is the only way they see to reduce tension in their marriage. Divorce is not an option.

Lower Class Girls in India – Difficult to afford a Dowry and impossible to get a Divorce! – 1 May 13

In the past days I have been writing about the various problems of arranged marriages. While reading my entries again, I thought one might get the impression that I am writing only about one certain class of society. Many people in the west to whom the concept of arranged marriages is something new, may think that only people of a certain class would remain in their marriage even though there are problems. They don’t know that the problems related to those marriages are common to all different levels of society and that all of them tend to accept their ill fate rather than break up and divorce. It doesn’t matter whether you ask a couple of the lower class, the middle class or the high class, arranged marriage is not successful but they nevertheless remain married. It is only logical if you look at the structure of society – let me explain you why.

We start by looking at those people whom you would call ‘lower class’ according to their financial situation. They don’t have much money and surely not enough to save for an Indian wedding, which usually means a whole lot of expenses. They work every day to get enough money to eat in the evening, buy some clothes and raise their children. They rely on other people for bigger events. When their daughters get married, they ask for support wherever they believe they can get help. Individuals give some money and charity organizations pay, too, so that they have a dowry to hand over to the groom as well as the money to organize the wedding party and ceremony. They make every effort to get enough money but if it doesn’t suffice, they take a loan from a relative, a friend or someone whose business it is to lend them money and earn interest when they pay it back.

The high financial effort that the parents thus have to do is one of the reasons why many people wish for a boy – if they have several girls, they have to pay for all of their weddings and the dowry on top!

Once they have the money together and have found a groom of the right price class, the girl gets married. That can also happen quite early, especially in poor families. Girls get married at the age or thirteen or fourteen already, even though it is by law illegal to marry below the age of 18. In villages however, there are every year lots of child marriages. These girls are not mature enough to do anything else than what their parents want them to do. Her whole life she has done what they told her, so even if she gets married and doesn’t like the husband to whom she was married, she will go and tell her parents. They will reply that she should accept him, adjust herself and make it work somehow.

Imagine the daughter’s situation! She has not learned any profession and would be depending on begging or hard labour to make her living on her own. Her parents will hardly be able to take her back either! Maybe they would do so out of love but imagine her guilty feelings if she really did come back and make their financial situation problematic again! If she has children already, it is even more difficult.

For the boy, the new groom, the situation is also not easier. If he realizes that his wife cannot deal with his family and maybe searches for fights with him, too, what is he supposed to do? If they did get divorced, he would be laughed about for not being able to keep a wife with him! And wouldn’t he feel some responsibility for her, too?

So they stay together, no matter what is wrong in between them. They suffer and fight, often clearly visible to the people around them as they live close-by others. Nevertheless they don’t change anything.

Dowry should not be Supported by Charity and Donations – 1 Apr 11

I have been writing a lot about dowry in the last days. Lately someone sent us an email and asked the following question: ‘I have read much about different great projects which all support girls in India. Why don’t you do more for girls? There are many charities that help poor families collect the dowry for their girls. And if you did more advertising, saying ‘Save the Girl-Child’, I am sure many more people would help!’

While I am sure that the person who wrote this email meant well for girls in India, I would never follow this suggestion. I know that there are many charity organizations that collect for girls so that they will be able to have a dowry. Every of those donors who contribute surely wants to help but I think they are not aware of the consequences of what they are supporting! I don’t approve of such projects simply because they indirectly encourage a system which is fully wrong!

I know that there are organizations, some of which even support education, too, which each year save money for their female students for their dowry, so that each of the girls will have a good sum for her dowry when she is adult and ready to marry. Their argument is that there are families who cannot afford to pay their daughter a dowry and thus have difficulties marrying them to successful boys. They say these girls don’t get respect in their future family or even any husband at all. But don’t you support this tradition? It is wrong that these girls ‘have to have’ a dowry. By giving them one, you make the rest of the society feel that this is how it should be and the next generation will ask you to help them with the dowry, too.

