‘Save the girl child’ ads are all over the town and today Aanya asked me again, ‘who do we have to save the girl child from?’ After dodging the question a couple of times, I finally could help make the connection for her.
Having a grand wedding ceremony with their chosen partner is a dream come true for many brides and bridegrooms in India. On this occasion of their life, they become the cynosure of all eyes and enjoy praise, blessings, best wishes and gifts from many. There is music, dance, lights, colours, photographers, decorations, trumpet playing bands followed by a horse procession and endless delicacies that tantalise every tastebud. The bride and bridegroom glitter and sparkle under the brilliant spotlights. In every sense an Indian wedding is a grand celebration and hundreds and thousands of guests participate and enjoy them. The two or three days are like a dream come true for many. Many of us have been there and done that.
In these two or three days of festivities, millions are spent. Not just grownups like us but also children have a gala time. I took my daughter to one such grand wedding but I used the occasion to talk to her and explain her what goes behind the making of such a wedding.
Without further ado here are the lessons I tried to pass on to my daughter:
1. Financial hardships of bride’s family: What does it take to throw such a grand wedding? Money. Lots and lots of it. And where does it come from? Most marriage ceremonies in India are funded by bride’s parents and these millions spent come from the life’s savings of bride’s parents. That money which could be used to secure them in their old age, is simply squandered on appeasing and entertaining hundreds and thousands of people which the bride and bridegroom may meet just once in their entire lifetime. It’s all done in the name of ‘social obligation’ and for upholding ‘respect’ for the family. Many brides’ families fund the wedding through loans which they have to make huge compromises in lifestyle and stress to repay. It’s not just unfair and unjust, it’s cruel to do and expect this as social norm.
2. Waste generated out of a single wedding: The wastefulness of a wedding in India is simply ginormous! First, there is a huge amount of food that is wasted, which could feed the millions who are already starving in India. Large amounts rice grains which is potential food showered on the wedding couple as blessings goes as waste.
3. Environmental cost of a wedding: The wedding also generates wastes in form of paper, plastic and other non-biodegradable decoration material. Blaring sound systems blast out high wattage ‘noise’ which disturbs everything living in the locality. The wedding processions many a times cause traffic congestion and the power generators which run on diesel-kerosene blend pollute the air causing irritation of eyes and lungs.
4. Tearing away daughters from their parents: This is probably the worst outcome of many Indian weddings: daughters are expected to be given away as charity in a ritual and expected to leave the parents to take on a new family. This new family not just lays claim over their newly acquired member but also on her future prospects. To facilitate this transition, there is an entire ceremony where a bride mourns the loss of her home and parents! As the father who the daughter considered her hero and her mother who she considered as her best friend weep helplessly, the daughter is helped into the vehicle and taken away.
I did not want Aanya to witness this last part as I thought she is too young to empathise with that pain and had to politely excuse ourselves.
Be it sons or daughters, if they have been parented well, they owe to their own parents most and will always belong to them even if they have a new partner and start a new family. No ritual in this world has the power to break away a child from its parents.
I explained to Aanya that when she grows up she need not feel any social pressure in such a private matter. I hope she understands now that a typical indian wedding is a luxury only a few can afford and it should be socially perceived as such. It should be seen for what it is – expensive, wasteful, environmentally costly and psychologically stressful.
I hope one day she gets married too and she sees marriage as the start of a beautiful journey of friendship, commitment, companionship, love and parenting. The lavish Indian wedding is something else. If you can get the idea of marriage right, I think we can get the idea of a beautiful wedding right too: a simple, private and blissful ceremony where new bonds are formed on the foundation of old ones.
So, coming back to ‘save the girl child’ question, our daughter now knows the girl child needs to be protected from the exploitative wedding. Until she is a little older to know how for these same reasons, the girl child is not wanted in many parts of India, these lessons will suffice.