In the lives of Indian men and women, no single event is quite as important as their marriage. It marks a passage and transition from childhood to the adult life. In Hindu tradition, a matrimony is a sacred union and neither man nor woman is considered complete without it. In fact, on Hindu scripture says up front, “One is incomplete and considered unholy if they do not marry”.
Dowry Vs. Bridepiece
But unfortunately, even in modern times, Indian society is constantly threatened with social issues that jeopardize the welfare of individuals and the overall growth and progress of society as a whole. One of these social issues is matrimonial transaction (dowry), or the giving of material gifts or cash during weddings. Participants, mostly from the groom’s side, do not hesitate in rejecting the proposed matrimonial gift on account of non-agreement in paying this dowry. These transfers, made at the time of marriage between the families involved, are characteristic of the Indian subcontinent. These exchanges of money or goods can be done both ways – from the bride’s family to the groom’s or the other way around. A dowry is what the bride’s family gives to the groom’s family, while brideprice is the name of the money and material gifts given from the groom’s side to the bride’s. Although the practice of bridepiece, where the grooms family pays the bride’s is practiced in most matrimonial transaction cultures, the gift of the dowry is most common in India, meaning the bride’s family must pay the groom’s.
This kind of “gift-giving” is a burning topic in India because of its negative effects and ramifications on women. For example, some believe that sons are more desirable than daughters because they bring wealth to the family at the time of marriage, whereas daughters take it away.
The Dowry’s History in India
Dowry or Dahej is the payment in cash or/and kind by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family along with the giving away of the bride (called Kanyadaan) in Indian marriage. Kanyadaan, or ‘gifting of a virgin daughter’ is an essential part of Hindu matrimonial rites.
In the past, in most South Indian societies, this transfer happened from the family of the groom to the family of the bride. Matrimonial sites for Malayalis and even some Telugu matrimonial sites will have profiles of grooms who are willing to pay a dowry to get married. Most of these matrimonial sites elaborate on the custom of brideprice and mention that this tradition was followed by the high-caste Brahmins. On the other hand, in north India, dowry, rather than brideprice, has been the dominant tradition.
Himachal Pradesh: The Dhari
Any form of a financial matrimonial transaction is potentially akin to opening a can of worms and a Pandora’s box, there is a practice in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh that makes women feel respected. And that is the practice of reverse dowry or paying a brideprice – also known as dhari. This practice is particularly popular in parts of Shimla and in the picturesque Himachali town of Sirmaur.
Each Himachali community has its peculiar set of rituals, traditions, customs and rites, which are guarded and practiced with a lot of enthusiasm. The customs followed by these inhabitants of the Himalayas are somewhat different from those followed by their fellow countrymen who live in the plains.
While the sum of money is purportedly given by the groom’s side to meet matrimonial expenses, it must be considered that there are some factors that determine how much money will be paid. Reverse dowry is positively associated with bride’s age at marriage, which means that an older bride will fetch a higher brideprice, contrary to the rest of India.
The number of sisters that a groom has is positively and significantly related to reverse dowry. It is difficult to explain this relation even though the relation is persistent. Distance of marriage migration is not a significant variable that affects brideprice, nor is the caste.
Dowry in Culture
Sociologists believe that the origins of the dowry lie in the practice followed by upper caste families giving wedding gifts to the bride from her family. Later, dowry, usually in the form of cash, was given to the bride, groom or the groom’s family to help with household or personal expenses and became a form of insurance in case the bride’s in-laws mistreated her. While dowry was legally prohibited in India in 1961, it continues to be popular and seems to have become an institutionalised practice.