Traditions, Conservatism and Giving

I had written this post in 2014, after attending a wedding. I need to refresh it, as nothing has changed.

Indian weddings are a spectacular show of wealth, wedged in traditions, rituals and extravagant customs.

They appear to be blissful happy occasions of celebration…till you peep behind the drapes!

Recently I had to be an obligatory part of all this razzmatazz, watching and wondering…when will we get out of these age-old cultural compulsions, which have been imposed on us.

“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy.”—Matthew Scully.

Traditions are woven into the web of our life, I know, but I always thought and convinced myself that they evolve with time.

How utterly, extremely erroneous were my thoughts, in hoping for brighter times!

The brides in India still belong to antiquity!

They may be highly educated, having the best of job placements, sometimes even earning more than the prospective grooms BUT…

They HAVE to bring along unlimited amount of gifts, which are all given by her father, rich or poor, all have to follow this tradition.

On the receiving end are the brazen parents of the bridegroom, whose mouths, as wide open as that of a crocodile, remain open!

They don’t have to give anything in return.

Traditions blind us, compel us to keep honoring them due to societal pressures but aren’t we part of the society?

Isn’t it our responsibility, especially that of the younger generation to break away from those norms which almost choke us, make us bankrupt, kill and burn our brides?

Yes, the youngsters do break some norms only when they want to!

But they remain mute spectators to the age-old system of giving and giving and giving….when they receive along with the bride!!

The Indian tradition of giving a daughter away is, in itself, an incomparable generosity in global history. She is expected to be a part of groom’s family, perform all household chores, bear and rear children, respect all the whims and fancies of her in-laws and stay away from her own parents and siblings.

She has to become a channel of continuous flow of money and gifts from her parents, who are expected to keep on giving, all their life!

All this in the name of traditions!

“Tradition is the prison where change is detained… To make a change, you need to agree that you are not going with the statement “this is how we do it”! Yes, that was how it was done, but what next? Agree to change!”—Israelmore Ayivor

When will we free ourselves from these age-old shackles?

When will we free ourselves from the fear of such a despotic society?

The historical significance of the so-called dowry should have faded long ago when laws were framed against this system.

“Dowry was prohibited by law in 1961 with the purpose of banning the demanding, giving and taking of dowry. Although providing dowry is illegal, it is still common in many parts of India for a husband to seek a dowry from the wife’s family, in some cases leading to extortion or violence against the wife.”

Not that I was unaware of this, not that I have never complained or criticized this type of blatant one-sided giving.

Recently I witnessed this tradition of giving and expecting unlimited gifts, which gave me a feeling of revulsion, almost to the point of revolt.

Shouldn’t educated and socially aware couples rise against this?

Isn’t it discrimination to expect gifts only from the bride’s family?

Why are we so helpless? Why are we enslaved by traditions?

Why are we expected to follow such an oppressive dogma of giving a daughter away?

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Thank you for your support. Please add your valuable reflections, they are much appreciated.

Balroop Singh.

33 thoughts on “Traditions, Conservatism and Giving

  1. Wow, this is incredibly powerful post, Balroop. Power to you for writing this. It should be so simple to see the destructive result of perpetuating this archaic tradition. Unfortunately, the reluctance to let go has interfered with common sense. I imagine there are beliefs that abandoning this tradition will bring bad luck to the bride and groom—or some other non-sensical suspicions.

    You are right that the newer generation needs to teach their elders, instead of partaking in this. It sounds like greed (one of the deadly sins) is keeping it going as well.

    1. I don’t think there is any such fear of bringing bad luck is attached to this absurd tradition Lisa. It is just the mind-set of man that refuses to change. Some bold and daring girls have broken the glass ceiling and are most successful and happy but all can’t gather that courage, some are greedy, some believe others blindly and you can’t argue with such irrational people who think giving money, gifts and property to their daughters would earn them respect in the eyes of others. Grooms keep quiet and hide behind the excuse that they can’t go against the wishes of their parents!

    1. That is what the tradition demands Jacquie. They can meet their parents and siblings whenever they want to but for a short while and are expected to devote more of their time to their own so-called home.