Instead you should support those girls to get a good school education so that they can earn money themselves, be independent and marry whenever they want, not when their parents want them to be cared for by a husband. With a good education, a girl has far better chances of a good future than with a good dowry. And nobody can take her education away from her. Of course it will take a complete change of mind in the society but education is the first step. So please support projects and organizations that help girls to stand on their own two feet instead of organizations that collect for their dowry which would keep that tradition alive for many more years.

Misuse of Dowry Law – Change in Society necessary – 31 Mar 11

Yesterday I wrote to you about the bad situation that some women are in when they marry into a family that was actually only keen on getting a big dowry. Some of you rightly asked whether there was no way for these girls to go to court for this. There are laws against dowry of course but unfortunately even those are now being misused.

The law against dowry was passed in 1961 already. Isn’t it horrible that in this long time, now 50 years, it was not possible to erase this idea from this society? There have been several changes to this law and in the beginning they made it stricter. For the first seven years of marriage a woman has the right to go to the police and file charges against the family she married into.

I admire every woman who enforced her right and went to the police after her husband and his family harassed her in such a way. There have been cases in which girls went to the police to turn their grooms in for demanding a high dowry and for physically harassing them. The grooms and the complete family in those cases have to face investigations and can go to jail. It is good to see for those cases how law could do something good.

Another fact is however that this law has also been misused many times. Not only grooms’ families can be greedy, brides’ families, too, do criminal efforts in order to get more money. There have been cases in which a girl married a boy and without the family doing anything wrong towards her, she went to the police, claiming that she was asked for money, for a dowry by the boy and his family. In those cases the police went to investigate and the whole family of the boy had to fight for getting justice and not having to pay money to the girl’s family or even going to jail. If the girl states she had already given thousands of Rupees for her dowry, the boy first has to prove that she did not. The bride and her family often blackmail the groom and his family with the threat of going to the police if they don’t pay them money. The groom, afraid of having to go to jail, often pays and this for a whole life long.

Due to such abuse of the law, they had to loosen the law again. Isn’t it crazy that there is a law that should protect you and you go and use it the other way around?

My family has had their own experience of the misuse of this law. My brother got married in the traditional way with an arranged marriage. In that time the family chose a girl from a poor family to give her a good life. They did not have any money, not to mention any dowry. We never had the wish to take a dowry and my family paid for everything for both sides, the wedding, the girl’s dress and simply everything. The marriage did not last. The girl and her family were not nice to our family. They ran away with lots of jewelry, some of which had been presents from my family and some of which was stolen from our home. My brother filed a case for divorce and they filed a case for dowry. Needless to say how much we suffered from this whole episode.

I can only repeat it: we need to finish this complete system from this society as it makes it sick, brings much pain and hurt to people, increases the greed in each person involved and makes an occasion that should be filled with love, a simple business matter.

Abuse, Domestic Violence and Murder for Higher Dowry – 30 Mar 11

Yesterday I mentioned that a husband, the parents-in-law and the whole husband’s family can get angry and even violent towards woman if she does not give birth to a son. If a woman is so unfortunate to marry into such a family, it can happen that the violence starts even before she gets children. And again, the reason is the crazy system of paying a dowry to the groom and his family.

At first the family of the groom does a big business. They spend a lot of time on finding the right bride who has enough money to ‘pay for their son’ and the arguable luck of becoming a part of their family. They bargain a lot with the parents of the bride-to-be and finally settle on an amount or on gifts that the father of the bride gives on the wedding day. Soon after the wedding however, the poor girl can get a nasty surprise: her husband and his family want more!

It can start with some small comments by any family member, telling the young woman that she got her husband for a very cheap price. The husband may tell that his sisters will give their future husbands a much higher dowry. The parents may mention by-the-by that she should not think she brought a lot into the marriage, that her father should really have given more.

