Sparkling gold jewellery adorns attendees as smooth red carpets welcome them to enormous displays of wealth in the form of a lavish wedding ceremony. With status and societal approval tied to the extravagance of your buffet and flower arrangements, Indian weddings have slowly but surely become a seriously showy exhibition. Destination unions, exotic locations, baraats accompanied by fireworks, live mermaids in tanks, and so on, are incorporated into this circus. But has this growing band-baaja-baarat obsession become truly dangerous?
Every class of society has gradually bought into the wedding circus, creating a huge market led by wedding planners, photographers, flower arrangers, choreographers and designers—and with these big, fat Indian weddings come big, fat wedding budgets. As economist Jayati Ghosh observed, “Taking loans for marriage may be a symptom, which explains the growing incidence of indebtedness.” From HDFC to ICICI, Axis and more, several Indian banks now offer wedding loans to cover the cost of extravagance forced upon couples and their families. Further more, they even have specially crafted packages for brides and grooms. As K V V V Charya reported for The Hans India in December 2015: “In fact, Tata Capital has recently crafted a new product that suits the ‘would-be’ couples to make their wedding day a special. The bride or groom or both can take a loan up to Rs. 15 lakh depending on the need and their credit score. Personal loans would benefit the customer as he need not provide a guarantor or any collateral and even they need not give any reason for the loan.”
“They are not earning anything but giving the money to wedding organisers. Such showing off will only ruin our society.”
Quoting Anant Ram Tanwar, president of the Gujjar Mahapanchayat, we use the Gujjar community as one example of the widespread lavishness eating away people’s savings in the name of wedding celebrations. In 2011, Vedpal Lohiya, a resident of South Delhi’s Sultanpur, told
The Times of India about Gujjar extravagance. “The entire village talks about what came from the bride’s side. These expensive items are being termed as gifts. Gujjars who have flourished in the politics of Delhi and Haryana are spending huge sums in marriages. Gifting a Mercedes, a BMW or a Hummer has become common for these families,” he says. But all that just changed.
In December 2015, the Gujjar Mahapanchayat imposed a strict code of conduct for marriage functions that will apply to Gujjar villages in Gurgaon, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Gurgaon itself has over 60 Gujjar villages hosting over three lakh members. The new guidelines being imposed to curb wedding over-spending and wastage include no unnecessary fireworks—which typically feature in Gujjar weddings and cost a few lakhs—no alcohol, no dance floors or DJs, and just one band in the baraat. While enforcement of these new rules might be challenging, and might even be met with some resistance, they were crucial in light of things like helicopters being given as part of dowries or a hundred bands playing in the baraat.
“Our land was acquired by the government and we made crores of rupees. We lost the vocation we excelled in—farming. And our children neither studied nor did any other job as they had enough money to splurge. As a result, many of them in their thirties and forties are practically unemployed,” Tanwar elaborated.
From lavish to sublime: A gradual trend
The Gujjar community’s decision to tone down lavish weddings is only the most recent in a slow-boiling trend across the country. In 2003, Kolkata’s Marwari community decided to put an end to wasteful expenditure by slashing spending at all social functions, including weddings. In 2007, the Delhi Sikh Temple Management Committee planned to discourage dowry demands and put an end to lavish weddings by issuing an edict to the Sikh community encouraging austere marriage celebrations. And this trend is not isolated to a few communities, but is actually a growing one amongst India’s villages.
In 2013, a mahapanchayat comprising of panchayat members of 12 villages met in Dujana village near Noida to ban the use of firearms, DJs and orchestras in wedding functions, in a bid to cut expense. Further, they banned the dowry system completely to reduce financial burden on the girl’s family. “It was observed that farmers were spending majority of compensation received by them for the land acquisition by the state government for lavish weddings and later faced financial crisis as they did not plan for future and had not invested the money in buying land in other villages which could provide them regular livelihood,” stated farmer leader Roopesh Verma.
Takhatgarh, Bali, Sadri and other villages in the Pali and Jalor districts of Rajasthan imposed a uniform code of conduct for weddings in an attempt to slim down Marwari wedding splurges in August of 2014. Following suit, in May of 2015, Guradighat village, 18 km from Madhya Pradesh’s capital Bhopal, decided to shun lavish weddings that had become status symbol deciders, leaving families in huge debt. “Farmers sold off parts of their land for each marriage in the family. Those who don’t have land take loan from family, friends or even moneylenders. The cycle is vicious and we want to break it,” attested college student Akash Maran.
Downsizing the wedding madness
The absurd display of wealth that is the big fat Indian wedding is a common practice across the country, leading to debt, hefty loans, food wastage, an unending cycle of showmanship, and a booming US$ 40 billion dollar industry. The growth of affluent upper class and rising middle class in this country has boosted this industry, which is growing at a rate of over 25 percent annually. Downsizing these affairs is a trend that needs to percolate to more parts of the country, since although it exists in pockets, it’s growing glacially.
Still, from Quora debates titled ‘Are lavish weddings in India morally justified?’, to villages and communities consciously coming together to slash splurges, austere weddings are working their way into common discourse. In May of 2014, Karnataka’s state government debated a bill to levy luxury tax on weddings costing over five lakh rupees with a thousand guests attending, and the amount collected would be pooled to create a ‘marriage fund’ to sponsor weddings of the poor or for mass marriages. Earlier that year, Kerala’s government mulled a bill to ban ostentatious weddings as well. While neither of these bills were passed, and policy might not be the way to address this problem, a social adjustment of the marriage mindset needs to set in to downsize the wedding madness.