  2. I have spent a lot of time questioning traditions. I won’t do something I don’t enjoy or doesn’t make sense. This falls into the doesn’t make sense. Great post, Balroop.

    1. Denise you are lucky to have been born in a country that doesn’t believe in illogical traditions. Stay blessed. Thank you for sharing your view.

  3. This is all mind-boggling to me, Balroop, to imagine a society where this is the norm. I’m especially shaken and appalled by the idea that the wife, once she marries, is expected to stay away from her parents and siblings. Family is so important. That’s just dreadful.

    1. Hi Mae, modernization has split up families and couples choose to set up a nuclear family but only amongst the urban and the rich. Middle classes and poor families still consider the bride to be their property. Conditions are quite dark in the rural areas.

  4. Indeed a topical issue, Balroop. The extravagance of Indian weddings and system of dowry followed by lifelong giving are sickening aspects of patriarchal societies unable to break free from feudal overhangs. It has to and it will change. Hopefully, newer generations appear likely to gradually consign such unhealthy practices into the dustbin of cultural history. The key thing here is ensuring education and equality of the girl child, logically progressing to financial independence and women empowerment. This is already happening in my home state of Kerala, where girls are simply refusing to marry in their early twenties, preferring to pursue and establish themselves in fulfilling careers and thereafter entering into matrimony on their own terms. Hardly any girl is willing to get married to meekly relegate into the status of a pliant housewife for rest of her life. Also, in one fell sweep that seems like nature’s intervention, the ongoing corona scare has reduced weddings normally involving gatherings of thousands of people to deglamorised minuscule functions of around 50 guests limited to close friends and relatives of the couple. What is now a compulsion arising from a pandemic may well turn out to be the norm going forward. It is just not that other parts of India are going to remain eternally conservative and steeped in tradition. Quite recently I saw a Hindi movie titled ‘Saand ki Aankh’ based on a true life incident of two housewives from rural Haryana fortuitously discovering their innate skill in target shooting and eventually setting themselves up, in the teeth of opposition from their family elders, to represent the country and win prizes in international rifle shooting competitions. Hence nothing is immune to change.

    1. Nice to see you Raj! I appreciate your optimistic view and also have high hopes from the youngsters. One they can rise up to challenge the age-old conservatism. Alas! retrogressive minds keep pulling them back and movies that show women empowerment are also misinterpreted by the Patriarchs who refuse to relinquish their control. When we had a woman prime minister, we looked at her with the idealism of youth, thinking all is going to change but see where we are today! What shocked me was that the father of a daughter, a well educated and progressive individual saying: “I am fasting today, as I have to give a daughter away – Kanyadaan”, to quote his exact word! This is where we still are!
      Thank you for coming over to share your view.

  5. My thoughts resonate well with yours. You are right people only break from the traditions they choose or which suits them. It is a long topic which I can write a lot but I will just restrict myself here. I feel we need to give up traditions that cause suffering/pain to others. While we call them big fat Indian wedding, unfortunately, it is a big financial burden and all in the name of demands and show. It is time we embrace the true concept. It is high time that men stop considering the bride’s family as a money tree. I’m glad you picked this topic to discuss and share.

    1. Don’t you think it is belittling the bride and her family? I can never get over the greed which some people show at such a solemn occasion. “Money Tree” – exactly arv, I like that expression! Now I hear the mutual divorce also involves a lot of money. Human greed can never subside!

      1. True. It’s one of the reasons for many people not getting married and choosing live in arrangement. The complications of separation especially the legal aspects have resulted in these sorts of things. I wonder how people can stoop so low especially the educated young men.

  6. I completely agree with you, Balroop, and appreciate your outrage. Not only is the tradition of indebtedness to the groom’s family unfair and unkind, but it devalues the bride. If anything, the groom’s family should lavish the bride’s family with gifts of thankfulness, not the other way around! But honestly, marriage shouldn’t be associated with “paying off” anyone’s family. Women shouldn’t be “given away” at all, which isn’t limited to Indian tradition. I love ritual and tradition, but some of them need to end.

    1. I feel if gifts have to be exchanged, they should be mutual but they don’t end after the wedding. Expecting a bride’s family to keep giving gifts till she is alive but forget about their daughter is ridiculous. I wonder how such traditions were formed! Thank you for sharing your thoughts Diana.