They pressurize the girl to ask he parents for more money. Sometimes they threaten to beat her and abuse her. If the girl, in her misery, turns to her father, he will try his best to avoid domestic violence for his daughter and if he can, he may even give more.

Unfortunately however this kind of sick mind cannot be satisfied and they keep on pressing money out of the woman, harassing and abusing her. Sometimes this kind of situation even escalates and they kill the woman in her new home. They threaten her that much that she pours kerosene over her head and sets it afire or they do it themselves. Those murders are in most cases displayed as suicides or accidents in the kitchen. Only rarely does anybody investigate for murder:

A 1997 report claimed that at least 5,000 women die each year because of dowry deaths, and at least a dozen die each day in 'kitchen fires' thought to be intentional. The term for this is "bride burning" and is criticized within India itself.

Source: Wikipedia

It is a sad state that India is in. We hear about this kind of cases, you read about them in the newspaper, it is the society in which I grew up. While writing these lines, I remembered my thoughts in my childhood. When I was a child, maybe a teenager, I thought I would only marry that girl whose brother is married to my sister. In this way I could make sure that nobody would mistreat my sister. My child’s mind could think that much and find a solution that my sister would never suffer such violence. Later on, when I grew older, my idea about marriage changed altogether and I did not have any wish to marry anymore. Four years ago my sister also departed unmarried from this world.

We are leaving India today to go to Germany and as always we feel sad to say goodbye but are looking forward to see our friends and do some work in Germany.

Religion and Dowry Tradition Leave Baby Girls Unwanted – 29 Mar 11

Yesterday I explained you the system of dowry in India and mentioned that it is the reason for many more problems in India. The dowry is for example one of the reasons why many couples wish their babies to be boys, not girls. Let me explain this to you.

It is normal in India that the bride leaves her family and moves to the groom’s home after their wedding. The wedding is thus a big celebration but the parents of the bride also say goodbye to their daughter on that day. I already told how the wedding gifts that they gave to the groom turned into a pre-decided amount of gifts. I described how a rich bride’s family can give several cars, golden jewelry and a lot of cash on top to the groom and his family. This may be an amazing spectacle when there are rich families marrying their children. What happens however when the bride’s family is not that rich?

Even if the girl’s family is not rich, they try their best to get a good husband for their daughter. They really want to make sure she has a good life and as a high dowry can bring a husband with a good job who will be able to provide well for their daughter, they do everything to be able to give enough.

When a baby is born and it is a girl, the parent start saving, practically the moment she leaves her mother’s womb. Companies offer complete saving plans for girls because of this tradition. Some people however don’t manage to really save a lot and so, when the wedding day is coming closer, they take loans in order to get enough money together. Some people even sell their property, their inheritance, for their girl because it is her once-in-a-lifetime chance.

So if the baby is a girl, they know they have to start saving whereas when the baby is a boy, they know they can ‘sell his value’ at the time of his wedding. This may not be the only reason why they are happy about having a boy. Boys stay in the family, often run the business of their father and they keep the family name and thus preserve the family tradition. The sons and their families will be there and take care of the parents when they get old. And on top of all these benefits they get the dowry of the bride!

Even the Hindu religion says that you need to have male offspring, otherwise you will not go to heaven in between your incarnations. Your lineage will not be carried on and there is nobody who will burn your body once you are dead, as only men usually go to burn the bodies of their elders. In Hinduism there are many confusing ideas such as this one which make people want to have boys and not girls.

Due to this preference of boys, it is now also illegal for doctors in India to tell the gender of unborn children which they can see in the ultrasound picture. With this law abortions of girls, simply because of their gender, shall be stopped.

And so Indian parents try again and again to have a boy and not a girl. Unfortunately the woman has a lot of pressure through this and no way to do anything for ‘success’. If she gives birth to a girl and is in a family that is not very loving, she can quickly become the subject of the anger of her parents-in-law. This anger shows in comments and can even become violent.

This is just another reason why the system of dowry should be extinguished from this society.