No dowry, no bride, no wedding

Published: January 17, 2011

The material wealth our culture links with weddings is shocking.

My 21-year-old maid Noor Jahan recently told me about her unwillingness to get married so as to avoid putting her parents through any kind of pressure.

The ‘pressure’ she spoke of was the high demand for dowry by her would-be in-laws. Culturally, we are accustomed to hearing about the 10 tolas of gold given to the groom’s family along with a bungalow, car, washing machine, furniture, bed sheets, shower curtains, needles, and so on, to feed the desire of greedy in-laws.

Sure, when one can afford it, parents give their daughters these ‘presents’ generously. However, Noor Jahan comes from the working class and admits that her family is unable to afford even basic necessities like food rations or medication for her ailing father.

“All brides from our strata are expected to receive dowries from their family,” she says ruefully.

The reason we are expected to bring material wealth to our new home is because the insatiable in-laws make these demands and often refuse rishtas if there’s not a pricey dowry to match. The concept behind this is to be able to later on tell your in-laws about the bundles of goods you hoarded from your parents’ household when they ask you ‘What have you given us, anyway?

Sure, you may not have food to eat but you must give your daughter away with a heavy-loaded dowry, even if it leaves you neck-deep in loans.

The girl is never enough, even though she leaves behind her family, home, lifestyle and everything she may have ever known to go live with a stranger.

The material wealth and status symbol our culture links with weddings, which is meant to be the communion between two people, is not only shocking but disgusting.

These rituals trickle down from the top of the pyramid, all the way down and actually end up as hurdles for the 98 per cent of our population. Yet, we are unwilling to let them go because ‘What will everyone say?”

Yes, girls let’s hope you’re not treated like one of the 100 objects you brought as part of your dowry.

Rida Sakina

Rida Sakina

A sub-editor on the Karachi pages of The Express Tribune.

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

  • Sana Saleem

    The problems for the poor are ever increasing. Even if the poor girls manage to get dowry and get married, that doesn’t mean happy marital life. The problems keep on increasing as the marital life begins… The family increases and then the problems !Recommend

  • brachioradialus

    i guess the best dowry a daughter can get is a very good education because it is the mother who proves to be the very first tutor for her kids. Recommend

  • April Bishop

    Great! What a nice article

  • Aspen Wedding Photographer

    This is a very unfortunate situation. Hopefully these “traditions” will disappear with a new generation. Makes me appreciate living in the United States. Thanks for posting, KarenRecommend

  • Maria

    I agree that the best gift you can give a daughter is a good education. I am not sure how many Pakistanis follow this tradition of giving the bride gifts. In my marriage in Peshawar, my husband’s family was expected to provide for the wedding and so called gifts. Traditions do indeed vary from place to place in Pakistan so I would not generalize about the dowry tradition which has been imported from India.Recommend

  • http://islamabad xyz

    ofcourse good education is a must….throughout the time i was studying in the uni…i would always say that since my parents are spending are sooo much on my education i wont take anything else from them when getting married. but when the time came they gave everything that is required to set up a new house…at that time i used to argue with them but when i started setting up thew apartment i realized thank God they gave me all of this otherwise it would have taken us (both of us are working in a telecom operator) our whole life ….so yes if u can afford it then its awesome (even though i really doubt my parents affording it they must have taken loans n all)
    but if u cant its hell……

    so parents in Pakistan have to give their daughters good education first and then material things too……Recommend

  • ravi [india]

    wow every bad thing about pakis and its social system is IMPORTED frm india, while you claim to be entirely different from india socially and culturally.
    get over this or this anti india mindset has laready made you beggers, you guys are on a downward journey in a bottom less pit.
    happy journey……Recommend

  • ravi [india]

    my comment is @mariaRecommend

  • Amer

    @ravi [india]: In the process of you blind hate for Pakistan and to defend anything related to your India, you didn’t even try to see that what Maria was saying is true in every sense. Our “culture” is a mix of alot of things that we inherited when we were part of India and this dowry business has come from your dirt and it’s multipled by the greed of the scum among our society. Recommend

  • Amer

    In most cases (note I have said most case and not a generalization, just my observation) it’s the women who are the enemies of other women since they are the ones who put the demand list together or go looking for a well off family for their son to get married. The men also try to make deals that suit their needs, be it a piece of land, a mean of transport or anythign else. We need to change the thinking in our society and this change won’t come in a short period of time nor will it come from the ultra rich or the very poor of this country. Change will come from the middle class of the society, they are the ones who need to set the standard first and stop making any demands from the girl’s family. It should be a shamefull thing to ask anyone to buy furniture, electronics, motorcycles or cars for your self.