  7. Such an insightful post Balroop and it doesn’t just stop at cultural weddings, we are all ingrained into these old traditions be it Indian Weddings or the Houses of Parliament who revert to laws made in the 1600’s when it suits certain people to try and cause disruption to democracy 🙂 lol
    That is the problem world wide Balroop we are stuck in the old cycles of systems that are no longer working.. Instead of breaking from them, they continually are being repeated… Which is why we are not making progress, we are stuck in the old programming being passed down from generation to generation..

    I think sometimes… We have to have a huge wake up call to help us ‘Shift’ out of the groves we have dug ourselves in… Politics right now is going through its own upheavals… And Now we are seeing greater upheavals as CV19 is causing huge changes in our behaviour patterns..
    Maybe now is the that time when we will be made to break old moulds and rebuild anew..

    Love and hugs dear Balroop, a very informative post my friend.. 🙂

  8. I like how you have taken a wider view of ancient, outdated laws that are being used to govern us Sue. I agree there are many such suffocating diktats in the societies and they have been causing so much of suffering. Old moulds are difficult to discard…probably next generation would be wise enough to rise against them. Hope is always alive.
    Thank you for sharing your insights, always replete with wisdom. Stay blessed dear friend and away from gatherings.

  9. I presumed, but didn’t know the half of it. I knew a young Indian man, 18, 19 years old… who worked in Hawaii to make enough money to convince his girlfriend’s parents to let him marry her. A bit of a reversal, but there you go. He went back home to ask for her hand in marriage, and he was categorically denied. He went somewhere and hung himself. To death. His name was Ganesha. It breaks my heart to this day.

    These traditions can be so damaging. Why hold on to something this unhealthy, just for the sake of history? Not to mention the financial and societal oppression of those involved. I know it is not for some westerner to pass judgment, but those are my feelings about it.

    Thanks for writing this article, Balroop. Be well. ❤️

    1. Thank you Bela for sharing your experience, traditions have been oppressing for ages. Education and awareness has done little to wipe them out. I appreciate your sensitivity. Stay blessed.

  10. Powerful post, Balroop. I feel these days people are using traditions as per their convenience or the one they can be benefited from. It is so sad that we live in a culturally rich country and people still believe traditions are to suck the gifts/money. It breaks my heart to write that there are still so many kids and especially girls are exploited on the name of traditions. On the contrary, I won’t say traditions are wrong but everything is fine in a certain grace and limits.

    1. Thank you Nanchi, welcome to Emotional Shadows. I am glad you found my words powerful. I hope they reach the youngsters who have the potential to kick abominable traditions, which are outdated. Have a wonderful day.

  11. Thank you for being so honest and upfront here, Balroop. I always wondered about the Indian wedding traditions. Most of the extravagance I’ve seen in “fun” movies, and I wondered if it was like this in real life. My niece, a doctor, married an Indian man who is smart, MBA, contemporary but his parents (who are wealthy and live in the States) were adamant that the woman had to wear Indian wedding attire and do all the things in traditional Indian manner. Her parents were aghast. Somehow they finally compromised, but I give my niece’s parents a lot of credit for going along with a lot of rigmarole they didn’t believe in. Here’s to upending tradition when tradition hurts the vulnerable.

    1. Oh yes Pam… certain traditions can’t be avoided and wearing traditional wedding attire could be fun as compared to the oppressive part of carrying out other nitty-grits that go with the traditions. Education and awareness doesn’t reach conservative minds and youngsters feel helpless in their company. Some of them know the illogical part but follow their parents, thinking it might hurt them.
      Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I bet you would be astounded by the real stories.

  12. Balroop, I am always fascinated by other cultures. I had not thought about the concept of traditions and evolving. I appreciate reading and learning more about these traditions. I am already short of breath realizing I have 2 daughters and the exceptional expense we would have incurred. “Mute spectators” says a great deal. Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Some traditions need to be challenged Erica otherwise they hurt. No one who doesn’t know them can understand the compulsions. Thanks for trying to discern the emotion that I am trying to share.

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