End of the Dowry era?
by Amitabh Thakur on 31 May 2012 8 Comments

The marriage of an IAS or IPS officer might not seem to be a topic of larger discussion, but if we go slightly deep down into the issue, we find that there are many facets of this topic that have a deep relationship with larger social issues. And if we enlarge the issue in the context of all young men in different services and non-services, we find a real conundrum, no less simmering than a high-potential volcano.


This train of thought was triggered off during an interaction with a young unmarried IPS officer. During small talk, I casually asked if he was married or not. He said he was unmarried. I took it further by asking if he was likely to marry soon. He gave a clear answer: “Sir, I shall be getting married in 2014.” Slightly astonished at this very specific answer, I questioned him further and he replied, “Actually, I have a steady girlfriend who is presently busy in shaping her career and I also need a few years to get settled. So, this decision.”


Amused at this practical approach, I asked idly, “Suppose, you were not getting married to your girlfriend, what would have been the dowry you could have got?” The reply was prompt, “Sir, the last offer I got was that of Rs. two crores. But since I have already decided to get married to my girlfriend, with whom I have been steady before I entered the IPS, this amount does not really matter to me.”


This prodded me to dwell into the mindset of the present generation of IPS entrants. I asked, “So, what is the dowry rate prevailing these days for the IPS.” His said, “The highest is that for Andhra Pradesh officers. It goes to the tune of Rs. 20-25 crores in a few cases.” Then he volunteered, “But there are arranged marriages in which there is absolutely no dowry. Most of them take place when the girl’s family is a very strong political or industrial family. It is possibly because in such cases, there is a presumption that the benefit accruing would not be a one-time affair but would continue throughout the officer’s life.”


I countered, “And how many officers marry on their own?” The response, “Possibly not more than one in ten. What happens is that even those officers who were previously entangled with a girl often have a rethinking in this regard and often prefer an arranged marriage.” My last question, “And what about the lady officers? Do their families also have to pay when getting married to one of the fellow officers?” The answer, “Not at all.”


Having narrated the entire conversation, I would only like to state that not much seems to have changed in the two decades since I entered the service and we used to see fat uncles coming to the National Police Academy every now and then as prospective in-laws, and the present day when the same buying and selling is continuing. Yes, the amount we used to hear as the dowry rate in the 1990s has increased manifold, possibly because of inflation.


The only new thing I learnt is that political and industrial families don’t pay money as they give the allurement of life-long support. As far as I knew, in my days, it was only the senior bureaucrats (IAS and IPS officers) who had this privilege. Possibly this shows the emergence of the political/industrial class as a more powerful lot in the public perception than it used to be some twenty years ago.


This feature of a huge dowry is not limited only to so-called superior services like IAS and IPS, where the rush is certainly huge. It is possibly the law of supply and demand that makes these people hugely sought-after by all kinds of desperate people. To have such a son-in-law at any cost is more to do with craze and show-off for a very large section of the newly rich classes. Since no doctor would have prescribed that a girl marry an IAS or IPS officer, it is only the sense of personal achievement that pushes a man to go for such a bridegroom for his daughter/sister.


But what can we say about cases in which even an unemployed young man would not marry before he has been duly compensated with a commensurate dowry? I know a young man who is working for a private person in a lowly job where his monthly emoluments are not more than two thousand rupees. One day my wife asked him, “Why don’t you get married?” To this he replied, I am not getting a suitable girl”.


Amused, I chipped in, “But what exactly is your requirement?” He answered, “The girl must at least be a BA.” Lo, here was the man who was not even a matriculate, yet he wanted his wife to be a BA. I continued, “And what about dowry?” He was quick to respond, “We expect something in the range of 1.5 to 2 lakhs.”


It seems to me that while the male-female divide is among the factors responsible for such an all-pervasive mindset, another factor that has led to the stiffening of the dowry system is the caste system that is so widely prevalent in India. I have realized that while dowry is a real black spot for Indian society, it gets a boost from the caste system.


The caste structure forces a person to get his daughter married within a limited set of people. It puts people in different silos where the scope for movement and search naturally gets hugely diminished. This increases the pressure to pay dowry to get a suitable groom. Otherwise, the society starts pointing out fingers at both the family-members and the girl.


As more and more young men and women start getting married on their own accord [for which increasingly parental support is also coming], the problem of dowry will diminish. With the elbow-space for finding a suitable boy having expanded, the job becomes easier for every girl. Barring a few who are still particular to find a girl or boy of their own caste, young boys and girls get attached to each other beyond caste boundaries. Once caste barriers are broken and self-choices of the boy and the girl become the dominant factor, dowry naturally becomes the first casualty. This is what we need to encourage, so that the pressure of dowry does not make families view girls as a burden.


When I broke away from my caste and decided to become casteless, this was one of the motivating factors. At the same time, my wife and I decided that our daughter and son shall marry of their own wishes, with least intervention on our part, in any caste, obviously without any dowry in either case.


We need to redress the curse of dowry to give dignity to the girl child, and also to the boy child – though the latter point may seem surprising at first. The curse of dowry is, I feel, a cause of rampant corruption in India. This is something that must be realized, not so much by the young marriageable bachelors, as by their parents.


The author is an IPS officer and RTI activist

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