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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chp 78. Dowry or go the Mizo way

Almost everyday in India, there’s an incident of a woman committing suicide because of dowry pressures from her in laws (“official report: 16 deaths a day! ). Hail to those women brave enough to put their dowry demanding husbands in jail.

Dowry, which is a punishable offence under Act no.28, 1961 known as “The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961” and considered a social evil by many progressive modernists and various Women’s Organizations, is still very much in practice today. History makes no mention of where and when exactly this system came into being. One school of thought believe it to have originated “from the Colonial British who forcibly introduced land ownerships and hence the people had to trade or gift lands to each other using marriage as an occasion, while another set of researchers said Dowry was introduced before the British Raj came to India as a measure to discourage the increasing number of Polygamy and Polyandry within the society.

Collins Cobuild English Dictionary define dowry as “A woman’s money and goods which, in some cultures, her family gives to the man that she marries”

Most people accept this as a normal practice because they believe that after all, the woman is going to live with the husband for the rest of her life and it kinda makes sense for the husband to have some sort of additional financial income to support an extra person in his family. But it doesn’t make sense at all when it comes to 21st century true love or gender equality. Getting married is not like booking a room in a Hotel and paying for that accommodation (That’s just the Honeymoon part). Call me a dreamer, but to me my idea of a perfect marriage has always been with somebody who truly loves me the way I love her, and that I will be the head of the family earning bread for the whole family while it’s up to my spouse to work or not. She doesn’t need to bring her fortune into my family… I mean ofcourse it might make our life easier but if she’s not able to contribute, it doesn’t really matter to me because what matters the most is that she is already bringing the most precious gem into my family, herself, the greatest dowry one can ask for. From then on, we can always work out things together.

While I was doing my engineering course back in Coimbatore, our English ma’am once asked the class how many of us were planning to do an MBA after our BE. A couple of hands went up and when she asked one student why, he replied “To get a larger dowry”. And the whole class erupted in laughter while I just sat there clueless not catching the humour. Even our English ma’am clearly did not find it funny and she changed the subject. Later after the class, when I asked my friend what was so damn funny, he explained the whole dowry concept to me. Damn! Right then I did feel a bit sick. All these time I thought people go for higher studies to get better paying jobs and hence have a more secure future; I just didn’t know getting a bundle of your wife’s cash and jewellery was a part of that security.

In our mizo culture, there is no such thing as a dowry. Ever since the earliest written record about the Zo Chieftain warlords who ruled their respective settlements/clans now collectively known as Mizoram was archived, there is no mention of any dowry settlement or the girl’s family paying the husband-to-be any amount of money.

Infact, according to our tradition, it is the complete opposite. The man’s side has to pay a certain amount of money to the girl’s family! How cool is that! The bride does not have to pay anything; it’s the groom who must come up with the moolah. I’m sure by now many of the ladies out there must have moved a bit closer to the monitor screen ok just kidding. But it’s true. According to our customary law, the husband has to pay the bride’s family some amount of cash or livestock if he wants to marry their daughter. No dowry from the woman’s part. Ps. Ladies, I’m single. *wink wink*

In our culture, when a male child is born, the elders (Upa) bless the son by saying “Mipa huaisen sai kap tur” meaning, a brave young man who will kill an elephant (those days, for a male member of a family, it was necessary to kill an elephant single-handedly if he wants to be accepted in the society as a man, until which he is considered just a boy. This probably explains why there are no more elephants to be found in and around Mizoram today!!!) And when a female child is born, the elders bless that baby girl with “Hmeichhe hmeltha se man tur” meaning, a pretty girl who would bring fortune to the family.

In a way, a girl child is considered to be more precious than the boy child. Female infanticide is one thing you’ll never find within our community. Ofcourse when you consider this situation literally, it actually means the girl is being sold. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, like the many gory news you read in the papers where some poverty ridden family sold their daughter off to a stranger because they need the money. No, it’s nothing like that. Mizo community has always been an open one, where guys were allowed to court the girls freely. And once they are in love and wants to get married, both sides of the family have to approve of their marriage and the girl’s family has every right to reject the guy’s side if they don’t find him worthy enough (maybe the elephant he killed was not big enough… )

The closest thing that comes to a dowry in our culture are the personal belongings of the bride that she brings along when she moves in with her husband, like her clothes, shoes, wardrobe, mattress etc. But all these, called “thuam”, belongs to the bride and the husband has no right to dispose any of it without her consent “except in times of famine”. These items play a significant role when it comes to a divorce. Divorces, like in many other societies, had been shunned upon in our society even those days. But when the Upa (elders) fail to make the bitter couple come to an understanding, then they do get a divorce (History and books I have read on early mizo divorces only mentioned about divorces due to adultery). If it was the husband who cheated on the wife, she was entitled to her belongings. But if it was the wife who cheated on the husband, she has to leave him and her belongings and go home. In such a case, the money paid to the bride’s family has to be returned too. Suppose the bridegroom passes away, then the bride has the full proprietor right to his home and belonging. And she’s free to marry again once the three months long mourning period, called “thlaichhiah”, is over. (Guys, beware of black widows! Hey what’s that white powdery substance floating in your tea? Lolx. )

Not surprising that Mrs N.Chatterji, in her book “Status of women in earlier Mizo Society”, has rightfully said “…the status of women in their society was in no way inferior to that of man and she suffered none of those derogatory and discriminatory treatments as may be found in some of the more advanced societies”.

