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Community Weddings: The Solution to Dowry and Child Marriage?

In Rajasthan, as community weddings are celebrated as philanthropic initiatives, it is time to look deeper into the politics of caste and patriarchy.

Towards the end of April, Rajsamand, a sleepy town in Rajasthan awoke to pomp and festivities--scores of young women decked in bridal finery rode the streets in chariots while their grooms followed on horses. On 28 and 29 of the month, the eighth annual community wedding was organised by the Mewad Community Wedding Committee. Baluram Yadav, the former President of the Committee, says that the initiative helps couples start a debt free life together as they are spared the wasteful expenses associated with the big fat Indian weddings. “We just charge the couples 7500 rupees,” he says.

Radhyeshyam Yadav, whose second daughter got wedded at the community ceremony recalls that he had to borrow money for marrying off his elder daughter. “I only had to pay 7500 rupees this time. Last time, I had to borrow 2,00,000 rupees from my friends and relatives,” he says. The Wedding Committee functions within the Yadav caste group, a designated caste within the OBC category in Rajasthan. The well-endowed members of the community donate amounts from 21,000 to 100,000 rupees to the Wedding Committee. Every year, about thirty weddings are solemnised in a two-day-long event involving hundreds of people. “The purpose is to prevent child marriage, dowry and unnecessary expenses,” says Gopal Yadav, the president of the Committee. The Committee charges each bride’s family 7,500 rupees. In case they are the daughters of widows the fee is further reduced to 5,100 rupees. If however, the parents are disabled or very poor, all fees are waived. Apart from all expenses of conducting the ceremonies and the wedding feast, the Committee also gives each couple jewellery worth 10,000 rupees and furniture and household items worth 15,000 rupees.

Shambhulal Khatik, the Community Correspondent who made the film, feels that this is a noble attempt to help poorer members of the community. “A lot of people cannot afford to pay dowry. This Committee is helping poorer people marry their daughters off. Since they also regulate all aspects of the wedding, it is also ensured that the brides are not underage,” he adds. However, at a time when caste and religion based violence is at its peak, and couples daring to defy such hierarchies are subjected to extreme violence, even murder by their own kin in the name of ‘honour’, it is perhaps time to think why marriage is seen as indispensable part of every girl's life. Is the Committee not committing itself to upholding caste purity? And by only charging the bride’s family a sum of money, it is also upholding the misogyny of ‘kanyadaan’--the burden of having a daughter. These are probably some of the questions we should ponder on as a country as we head towards the second decade of 21st century, with one of the worst Global Hunger Index rankings in South Asia.

Article by Madhura Chakraborty

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