The Bridegroom Bazaar.

I will begin this post with a story about a smart young girl in her twenties..... lets call her Ms. A.
A is a post graduate and works for an organization at an executive level. She shows a lot of promise and the organization has her in mind for bigger and better things. As a person A is very warm, bubbly and vivacious. A very kind hearted person, we never see her without a smile.

But today A is not smiling.... She looks unhappy. I ask her what the matter is and that is when the story comes out- a story that is not unique to her - a story that is part of  life for  many young girls in India. A and her family have been in the "marriage market" for a while now looking for a suitable husband for her. As an educated and confident woman she rightfully feels very humiliated by some of  the "demands" made by the prospective bridegroom's family.

The marriage market in India is a strange place - it is a seller's market but the commodity sold does not become the property of the buyer!! Let me explain this better- men are prime property in this market. There is literally a "price" that they command- a price that depends on their social status, educational qualifications, job and finally the physical attributes ( please dont miss the order...). Parents of brides have to pay this price in the form of cash, property, electronic goods, vehicles and jewellery - there are usually no either or option in the list mentioned- one pays for many of the listed items as well as others that may not be listed .. So a girl like A despite her post graduate status and ability to earn an independent living would still have to pay the "market price" to be able to marry a "decent" man. This is further complicated by the fact that all marriages are endogamous within one's own caste - a girl's family either pays or  the girl stays unmarried.

Most families start saving the moment a daugther is born. Many invest in her jewellery ( because the bridegroom's family also demand a certain amount of jewellery ). There are fixed rates for each type of occupation- Rs 1 million for a doctor/ Rs 50 lakh for an engineer etc etc . There are inter caste variations but the essential rule remains the same- as a girl one pays to get married and then goes to live with the man and his family slaving away and being the "perfect" wife.

I am surprised that all this continues despite the fact that girls today are educated and in many cases smarter than these men that they pay to marry. It is easy to say " They should say no" but in reality it is not.. In a situation like it is in India, if the arranged marriage option fails then one needs to have tremendous confidence in oneself to make the decision to marry someone of one's own choice- . A society that keeps sexes seggregated and a society where only one or two  generations of  women have been able to access higher education and employment does not create an enabling environmen to build this confidence.

As part of the technological advancement match making is now being done online- often directly by the man/ woman in question. But does that solve the "dowry" question? No, not always! Many men would still expect to be paid their "market price" ( I wonder for what? ).

In addition to the financial demands there are other requirements that a girl has to  meet with - she has to be fair, slim and in some cases be employed in a sector that is seen as favourable. For e.g dark women like me who work for non profits are definitely a "no-no" in the community that I was born into. Infact the initial screening is around the looks and then the business deal is struck! In some cases there is a pre screening - like looking through a CV within the HR unit of an organization- the horoscope of the girl is scrutinized. God help her if there is a problem with it...!!! Then ofcourse there are other twists, a family should be "blemish free" in its lineage and membership ie it should not have women like me who are perceived to have "brought shame" into their families by marrying outside their religion. Each community and family has its own level of paranoa with regard to this purity of lineage.

 So what are the essential qualifications of a prospective bridegroom in this market? All qualifications are unfortunately priced and so the essentiallity question depends on the purchasing power of the bride's family.

My blood boils when I see smart girls like A having to go through this rigmarole of having men coming to "see" her - this is a commodity inspection in which we pay for the inspector when we are sold...!!I am seriously confused- what is being sold and who is being bought? Parents who were proud of their daugthers until sometime ago suddenly lose their confidence when they reach this auction yard. They  agree to all kinds of demands often being unable to fulfil them which in extreme cases  may also endanger their daugther's life. This market place is also very subtly manipulative -it plays on the self esteem of the girl's parent linking it to their ability to pay . ( " A person of your status would surely not hesitate to provide X grams of gold...?" is an oft heard dialogue in the negotiations)

If marriage is really a business deal, then  a man  who wants to marry a beautiful, well qualified girl working in a well known company should be willing to pay "bride price" as it is in some tribal socieities to compensate the family for the loss of a productive member. Otherwise he should be willing to move into his wife's house and  become her "property".

Whoever said that education would empower women to come out of all this? Education today has just turned into an additional qualification that a girl must have as also a job. The list just seems to be getting longer and longer.. No wonder girl babies in many parts of India are killed by their parents on birth and in some cases destroyed in the womb itself..!With a sex ratio that is alarmingly titled against women, some states in India who indulged in this form of killing of females have to now import women from other parts of India for marraige.