So I guess that is how our culture differs from most of the other cultures in India when it comes to Marriage. As far as I know, the Khasi community of Meghalaya is the only other community in India whose early traditions and practices do not involve accepting a dowry from the bride during marriage. But I can be wrong too and would be grateful if anybody else can point out other such communities where dowry was non-existent during their days-gone-by times.

Thankyou, and say no to dowry. Kima.

Reference:Essays on the history of the Mizos” by Pu Sangkima, loving father of Stephen (classmate and one of my closest friends in School).

26 comments:

sowmya said...

The khasi community also advocates that the children take their mother's last name instead of their father's[which I think is supercool],also another way of showing Respect to the woman in their society.
Your college incident reminded me of my very own classmate, who once mentioned that the only reason he wanted to do the very tough gruelling masters, was so that he could get more dowry. Its a shame that even after being at state of high education and in an society where modernisation and westernization have been the key words, we still find people who have stuck to their primitive thoughts.
"A society's evil can be erased only if the indivuals of that society undergo an internalization."- These were the words of my sociology professor, I dont know on how many people it had an effect, but I surely think it could be an answer to most of the problems that our country faces.

sowmya said...

The khasi community also advocates that the children take their mother's last name instead of their father's[which I think is supercool],also another way of showing Respect to the woman in their society.
Your college incident reminded me of my very own classmate, who once mentioned that the only reason he wanted to do the very tough gruelling masters, was so that he could get more dowry. Its a shame that even after being at state of high education and in an society where modernisation and westernization have been the key words, we still find people who have stuck to their primitive thoughts.
"A society's evil can be erased only if the indivuals of that society undergo an internalization."- These were the words of my sociology professor, I dont know on how many people it had an effect, but I surely think it could be an answer to most of the problems that our country faces.

Sundancer said...

Kima, awesome post as always! Now that made me feel really good and extremely blessed about being a Mizo girl all over again..:-) and proud to be a member of such a community.
All my friends will be forced to read this post!

illusionaire said...

@ sowmya: I'm impressed! :-)
Yeah, according to the Khasi community, thats how things are. In addition to that, when they get married, the groom actually stay with the bride in the bride's home!!! Their children are more scared of their mom than their dad. Khasi community is one of the very few matriarchal society in this World. Ofcourse many guys make fun of them by saying the guys arent macho enough n stuff, but its all just a male ego thing and am really proud of the Khasis for this.

illusionaire said...

Thankyou Sundancer :-) Yup, do spread the word about this to your friends.

Hey if I was to marry you, how much would you charge me? lolx.

MockingBird said...

Dowry was and still is an unheard of practice among the Bhutias and Lepchas of Sikkim. Though I can’t vouch for the marriage practices of the Nepalis of Sikkimese origin back in the dark ages, today all three ethnic communities of Sikkim unanimously agree that dowry sucks.

That was one hell of an interesting post, Illusionarie. Also a damn interesting way to put out a matrimonial advertisement for yourself on your blog *wink*

illusionaire said...

This post is a matrimonial Ad if and only if I get a positive response from my readers. So far nobody has asked me to mail their dads my CV so I guess it aint a matrimonial Ad. :-P

Thanx for the input about the Bhutias and Lepchas.

And hey, why wud I need to advertise myself any further, when I've already come across you? *wink wink*

Anonymous said...

so when u getting married kima?? ;)

~GV

Almost Unreal said...

Interesting!!

the part that shcked me the most was the comment "To get a larger dowry"..come to think of it..doesnt he have shame in saying that? How could anyone be so...dumb..

It's sad to witness out here a girl giving so much dowry. Ask a female colleage wht she do with her salary (except for the NE girls), all answers are the same "For my marriage.." :( and you hardly see them wearing new clothes..

Last year, what I've heard from a friend is that a girl is to marry a CA and the amount she had to pay was 45 lakhs **whew** (prefer to remain single)

Yes, I am proud to mention to my colleagues that we have no such thing as "DOWRY"..and enjoyed the look on their face whenever I mention this.

Its great to be Mizo

flygirl said...

mizo, that was a really interesting and thoughtful post (and certainly didn't do you and your culture any harm ;-) ). it was fascinating to learn abotu mizo culture.

