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Thursday, January 17, 2008

On Curb on Wedding Expense and on Dowry --practices and laws

Via Kalki's article in Smoke Signals , this piece of news regarding another example of stupidity in Indian laws.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the Punjab Police to crack down on expensive wedding celebrations.

This on the basis of the Anti-Dowry law that says that number of guests from the groom’s family shouldn't be more than 25, no money above Rs 11 will be offered and no more than two meals will be served.

Kalki's article seems to oppose this directive, which is good. Unfortunately, he goes off on an unrelated tangent of how big weddings are part of Tamil (and, presumably Indian) culture, and how this directive goes against that spirit. I don't plan to address these non-issues here; we'll discuss more about the directive, and the law behind it. Interested readers can read Kalki's article for their dose of emotionally charged ideas. Here are the problems with the directive:

1. It tramples on the freedom of a person to spend whatever he/she choses to spend on whatever catches the fancy.
2. What would have happened to the money if it was not spent on the wedding? Well, it would have been spent some other way (good for the economy), or stayed locked up somewhere(bad). There is no rational basis for criminalizing one form of expenditure, as the court's directive effectively does. Evidently, the court is not into economics as much as it is into the laws.
3. Which brings us to the most important point, what the hell is that monstrosity of a law doing in the constitution in the first place? Two consenting parties, perfectly capable of taking decisions, strike a deal where one party agrees to feed another party for free, give the other party money, whatever. There is no reason for the constitution or anybody else to interfere in that.

Now people will bring up how anti-dowry act is meant to help against the practice of dowry and its evil effects. I don't see why or how dowry is a bad thing except when it is coerced. There can be no case against a father wishing to give his daughter what essentially is a gift. Besides, how on earth can any groom's family force a bride's family to give the dowry if the bride's family is unwilling to give? It's the stupid bride's family which has the money (or will arrange to have it) to pay the dowry! If the case is that it's societal pressure that forces the bride's family, well, no amount of law can help that, except maybe shame a scant fraction of the population to agreeing that taking money from the bride's family is not a good idea.

Compare the benefits of the anti-dowry act against the costs. It creates stupid directives like the case in question, gives manipulative girls a wonderful weapon against the in-laws family, and a host of other stuff. Meanwhile, all the evils of the dowry practice can effectively be curbed using other more meaningful laws.

The problem with this law, and others similar to it, is that it interferes in places it has no business to. Coercion is bad-as simple as that. If some guy feels he is being coerced to hand over money to somebody else, there is enough recourse in the law. If a family tortures a girl for dowry, well it's torture! Why do we need any other stupid act to act against that? Let's see some cases where a father is forced to pay dowry.

1. In the case where a poor father borrows money to pay dowry because the groom's family demanded it, well, the poor father could have just chosen not to.
2. In the case where such a choice is not possible because of societal pressure, obviously it's the society at fault-and the father as well-to adhere to stupid traditions of the society.
3. If the society discriminates against the father for not paying dowry, there are anti-discrimination provisions in the book to take care of it.
4. If the father unwillingly pays the dowry (out of his own pocket or by borrowing the money) only because others will look down upon him for a small wedding, well it's his choice and nobody is forcing him to spend so much. He could just as well have decided not to.

So, I don't find any reason for this anti-dowry act, and its monstrous provisions, to exist. Dowry cannot and will not be rooted out of the society by a law, it will happen only when the girls' fathers decide not to pay it. The onus is clearly on the individual to stand against dowry. There is enough provision in law for the individual to recourse to in case of any discrimination, harassment, or torture resulting from a refusal to pay the dowry. The law and order and judicial machinery should concentrate on other matters. It's not like there is nothing else for them to do; and when there isn't, they better don't go about creating nuisance.


srinivasan s said...

There are actually a few good things about directives like this.
1.It makes some people laugh. Laughter is a good medicine.
2.Wants some to tear their hair off, so.. its company for the bald guys
3.Pushes even the usually casual guys, who are distanced from whats going on
in the country. One of these days it is going to cross the tipping point and i hope it motivates someone to take an extreme step against these clowns
4.Inspires good post from bloggers. This is fodder for one of the immensely fun 'WTF' or a 'thinking it through' articles for Amit Varma.

Anyways, I dont think you should read much into this directive.
do you see an incentive for the political leaders to make into a law?

And, even if it is made into a law, it wont be implemented and it wont affect the lives of the normal folks let alone affect the super rich and powerful fellas( remember
the marriage in Sahara family and Lalu's daughter's marriage ) .

It would just be one of those well intentioned stupid stupid law which adds to the arsenal of the police force and scheming people to harass others. You add to or subtract something from infinity, there is not going to be a change, so..reasons enough to cheer up.

Puranjoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Puranjoy said...

Prophetic, aren't you! IndiaUncut did have a WTF post!
Pity he stopped the Thinking It Through.
And, finally, wow for the comment. I like reason no 2 very much, don't see a single bald head these days apart from mine!
However, it will affect the lives of normal people, as they are the ones who will be harassed by policemen.

ArSENik said...

Varma would be proud of that piece of writing. Explained it very well to laymen like me by first presenting both sides of the story and then providing reasons behind your stance.

Puranjoy said...

that's too high a praise for me accept gracefully :)