When will we see an end to this bidding for bridgrooms? When will a girl have the confidence to look a man in the eye and tell him that he is a "spineless jerk" who is thinking of making it rich just by virtue of the fact that he possess the male organ?

As a woman and as a mother of a daughter  I hope that day dawns soon !


  1. *sigh!*..i am aware of your culture, but i thought with the advance of civilization, such practice would had reduced to a minimal, esp watching love films which tells me love is taking much stage, esp when i watched films like; KUCH KUCH HOTA-HAI & MAIN PREM KI DIWANI HOON.

    i read & watched a documentary years ago how an indian woman killed her 5 daughters & herself, after she went for a scan & was told it was another female. She went for induced-abortion, only to find out it was a boy! She was so angry with herself & in-laws who encouraged her to abort the pregnancy. She poisoned herself & her daughters. I saw her elder brother crying when he was told he should pursue a case against her in-laws by a foreign human right activist... he agreed initially, but backed out later because he didn't want to make trouble with his in-laws.

    I wept as i watched the documentary & wonder how this culture emerged? I asked an indian friend who came as an expatriate to work in a company. He said it's because, the wife is not expected to work, but stay home to take care of the family, so she is expected to bring her quota into the family to assist the man. But from what i had been seeing over the years & just read, it's not so. Even the women that are working are expected to pay the 'groom price' & still contribute to the family!

    Alas! this is a culture that is deep-rooted, which can be up-rooted if the MEN would allow it. But since they are the beneficiaries, they won't support the nullifying of it! I met an indian friend when we travelled in my brother-in-laws building at uk. I bombarded him with questions & he said he married out of love & didn't take anything from his wife's family, hence, they are regarded as outcasts. He is an Hindu...purely vegetarian & a doctor. A handsome young chap with his beautiful ambitious wife who is working twice as hard as him.

    Hmmm! i don't know my friend..this is quite dis heartening...until there is revolution,before this can be stopped... but WHO WOULD START IT?..he said, SOME families don't ask for anything, IF they are rich,& the gal is from a good home.

  2. Hi Meera,

    Had to say this in response to your post "Is "Falling in Love" only for Beautiful People? " Most love stories, if it were about beauty, have failed miserably. If they are about character nd personality and understanding, it succeeds :)

    If you'd be kind enough to activate "Name/URL" for commentators, ppl like me could comment :D :D :D

    This is one blog i'll surely follow from now :)
    By the way, I'm from the "Cucumber City" where you commented on a post about "I'm girl..." I've moved to Wordpress, please do give a try :) Look frward to see you thr.

    Oh and btw, could you pls enable "Subscribe through email" on your blog? I have a bad bad memory, and i'd love to subscribe to yours so tht i never miss a post :)


  3. I really hate this fact where the families of the groom comes to inspect the girl. It's insulting. I don't know why people still allow that? Why so insecure about the daughter suddenly? I'm 25 and my parents wanted me to get married since I was in second year of my undergrad. I really used to hate it when my mom used to tell me that my demand would be lessened once my father gets retired from his job! What the hell! How would my family let someone marry me just because of my dad's job? Aren't my qualities worth anything? Where's the guarantee that I'd have a great life there where I have no value? Since then I have this feeling that it's the mothers who are mainly insecure and they are making their daughters insecure too. I believe if a mother becomes the courage of a daughter, the situation can be different. Girls would be more confident than ever. Although, I'm lucky and thankful to my family that they never dared to pressurize me for anything. Today I have achieved a lot better than many sons of many families. And luckily I'm also in a relationship with someone who would love me for what I am. Even if I hadn't I would've never let that "show business" to happen to me. A girl HAS to have respect for herself so that nothing can breach into her confidence.

  4. You have touched upon a wound which many of us has, in our society, with us. The grooms would come to 'SEE' the girl. I have also faced such situations where families of boys have been askig questions like, "Ok, she is in a job, but tell us does she have long hair and is she fair", I told mom to answer, "Yes she is al that and also a wicked person, is it ok"..

    Though dowry is not prevalant in the community I belog to, there is lot of importance given to good looks, long hair, small feet.

    Thankfully, in the family I got married to, these were no issues at all and I am thankful to the family.

    Ending my cooment with this sad incident: a dentist I know was, in past few months,was searching for a doctor who would abort the girl foetus she was carrying. Her explanation: she alraedy had a daughter and in laws wanted a son. Incidently her husband is also a highly acclaimed doctor!

