Dowry in Nepal: Sign of love or rotten practice?
Romantic love and its culmination into marriage is a paradigm that has come into existence only recently.
Back in the days, in many cultures, marriage had nothing to do with love. It was a way to procreate and a way to maintain a social status. Thus naturally, most if not all marriages were arranged by the family members.
Although modern-day society has come a long way in accepting marriages based on love, the customs and traditions of a marriage haven’t changed much.
In a world as divided as ours, there are still many societies that show partiality toward older ways and customs. One such custom is the dowry system, an artefact of older traditions that remains a potent force in Nepalese society.
Dowry, also known as ‘Daijo’ in Nepali, is defined as the property or money that is brought over by the bride to her husband upon their marriage. This custom of providing and asking for dowry is still very pertinent in most of the patriarchal Southeast Asian societies.
Based on the qualifications of the groom, the bride’s family is expected to provide the groom and his family with valuables and property. This can become a real burden to a bride’s family that does not possess a good financial background. It has become a norm for families to save money for the daughter’s wedding with the understanding that the wedding is going to cost a fortune.
Nowadays, dowry is also seen as a signifier of wealth and status. The bigger the status of the family, the higher the expectation of both providing and receiving dowry.
A recent story of an acquaintance of mine made me question the ideologies and beliefs of youth regarding the dowry system. My friend, who was preparing for her wedding, initially told me that wedding talks between her future husband’s family and hers began with the simple remark that each party bears responsibility for its individual wedding costs, agreeing that there will be no “asking” or “receiving” of dowry.
I commended my friend and her family for having such a liberal and noble notion about marriage and it wasn’t a surprise because she is a well-educated college graduate, who was doing financially well and was about to marry the love of her life.
However, soon after, my friend told me that her family was going to be spending a fortune on furniture and some other high-end items for the wedding. My friend reasoned saying she would feel “awkward” if she didn’t bring furniture to her new room at her husband’s place.
Giving some thoughts on my friend’s sudden change of sentiment, it is possible that she felt pressured to ask her family to make changes to the initial wedding arrangements, adding unforeseeable costs to the wedding, because of society’s expectations of new brides.
I have attended several other Nepalese weddings. Even in the communities considered to be the most modern in Nepal, I have often heard older people in weddings ask what the daughter-in-law had brought in as dowry. These kinds of questions and talks that go around in the narrow-minded societal circles add pressure on families to both expect as well as provide dowry.
While I could understand her position as someone who grew up in a patriarchal society that demands so much of women and gives back so little, it baffles me to think that such custom still holds great importance in modern-day society.
Dowry customs are not openly discussed in modern-day society, however, the horrific stories of women being subjected to domestic violence over not bringing enough dowry, mostly in rural areas, still haunt local newspapers.
Although there are laws that have placed restrictions on the dowry system and have protected women against all kinds of domestic violence including physical, mental and emotional torture, there are still plenty of people in the southern region of Nepal who continue to engage in the dowry tradition and torture the women who do not meet their dowry demands.
A recent news piece that has been published in the Nepalese national newspaper, The Himalayan Times, mentioned that a married woman was “subjected to humiliation and torture” by her husband and the in-laws and was eventually forced to leave the husband’s house for not bringing in a gold ring as a dowry.
The news further states that the 22-year-old college graduate claims that she had brought in more dowry than what was demanded by the in-laws.
However, when she protested against the ill treatment she was receiving from her husband and the in-laws, her husband filed for divorce, claiming that she was deaf and mentally unstable since childhood.
Another story of torture and attempted murder of a 19-year-old Rihana Sheikh Dhaphali over not bringing in enough dowry while she was seven months pregnant surfaced back in 2014.
Dowry remains to be a cause of domestic violence against women in Nepal. It is impossible to believe that people can become such monsters over the abhorrent practice of dowry.
Marriage, which is supposed to be a sacred physical, emotional and spiritual union between the bride and groom, can be the worst nightmare for some young women given their circumstances.
While I would like to believe that education can solve the problem, I have also come to realize that when the customs are so deeply rooted in the society, it becomes difficult for people — no matter how educated they are — to forego these evil traditions. Generally, it is expected of an educated person to make sane and logical choices and not go with the pressure of society.
However, I have seen little to no action from youth concerning this issue. We, millennials, are responsible for shaping the future of our nation and the world.
The reason age-old customs that make no sense and add unnecessary burden and suffering still exist is because we let the older generation decide our fate for us. We should start making the right choices, keeping in mind that our actions pave the way for future generations.
If we give in to societal pressures and blindly go with the flow, we are only allowing for such practices to persist.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV