I wish I had been writing about Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Instead, this post is about the euphemism for dowry that I just witnessed when I was visiting my grandparents place in Bihar. I do not wish to say that dowry is something specific to Bihar, or that the word "Tilak" is the only euphemism that exists, but the point is to make you aware that it exists by this name at this place at least: something you might be able to look out for.

Let me give you a little background about how this conversation came about. Tthis lady and her daughters were visiting our place for the traditional pranam and sweets after Bijoya Dashami (Dusshera). The eldest of her daughters was of marriageable age and she was talking to my grandfather about how she will have to arrange for enough Tilak for her. I hadn't paid much attention to the conversation until it turned to me being the topic, and with my "phoren" credentials and all she remarked that I will definitely fetch a Tilak in tens of crores. This, as I found out, was the current euphemism for dowry.

Apparently, the going rates vary as per the groom's education and salary. If you are a rickshaw puller, you can demand something in the tune of 2-3 lakh rupees. If you are at a local Railway job, your value goes up to around 10 lakhs. Same goes for bank clerks, government clerks, etc. If you are an officer of some sort, say in the government, your value immediately jumps to about Rs. 20,00,000. Software engineer in Bangalore - 350 - 400 k assured. Software engineer with a few US trips and a semi-rich family of in-laws? You can definitely settle for a crore. Mine apparently was just a few notches above this. :D

See that grinning emoticon (:D) at the end of the last paragraph? I think that points to the reason most of the grooms go for the dowry. The more money you get as part of the dowry, the more apparently is your market value and somehow the self-esteem is linked. People brag about having brought a 5-crore groom for their daughter, and the groom in turn walks about smugly in the belief that someone was ready to pay Rs. 5,00,00,000 for them to marry their daughter - wow, I must be that good! And this, I believe, is what needs to be targeted if you want to get rid of the dowry system in India.

Tell the gentlemen that they are plain whores for selling themselves out. Tell your friend that they should be ashamed to go begging to someone for money in exchange for their name. Are you really that impoverished? Where is your male ego when it comes to these matters? Why does it not pinch you to hold out your palm and beg? It's tradition, right? Your dad had it, your cousins also had it, why not you? Well, the same logic used to apply to Sati. And, to be more precise, there was also God on the side of those wanting to burn those brides. But we've since realised that the practice wasn't so rational, haven't we? So pause and think about it for a moment - do you have the balls to stop someone from burning an innocent bride? Do you have the balls to not leech off your in-law's money and make your own future? Ask your friends who you know "will" probably take a dowry - do they really compare their dick-sizes through the amount of money they can peddle their wares for?

It is a perpetual cycle, I know - you probably have your own sister to marry off and you don't want to compromise. But if you refuse to go for the dowry for her, you will probably have to search for the groom for two years instead of one. Perhaps the family will be one at a distant town far off from your place. But you will have broken the thread somewhere. And believe me, your sister will be happy in such a family. Thankfully, the practice is non-existent among us Bengalis, except a few bastards who suddenly develop a few "shaukh"-s right before their marriage and their doting mother or mama comes to tell you about it in private.

So yes, I am proud to have talked to at least some of my personal friends about this, trying my best to convince them to break the chain in their respective families. Here at my grandparents place I could not ask them not to not pay a dowry or change their personal beliefs - doing so in this case was beyond a certain line that I could not cross. But both my grandfather and I could proudly shake our heads and say that we would never accept a dowry in any form from anybody. And to my wifey: honey, whenever you read this, if at any time I ask you to bring money from your parents as dowry, please do me a favour and shoot me before my conscience wakes up to face this ignominy. Heh.. wait... a few tens of crores... hmmm... :)


  1. And the more educated the person is, more is the dowry. What was all that education for, then?
    On the other hand, I hope you have been exaggerating just a bit .. 10 crores.. do ordinary people even have that kind of money?
    Great post, btw.

  2. I agree with Alice...10cr my a$$. There are thousands of phoren return engg in India but the skewed sex ratio and the fact that not thousands of families can afford to pay 10cr to marry an engg would convince me to make the argument that the figure is an outrageous exaggeration. A family with 10cr is probably looking for another big industrial alliance and don't really care about education and stuff. I would say 10 lakh would probably be right. So my friend, neeche aao and jyada hawa main mat udho!