I think that the practice of dowry pre-dates the Raj, and it's prevalent in many many Asian societies. I think it evolved initially as a security for the woman - all the gold and goodies was meant for her own use and income (I gather this from a few sources and own background) rather than as compensation for lost earnings, etc. inevitably, over time, the practice would have been abused, stratified and mutated into the revolting practices and attitudes you yourself have witnessed. isn't it a practice amongst Muslims and some Nepali groups to have a bride price and compensation for any marriage break up in the former and even polyandry in the latter?

what i don't get is the modern day quai-acceptance amongst modern-day professionals as you've mentioned.

anyway, interesting stuff and food for thought. apologies for long comment :-)

illusionaire said...

@ GV: Haha dude, thats still a long way off. Hey, do you mind if I post that photo-story of yours, the one I made in IIM?

@ Almost Unreal: I know. Sometimes I think the saddest part is, most people openly criticize dowry, but it's a known fact that the same people do demand dowry on the sly. I've been to atleast 20 marriages in the South, and at most of these weddings, the "wealth" that the bride was "taking to her husband's home" was proudly displayed for everyone to see.

illusionaire said...

@ fly girl: First of all, let me tell you the ground rule if you want to post a comment here in my blog. You are not allowed to apologize for writing a long comment! :-)

Having said that, let me thank you for your input.

I don't know if Muslims follow the practice of "bride price" during marriages but when it comes to divorces, according to the Shariat law, the men have to pay the women some amount of cash or property, something like an alimony, called Mitra (pronounced Meher).

One interesting thing I have found very similar between Islam practice and old Mizo custom was, in Islam, the husband can divorce his wife simply by saying "Talaq talaq talaq". Even in Mizo custom, before the onset of Christianity, the husband only have to say "I divorce you" to his wife and they were divorced. Fortunately, this practice was stopped once Christianity came in.

swar said...

my bit. the manipuri community also doesn't practice dowry. i guess, many NE states do not practice dowry. somehow, this region seems to be embedded with a different value system which is the radical opposite of the rest of india. which is very very fortunate for women like me! at our place, the groom has to cough up some lumpsum for the wedding and the bride is the Queen, literally. i am lucky to be born a manipuri woman. life has been such a breeze, with no shackles of inane societal norms.

Anonymous said...

dowry is not practiced here but "chhawm" , receptions, wedding dresses, cakes and ruaitheh etc etc have made marriages very expensive especially when the marriage is "dankhatna", i know a number of people who chose to elope to make the marriage less expensive.

illusionaire said...

@ Bem: A relief for the NE women on the whole. Ofcourse all these doesn't mean that there is no ill treatment towards women as discrimination towards women cut across all race and culture. I am planning to come up with my next post which on how women are treated in Mizoram and their position in the society. But am still doing my research as of now.

@ anonymous: Thanx for the comment. Yes I know how expensive marriages can be. But I must point out that even "dan hnihna" marriages can be as expensive as "dan khatna" marriages especially if the parents are well connected within the society. Anyway I guess people have a pretty good excuse for eloping :-)

ligialh said...

Nice article .For me a woman marrying to a man and his family leaving behind everything to serve him is true priceless dowry.I am glad my husband appreciate that but lots on men don't aknowledged it.
Anyway if you want to know more about Mizoram ,here a name of the book my Dad ,Dr. Lalrimawia,wrote MIZORAM - History and Cultural Identity,its a good book am not just saying this because its my Dad's ,they used it in MA as a one of the text.

illusionaire said...

Thanx a lot Ligia. I really appreciate it. Yes, I've taken down the name of your dad's book, I'll try to get my hands on it. Truly thanx, once again.

tribalsuperstar said...

Yea !! Cuz u shuld check out my Dad's article .....

illusionaire said...

Yup I definitely will. Thanx again bro.

The Last Templar said...

Gosh! This whole talk of dowry makes me feel like Kima is also looking for something like this, hehe! just kidding! Who would want to marry you even if you dont take dowry, right? kiding again you handsome ape!!

Anonymous said...

Dowry is at a radical pace being replace by "SOWRY".
DOWRY has become is myth in urban india and is its spouse SOWRY is wreaking a havoc in our towns and cities.
There are volumes to talk about it.
Please visit http://www.saveindianfamily.org.

Anonymous said...

Guys, BEWARE, no matter how much ferociously against dowry are you, IF U R MARRIED or plan to MARRY please be very very careful with these laws.A huge number of honest people are getting implicated in this.
And above all currently in ur law there is no way you can stop a FALSE DOWRY case against yourself if the girl has made up her mind to implicate you in one.

illusionaire said...

Just a passing thought. Its highly unusual that I get a couple of comments from different people for a post I have written down a long time ago, all within a span of 1 day. So I was just wondering if you landed on this particular post from any external link. Thanx.

Anonymous said...

KIma, ur doing a good job.my husband used to say,"i bougt washing machine for RS400/"right after we got married.What do u have to say about this?????from a well wisher .

illusionaire said...

Hope ur not blaming me for what your husband said to you :-)

Lemme guess, is this Life10? *GRIN*

Valentine said...

Thanks so much for the article, pretty useful data.
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