  5. @ Mindwriter, you know today women are smarter than men- something that education has resulted in. This is causing a lot of problems with respect to the self esteem of men.. they dont know how to react to it so they try to benefit from it (like owning a dog who can perform tricks?). Dont blame mothers for this- it is part of the socialization process in any patriarchal society where women are used to transfer the patriarchal values into their children (both boys and girls). Women keep these systems alive because they have been conditioned to beleive in it. Having lesser opportunities than men they have lower confidence levels and therefore do not break traditions so easily.

    The state I come from is supposed to very well performing in terms of development indicators. However, if you look at the under five sex ratio- it tells you another story altogether- it shows that somewhere those girl babies are going missing!!! It is illegal in India to ask for the sex of the unborn child but people somehow seem to find a way around it.

    Ibadeyou are right to some extent in th esense that dowry was in the olden days a way to give women their share of the family property at the time of their marriage. However today it has somehow become a sort of "market price" for eligible grooms.

  6. Meera, I feel you. You were strong enough to buck tradition by marrying your husband, and I believe you will ensure your daughter doesn't settle for anything less too.

  7. aww tell me about it. it sounds ridiculous to say so, but i was in the marriage market too. every step that u have mentioned here come much later. we had a lot of experience from "princes' moms" who thought their sons were divine creatures. They did not even have the manners to speak properly to my parents when they called them!!!! I hated the fact that even in todays world,a girl child is secondary to a boy. I used to tell my mom to back answer them but she wouldn't listen to me. why? cz "hum log ladki wale hai blah blah blah..."

    I got married almost a year back. I found for myself a family that wanted me and was ready to accept me as and how i was. Should I say I was one of very few who has struck gold?? but I am sure, if when my daughter gets married someone behaves rudely with me/ looks down upon us since we are ladki wale, I am gonna raise a hell! ;)

  8. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).

  9. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).

  10. I have a slightly different view as such.For dowry boys and their parents are not solely responsible, its more the girl's parents because
    first they nevr give the same education as they give to boys,
    They dont let the girls marry the boy from outside the caste or from a lower financial status.

    when the people look for everything in a boy..his family, status and everything, why shouldnt the boys also demand..

    Nobody pays dowry for a poor boy(but educated though) is always paid for a well placed boy only...I am yet to see a girl or her parents giving preference to a boy with less salary to the richer one.No..most want a boy from a good family, and better if he has no financial responsibilities.

    Its a question of social status for them..

    First all girls and their parents must decide..

    to give equal support and education to girls and make them economically independent,

    Then let them marry the boy of their choice, irrespective of caste and finances, instead support them..

  11. "Parents who were proud of their daughters until sometime ago suddenly lose their confidence when they reach this auction yard". Exactly!

    This is a market. By the virtue of being the groom's parents, they command respect and place highly unacceptable demands. I'm not against the institution of marriage but I simply cannot understand why families bow down to such demands without a single word of protest.

    Sadly, there's more than just 'dowry' demands. The entire wedding is arranged and paid for by the bride's family. And yes, wedding gifts, of course. This is the only time when the groom's family cooperates in the most kind manner. They provide the bride's family with a long list of relatives who'll come and 'bless' the couple.

    Little time before I see my cousins, friends, and myself be pushed into this market. The highest bidder.....Oops! My bad. I'm a girl. I can't bid. He will, for himself.

  12. This dowry thing is so disgusting.. I see a girl, two years senior to me, having a package of 7.4 lakhs PA.. And she tells when she gets married which will be soon she has to pay 20-25 lakhs cash other than car and jewellery.. Now the point is she has a handsome income of her own, can easily afford herself a comfortable life then why tolerate such shits ?? I dont know.. I often see girls doing this.. Some tell that if they do not so such things then they would end up remaining unmarried.. So the question is why do they think so? what happens if they end up being unmarried? Again this actually goes back to a very basic question what does a girl want to do with her life, How does she want her life to become?? What is important - companionship of a sensible person or sham marriage to a spineless jerk who qoutes a monetary price for his being a man.??

    I strongly belief that the girls I am talking about can put their foot down and take a stand.. I know that it would be really stressful and very difficult with the society, family going against them and causing all possible emotional atyachar.. Nevertheless I feel this to be only way.. Because if these girls are not able to stand up then who will??

    I do not mean to judge anyone harshly.. The amount of emotional blackmailing parents resort to during this groom hunting phase is intolerable and immensely torturous.. But I still belief that perhaps they can attempt to go the other way, take a stand and see what lies ahead because they practically have the option to some extent...


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