    Also, am glad you didnt go for the dowry kyunki phir to teri shaadi kabhi nahi hoti! Waise bhi I need to hold a convo with your wife to figure out how she made such a big mistake!!

    Sky :)

  3. Alice yep - that is the question: has there been real education in the first place or are they just plain literate? About the exaggeration, see below.

    Sky, yeah I am ready to believe your a$$ might be worth 10 crores ... umm maybe not that much! :P

    So the phrase used for me was karodo mein - I naturally assumed 10 crores, and scaled stuff down. The 3 crores for the rickshaw puller is true, btw, and so are the 10 lakh figure for the railway worker.

  4. Sudipa, i think this doesn't stop just at villages and rural pockets. Even in the city, this happens in scores. I know of a friend who i have had discussion with, more than once, and he proudly admits that he is definitely 'in' for this blessing due to his gender. Which he doesn't realize was not in his hands in the first place. He believes getting the one-time dole (of 70 lakhs to maybe a Crore) will just set him up for life letting him buy a flat or put that money in the banks and live life king size. He, shamefully for me to mention but he ain't that man to realize, is ready to put his life at sale to marry a lady he won't like much (on physical appeal) as long as the money is good. And i can bet my a$$ that he will go outside for fun too.
    I think it takes two hands to clap. We have to convince and spread the word of stopping the creation of demand of this tradition (especially to the parents since they are the ones who start and let it happen). And also halt the supply. Like you said it might take a bit longer, but i'm sure there are enough sensible people out there who wanna get married not just because of the prize money!

  5. We, at AID had started a No Dowry Campaign and all the volunteers were urged to take a pledge of neither taking nor giving dowry, http://www.indiatogether.org/women/dowry/campaign.htm.

    However,that's a very small step and I just wanted to note here that dowry in one form or the other exists in other parts of India as well, Rajasthan, Kerala, TN, AP and even Maharashtra.

  6. Good to see some action here after a long time. Btw... its not only the boy's parents who demand dowry, and the boy goes around wagging his tail for the crores that he is about to get, but its also the girl's parents who are more than eager to give the dowry. I come from Andhra, where the concept of dowry is much much widespread in most of the communities. Girls parents WANT to give dowry and brag about it later, even if the guy or his family does not demand it!
    So the problem is as much with the girl's parents as the boy's.

  7. I agree with Sandhya. Both sides are to blame.

    Its an old tradition that completely destroys its original intent, which was to basically let the bride's parents help her maintain a good lifestyle which she has enjoyed with her parents until her marriage.

  8. Navin, I know it happens a LOT in the cities as well: and through this post I'm hoping some in the city will at least stop. About your friend: very unfortunate, I admit, but unless our parents' generation realize that the groom does not do them a favour by marrying their daughter, it wouldn't matter and it wouldn't work. You are right about the demand and supply: we need to target both faecets of the problem if we want to reach a solution.

    Pallavi, thank you for doing that! I have shared the link on Facebook now. And you are true - although I have given an example of Bihar, I know it is rampant in particularly Andhra Pradesh, especially among the educated city folk.

    Sandhya, yeah sorry - been away for a while :) I know what you mean about the girls parents wanting to give dowry; like I said, its a status symbol to have brought a 50-lakh "damad" home. And as Navin has mentioned above: we need to cut off both the demand and the supply!

    Specter, welcome onboard! Yes there might have been some good intent behind the origin of the tradition (quite possibly what you've mentioned), but we need to fight it in its current form, be it called "Tilak" or dowry.

  9. According to Christians in Kerala, dowry is the girls share of property. After she gets married she has no right over her parents property. This is what my Mom explained to me after a heated debate with her about how we mallus ask and give dowry.

    I think that custom of giving the girls share was true way back in time. Today it is no longer valid. The daughter has equal rights to her parents wealth after her wedding as she had before but the custom has continued.

    I will be a "phoren" returned girl when i go home. So my so called market is limited to other "phoren" returned boys which somehow makes them even more valuable.

  10. Mish, ah yes, another age-old custom. Girls were second class children, "paraya dhan", and had no claim whatsoever to either their parents' property or life. Like you said, thankfully, these are changing. And you've pointed out something also important, people usually don't want a bride who is more qualified than the dude: the ego is a big problem then. Hope you find an understanding Mr. right :)

    Welcome onboard, btw!


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