Tuesday, October 16, 2012

India 19: Weddings and the International Day of the Girl Child


When I woke up in India for the first time I immediately went to the wedding of an ACCION staff member.  A couple hundred were there along a band, everyone ate a hearty lunch and then lined up to personally delivery gifts--which the wedding invitation had discouraged but suggested that, “if you must,” bring cash.   Here is the Hindu wedding with the priest on the right, the band, and the happiest people, the grandmothers and aunts.

Finally, time to hand over the presents--all cash--so the newly married can build a nest egg.
I realize now this was a modest affair by Bangalore standards.  An October 12 report in The Times of India summarizing a university report saying that an average of 1,000 people attended the 85,000 weddings were conducted in Bangalore’s 351 wedding halls.  That’s 85 million people attending weddings each year in a city of seven million! And it’s probably more because the study says guests eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.   Moreover, they wasted enough food to feed 2.4 million people an average Indian meal, according to the study.  That’s what’s happening with urban middle and upper class Indian weddings.    

A couple weeks back The Financial Express featured a story on the other end of the economic spectrum, about a family of itinerant brick makers living on cracked rice and spoiled vegetables and drinking the water from which they made bricks.  Certainly they were exploited but a critical element of the story was that they were in debt to the brick manufacturer for 15,000 rupees they’d borrowed in advance for a daughter’s wedding.

This is not uncommon.  The cost of weddings—and the dowry traditionally required from the bride’s family—is frequently the major financial burden weighing down on families over a lifetime.  It must contribute to men outnumber women in India: girls are aborted and occasionally abandoned or killed. 

Forty percent of all the child brides in the world are Indian. Nearly half of all Indian women are married before they are 18, a major obstacle to the advancement of women, a recent UN report says, notwithstanding that marrying under 18 has been against the law since l930.  The report expects the absolute number of child brides to increase, not decrease in the future. The largest percentage is in Muslim communities. In some traditions, girls should be married when they reach puberty and reports still arise of girls given in marriage while under the age of ten.  

October 11 turns out to have been the International Day of the Girl Child, a day to focus on the adverse consequences of child marriage in particular.  Hillary Clinton spoke to the issue--the latest in a campaign for women she has conducted throughout her time as Secretary of State.

In one particularly outrageous commentary last week, an elected official from the Congress Party in the state of Assam said that the answer to a recent increase in the number of rapes reported was for girls to be married at 16.  He also said 90 percent of rapes are consensual.  Does this sound familiar?

And here's an even worse story, from the October 18 Times of India:  in the state of Bengal, three women were hanged recently by villagers for being witches.

Dowry is also illegal in India but still expected.  A bride is valued by some families for the shopping list they can force on the groom’s family.  Two cows and a goat have been replaced by a refrigerator and a cell phone.  An academic in Kerala says men marry young so they can get the dowry and take off for the Gulf States or start a business. 

There are no virtually women bus drivers, ticket takers or waitpersons.  No women taxi or rickshaw drivers except inMumbai. Billboards and cab advertising for political parties shows all men, although a percentage of political positions are reserved for women, some lead small parties and an Italian who married into the Gandhi family leads the largest party.

A few nights back I witnessed a heated dispute between a group of 20 part time workers arguing with a single male over how much they were to be paid for working Saturdays.  The men in the group hung back while a dozen women gave no quarter.  They were determined and unbowed.  Young, professional urban Indian women would cut it anywhere in the world, a very rapid change.





1 comment:

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