    I would recommend parents not to marry their daughters (if they love them enough!! ) to someone who ‘demands’ anything in the name of dowry. Give them a good education and confidence to live an independent life if they have to, it will go a long way. I have seen cases where the demands and then fighting don’t stop till death. These demands once fulfilled don’t stop at the marriage, they usually continue and if there is a crisis anytime in the life of the couple the girl is the one who is expected to sell her jewelry etc or get money from her parents. In some of these cases the girl’s family is also expected to help the guy set up a business etc, which is just ridiculous, marriage is based on mutual respect and trust, it’s NOT a business transaction, that’s what everyone needs to understand. We have the examples of how our Holy Prophet (Sallahu Alyhi Waalihi Wasalam), married his daughters etc but who am I kidding, these days, people don’t want to listen to anyone or follow any of the Islamic teachings if it doesn’t suit their interests!
    My mom’s maid was widowed at a very young age and my mom looked for a suitable rishta for her for 2 years, then married her like her own daughter. Now she is living with her husband who is in the army, they didn’t need much to get married. It doesn’t take alot from us to help someone, it might not always be with money but no one has time or cares these days, hence not much change in society. Recommend

  • http://n/a Anwar Hayat


    79% of your country lives below $2 a day in a country where the rich have ALREADY gotten rich and the poor are being forced abroad or are just left out on the streets to rot to death. Don’t worry about Pakistan, worry about yourselves first.

    As far as this dowry thing is concerned, you damn right it’s an Indian import and it’s time we got rid of this disgusting garbage from our society. Sometimes I’m disgusted by the marriages here, in a country where some don’t have a roof over there head, they are having these large and expensive marriages. I mean, knock yourselves out go ahead, but there’s a limit. And the dowry thing has never made sense, it’s just stupid.Recommend

  • A Chowdhury

    India has anti-dowry laws to prevent it. Women in India are given the right to file a legal action against her husband and inlaws for dowry harrasment in which the burden of proof also lie on the accused. Moreover, dowry is not just an Indian phenomen, its a social evil which exists in other parts of the world as well.

    Unfortunately, Dowry, Prostitution, Gambling will continue to exist in every society, no matter how much we criticise it or make it illegal.Recommend

  • http://none Bangash

    I am a Pashtun and got married in Peshawar. My family gave jewelry and haq-mehr to the bride, and the bride’s father put 10 lakhs in a joint account. As a gift also the bride’s father sent new furniture to my bedroom.

    These are all gifts, with only the haq-mehr being an Islamic and legal(?) requirement. I am not sure of the requirements of other ethnic groups in Pakistan.

    I do know however this dowry disease exists among Pashtuns as well, though thankfully not mine.Recommend

  • PrashanT

    Dear why your country adopts only bad things from other country but not any good things… Try Democracy for change ;) Recommend

  • HappyFeet

    Greedy in-laws :).. really.. if u only mean the grl’s inlaws…u r being very very biased here…
    petty stuff..really…
    In my experience… the in-laws of the guy arnt everything good under the sun either… they are’nt devoid of fake desires of pomp and show..
    My nikah got annulled jus for the petty reasons of not having a bigger car… a house of my own..and choosing to spend more on my marriage..than my wedding…
    and blv it or not…it was the mother in-law who made her own daughter’s life a mess….
    n guess wat… i didnt ask for a single piece of dowry :)….rather i rejected any such offer .. ..
    .. nuff said…
    Point being.. evil is at work at both ends… and this trend of female writers…along with sum douche male writers… blowing everything out of proportion..not giving a fair and balanced view…. is really pissing lots of ppl off… or may be they are pitching for Fox news… i cant blame them..if they are then :)Recommend

  • Munazza Sami

    sooooo.Do you have any thing good in your country dear?i think we shouldn’t fight over Indo-Pak controversy.It would be much better if we discuss the topic which is very big issue of our and your country as wellRecommend

  • http://none.moc BP

    I haven’t really witnessed this facet of the culture to be able to comment on it, but one thing leaps at me: that this appears to be a soft and culturally-endorsed version of robbery as well as of blackmail, both Haraam, and the first n some cases legally only absolvable through a bodily-loss, indeed of your life.

    The groom could simply buy it off the bride’s family, making it Halaal as well as culturally-non-iconoclastic.Recommend