I refused a marriage proposal because they demanded dowry

Published: September 3, 2016

We seem to forget that we’re the once encouraging unfair demands. And when these demands are not met, the girls are set on fire. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

The notion of dowry has always been rampant in Pakistani society. Ironically, it’s been adapted from Indian culture. Living together in the subcontinent encouraged us to adopt each other’s customs, and eventually, they became a part of ours. Now, we are so deep into this mixed culture that we have forgotten there’s a fine line between culture and religion. We fail to realise that dowry is not approbated by Islam.

When given the factual argument that Islam sets no example of dowry, the dowry mongers are left with no other argument. All they have to say is,

“Baaki jaghon pe tou Islam yaad nahin aata.”

(When it comes to other things you don’t remember religion).

People refuse to support the idea of eradicating and uprooting this disease. You will hear all sorts of nasty comments and face personal attacks. But one must not give up on saving our society from this plague. We have to make them understand what ‘dowry’ actually is and the harm it causes.

While combating against the menace of dowry all my life, I too had to undergo an unfortunate incident of being approached for dowry myself.

It was around a year ago when I received a marriage proposal from an ‘educated and affluent’ family. My family ended up accepting the proposal based on their social standing. When the time came to decide a date for the engagement, the boy’s family demanded that a nikkah and a formal engagement ceremony should take place at the same time.

My mother was taken aback by this. She felt it was too soon for a nikkah so she spoke to the boy’s family and requested not to rush things. She suggested the following,

“The groom-to- be should take a bit of time in order to become financially stable and have a house in his name where he can keep our daughter. I think he should be allowed enough time so that he can become independent and support her. Once he is settled, we will happily set the date for the nikkah.”

The proposition made by my mother was one that’s usually made by parents who have daughters. However the in-laws were not only repelled by her request, but offended and decided to demand a dowry.

My mother-in-law-to-be was infuriated and said,

“You being the girl’s parents are not in a position to demand things. How could you even think of saying such a thing? We, the groom’s family, are the ones who can put forward such demands as per society’s norm. Why does my son need to be settled and stand up on his own feet when your daughter is supposed to bring a house and the entire setup in her dowry?”

My mother returned home astonished and narrated the entire episode to me. It reminded me of a scene from the Indian movie 2 States (2014). I was furious. So the next day I went to meet my mother-in-law-to-be or now not-to-be (she is the principal of a renowned private institution) and told her politely that she can keep her son because I am unable to pay his price. I made it clear that I am the kind of woman that believes dowry is a curse.

While walking out of her lavish house that day, I felt extremely proud of myself and knew that the mother must have pitied me for letting go of her gem of a son and thinking that no one would marry a girl like me. But I didn’t care.

Dowry is in no way related to the bride’s price but rather the ‘groom’s price’, dare I say.

Why is it the groom’s price? Because it’s a transaction. They believe it’s their right to make such a demand, but they need to understand that,

“Aap larki nahin, wo apko apna larka de rahay hain”

(You’re not giving your girl. In fact, they’re selling their son).

Gentlemen, want to know how much you’re worth? Dowry is your price.

So all you ladies who bring jahaiz to your in-laws can now announce the ownership of your husband since you paid the price.

During one of my Urdu lessons in high school, I remember coming across a statement from a pre-partition story in which the character of phupho, a confident educated working woman, broke all stereotypes. She stood up for herself and announced that she was marrying a man of her own choice, that too, without any dowry. When she was questioned, she said, 

“Main apna jahaiz khud hoon.”

(I am my own dowry).

This one statement had such an impact on me that even at that tender age – when I had almost no knowledge of what dowry is and how marriages work – I had decided I will never take dowry.

While growing up, I observed my surroundings and saw my sisters and cousins getting married and taking whatever their parents could arrange for them in the name of dowry. I made peace with the fact that dowry is not an entirely negative thing if given within reasonable means and is affordable for the girl’s family.

But just recently, I started questioning the very thought that had made me concede with the practice of giving dowry. And then I came across an online post by a friend. He had written,

“Jahaiz aik laanat hai. Bhaiyya ki shaadi main jahaiz k naa pe aik tinka nahin aay.”

(Dowry is a curse. My brother didn’t receive any when he got married).

“Bhaabi bohat haseen hain?”

(Is his wife beautiful?)

“Theen tou. Bechaari choolha phatnay se jal ker marr gayeen.”

(She was. The poor girl died because the stove exploded and she was burnt to death).

This made me realise that the definition of dowry varies from individual to individual. For someone hailing from the upper or middle class, the definition of a decent dowry may be great suffering for a poor man.

We give dowry and justify the concept by calling it ‘bridal gifts.’ These gifts include gold ornaments and furniture. Some exceed the limit and even engage in sending off their daughters with truckloads of a complete home setup. But no matter how much we justify the concept of ‘dowry’ and call it gifts, the idea remains the same. Hence, it should never be validated. We seem to forget that we’re the ones encouraging unfair demands. And when these demands are not met, girls are set on fire.

A poor man spends all his life collecting jahaiz for his daughters. If he fails to do so, his daughter is either rejected or ends up a spinster. This tragic tale doesn’t end here. She also becomes a victim of vicious mocks and taunts.

How difficult is it to understand that equating two different social classes in terms of affordability portrays a very bleak picture? One party might be in a position to afford dowry in millions while the other may not even be able to cater to the guests attending the wedding.

Why not try breaking the trend for once? Try saying no to dowry because every dowry demand is a death threat. Let’s quash the practice of giving dowry. Let’s set healthier trends for the sake of our relationships.

Zubaria Raja

Zubaria Raja

The author has studied BS Mass Communication. She is a social activist and a photographer based in Islamabad. She is a constant traveller and an avid reader. She tweets as @ZubariaJan (twitter.com/ZubariaJan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Amir

    well your mother first demanded that the boy should have a ‘house’, and that too ‘in his own name’. We live in an extended family system and even if the family is educated and affluent, does not mean they can afford two houses. So a demand for a house resulted in a demand for dowryRecommend

  • Syed Anab

    Dowry was supposed to be something complimentary, not a necessity. Today, its a soft form of extortion. Subcontinent culture has some real messed up issues.Recommend

  • Omer Malik

    It’s called bride price. It’s when the woman/family demand things. Recommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    I’d like to see the scholarly explanation for why dowry is haram. Yes, it’s true that Islam speaks nothing of dowry but that in of itself doesn’t make it haram, it simply means it’s not sanctioned. Different things. Honestly both sides in this exchange seem like they were in the wrong.Recommend

  • s hassan

    Such ignorance! Not one but ALL of the things you mentioned are WRONG.
    There are SEVERAL conditions to fulfill before a man can marry another. He CANNOT marry another without the permission of the first wife.
    Four witnesses are NOT required in rape cases.
    Islam does NOT say a woman’s self-worth is half of a man.
    Islam does NOT say to stone a woman if she can’t prove rape.
    Islam does NOT give husband the right to beat his spouse.
    Islam does NOT condone triple talaq to be given in one go.Recommend

  • Anum

    Dowry is a social curse and some radical steps must be taken against this practise. But the fact is that the concept of dowry is so firmly rooted in mindsets of even the very well educated, that in most instances the girl’s family would say yes to every financial demand of the groom’s family rather than take a stand against it. Because in reality there is only a minority that opposes dowry; so how difficult would it be to find a suitable family for your daughter who actually says no to dowry?

    Pakistan and India, both have the highest incidence of dowry related deaths of women. That is the extent of the gravity of the situation. Girls are regarded as a burden in the society because parents have to worry about their ‘jahaiz’ literally from the day they are born. Instead of investing in their education, that money goes into preparation of the accursed jahaiz. If the poor parents couldn’t gather the required amount of dowry demanded by the groom, then either the girl stays unmarried for the rest of her life, or if she does get married, she has to undergo mental torture for the rest of her live from her in laws.

    In Islam concept of dowry is limited the basic necessities a girl may need in her new home (for herself, not the in-laws) for example clothes for herself, a few cooking utensils. The rest is the responsibility of the husband to provide for her according to his economic situation.

    Like I stated before, the mentality of people needs to be changed. Educated and well off people should take the stand first and say no to dowry. Change should start with our own self first.Recommend

  • MR.X

    The truth has been spokenRecommend

  • http://Zubariajan.blogspot.com/ Zubaria Jan

    And why not? Women are not bound to earn and feed the family but men are. women can work if they want to but men have a responsibility to fulfill. These are Islamic laws, lodge your complaint to Allah if you’ve got issues not to me.Recommend

  • ahmed

    As u urself said , u accepted the proposal seeing his Social condition..its not bad to keep in mind the social status of groom but Islam prefers considering taqwa …will u marry a “muttaqi” guy living in a small flat in remote area? stop picking up half deen wherever it favoursRecommend

  • farhan

    some are gold diggersRecommend

  • farhan

    Islam is our religion, let no secular man talk you dwon, well done!!Recommend

  • M Adnan

    i dont think you rejected it; they rejected rishta as soon as you put the demand. If you put this demand at the time of initial meeting they wud have rejected the rishta there inRecommend

  • fatima ahmad

    oh God did you even READ the article? all it says is that the mother was worried since the marriage was too early. so she suggested that they wait atleast until the son in law was independent enough. a house is not an unreasonable demand from someone who is well off. it could be rented too. and the mother in law basically said who are you to make demands, if you make demands then pay up for them, are you supporting this?! the mother in law could have said that we cant afford it right now and that you are right we will wait till my son can support your daughter since the MAN is supposed to provide for the woman. a house in return for the daughter is NOTHINGRecommend

  • fatima ahmad

    you are right. these so called intellectual debates are just them trying to tell you that as a female you should not even ask for a house to live in since the poor guy (snorts) cant afford it and you are being cruel. lol. they did not read the article. they read what they wanted, formed an argument, brought their knowledge of ahadith ignoring the parts that they know have also been mentioned in ahadith (so selective about which ahadith should be the topic of discussion). the ahadith mentioned is right but what about the others huh? dont want to talk about them guys? these very men will be making the same suggestions as your mother when it is their daughters. hypocrites. they dont get that the boy’s family brings rishta and they are supposed to be upfront about when they want the wedding to be. the family withheld that information and your mother was within rights to ask for a delay. her choice if she does not want an early rushed marriageRecommend

  • hello hello

    a hindu practice dowry is. even after being separated from hindus for 69 years we cant seem to get rid of this hindu practice.Recommend